My Vote for the FCS Top 25, 9/30/2013

My vote for the FCS Top 25 for the week ending 9/23/2013 follows below the flip.

But first, by all means, enjoy this great shot of a big Top 25 game last week, McNeese State at Northern Iowa.  (Photo Credit: Matthew Putney/The Waterloo Courier)

The picture tells the story of the game pretty well, as the Panthers in the UNI Dome took apart McNeese, 41-6.  In my poll last week, both were Top 10 teams.  Not this week, though I didn't drop the Cowboys too far.

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New Hampshire An Opponent to "Respect" In Every Sense of the Word

It is very, very easy to "respect" New Hampshire's football program.

Sure, they have earned "respect" nationally for their incredible, sustained success on the field.

They're known as the original FBS killers, making it a habit of knocking off teams like Rutgers and Northwestern well before Appalachian State famously knocked off Michigan, James Madison upended Virginia Tech, or, most recently, North Dakota State took it to Kansas State.

They're also known perennially as a team in the FCS Top 25, inhabiting the rankings in some way for an incredible 130 weeks.  In 2004, behind a third-string quarterback, QB Ricky Santos and his Wildcats beat Rutgers 35-24 and have been nationally-ranked ever since.

FBS nightmares, all those Top 25 appearances, and nine consecutive playoff appearances to go along with that give UNH mad "respect" with the wider FCS community, and also make for a thrilling opponent when they come to to town.

But they also have earned "respect" in another way, too.  They've done so by building their success the right way, not compromising academics for all their athletic success.
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Lehigh Men’s Basketball 2013-2014 Season Preview

The 2013-2014 Lehigh Men’s Basketball season has officially commenced with the team just having begun practice, and the first game against the University of Minnesota is just about 5 weeks away. Change is never easy, but change is the one definite thing Lehigh fans will notice when the Mountain Hawks hit the court this season, as 7 players on the 15 man roster have never played a minute of college basketball and current professional basketball players CJ McCollum, Gabe Knutson, and Holden Greiner are not a part of the program for the first time in four years. Any time you lose a lottery pick and two other pros that combined for career totals of 4,900 points and 1,900 rebounds, change is apparent. However, change creates opportunities, and in basketball that translates into minutes, and the 2013-2014 Lehigh team has a lot of minutes available for talented returning players and newcomers to occupy. For a team returning roughly 43.5% of its scoring and rebounding, Lehigh will need big contributions from many newcomers to keep Lehigh among the top competitors in the Patriot League.


Backcourt Analysis: Despite the loss of CJ McCollum and the underrated BJ Bailey, the backcourt is the veteran part of this Mountain Hawk team, and should be one of the better ones in the Patriot League.

Most conversations about the Lehigh Mountain Hawks ’13-’14 team will begin with their four year starter at point guard in Mackey McKnight, who was 2nd team all Patriot League a season ago. Mackey enters his senior year having started approximately 90 games for the Brown and White and his production has increased every year, as he finished ’12-’13 with a career best in points, assists, and minutes per game at 12/5/33. In McKnight, Coach Reed knows exactly what he is getting every night, a fearless and scrappy point guard who has the ability to get others involved but also hit open 3’s and slice to the hoop for driving layups. Mackey has shown he is at his best in the biggest moments, as no Lehigh fan can forget the roll he was on in the five elimination games that Lehigh played in the Patriot League and NCAA Tournament in the magical ’11-’12 season. With so much scoring prowess having graduated, Mackey is going to be asked to shoulder more of the scoring load this year and should spend some of his game action in a scoring guard role. Perhaps as important as Mackey’s on court productivity this season will be his role as a leader of an extremely young Lehigh squad. During his first three years at Lehigh Mackey hasn’t had to take a leadership role on the team due to the strong leadership that CJ, Gabe, and Holden provided, but how quickly he can grow into the role of team leader will be critical to the success of this young Lehigh team.

Also returning to the backcourt is three upper classmen in D’Orazio, Schaefer, and Cvrkalj. Anthony D’Orazio enjoyed his best season at Lehigh last year in his junior campaign, starting 29 of 31 games. The Camden, NJ native saw both his points and minutes per game double from his prior two years on campus. Anthony brings relentless energy to the team and is a very athletic guard who can get out on the break and finish in transition. Importantly the senior will be one of the leaders that Reed relies on to help bring this young team along, and he has the inside track to be a starter alongside Mackey in the backcourt. Corey Schaefer enters his junior season having established himself as a prototypical point guard who values ball control and can knock down an open jump shot. Schaefer, the son of a coach, had an assist-to-turnover ratio of over 2.5 to 1 last year, and shot the basketball at a tremendous clip, knocking down 40% of his three point attempts, 45% overall from the field, and 76% from the charity stripe. As he enters his junior year, Corey is primed to take on a bigger role for the Mountain Hawks, and if Reed maintains his preference for three guard line-ups it is easy to imagine seeing Corey in the starting lineup when the season opens at the University of Minnesota on November 8th. With Lehigh looking to fill the void of having graduated over 5,000 points, many Lehigh fans envision lineups that feature Corey in the backcourt alongside Mackey, sliding McKnight off the ball and into more of a scoring role. Cvrkalj, a deadly marksman from deep, is a three point specialist who shot it at a 38% clip from downtown last year. Stefan had a few big breakout games(20 points against FDU) last year, and should continue to be an instant offense guy off the bench. Stefan is still recovering from a patellar tendon tear in his knee, and hopefully he is 100% healthy by the opener on November 8th. Speaking of returning injured Mountain Hawks, sophomore Devon Carter returns to Lehigh after a difficult freshman year in which he only played sparingly in 9 games before tearing his ACL. Devon is athletic and strong enough at 6’4 to guard multiple positions on defense and pitch in on offense in an off ball role, but he will have to show he is fully recovered before gaining any significant minutes off the bench.

What’s exciting for Mountain Hawks fans this season is that Coach Reed and staff brought in two freshman scholarship guards with strong basketball pedigrees to push the upper classman and fight for immediate minutes. First is Austin Price, a 6’3 shooting guard from well known Detroit Country Day School, a basketball factory that has helped mold NBA stars in the likes of Chris Webber and Shane Battier. Austin is known as a shooter and is armed with a feathery soft jump shot and an important quick release. Austin will play off the ball and in a scoring role while at Lehigh, and with his big game experience winning a State title last year in high school and the big games he played for the AAU program The Family, he could push for significant minutes early on in his career. Coach Reed also brought in a point guard during the spring signing period, as he obtained a commitment from a dynamic and athletic 6’0 point guard in Miles Simelton out of the Chicago suburbs. Miles starred at Oswego high school and for the Illinois Attack AAU program, and was a player who trusted his talents and elected to play out his senior season before signing in an attempt to boost his stock. Miles is a scoring point guard who knows how to get others involved and can get his own shot off in isolation situations. Lehigh will not be short of ball handlers this season with Mackey, Corey, and Miles all capable of running the point. If Miles proves to be day one ready, he will find minutes in a crowded backcourt.

Two other freshman guards joined the program in Cole Renninger and George Pilitsis. Cole comes to Lehigh from Lock Haven, PA and Central Mountain High School, where as a senior he led the entire state of Pennsylvania in scoring. Standing at 6’3, Cole is an athletic combo guard with a college ready frame and toughness from his years on the football field. The former two sport star in high school elected to focus on basketball in college after having a huge senior season on the hardwood. George is a walk-on point guard who hails from nearby Thessaloniki, Greece! George is listed at 6’2 and has a lot of experience representing Greece in different European championship events.


Frontcourt Analysis: The graduation of over 2,500 points and 1,200 career rebounds from the frontcourt leaves the Mountain Hawks with a young and inexperienced unit, but one that possesses a lot of upside due to the arrival of three talented forwards who have yet to suit up for Lehigh.

While Lehigh has some experience in the backcourt, how well this young frontcourt comes together will determine how far the Mountain Hawks fly in ’13-’14. The returning frontcourt members Conroy Baltimore and Justin Goldsborough bring back with them a combined total of 167 points and 174 rebounds over a combined three seasons. Baltimore is the elder statesman of the frontcourt unit, as the 6’6 New York native enters his junior campaign having played sparingly through two years in Bethlehem sitting behind talented upper classman. The strength of Conroy’s game is his rebounding, having led the team in rebounds per minute in both seasons at Lehigh. Conroy will have his opportunity to carve out a bigger role in a wide open frontcourt battle, but he will have serious competition for minutes from his four younger frontcourt teammates. Goldsborough is the other returning member of the frontcourt, and the 6’8 sophomore big showed some serious flashes of brilliance during his freshman season, which has many Lehigh fans excited about what the future holds for Justin. He has a long and wiry frame, and is a very athletic big who can get up and down the court with gazelle-like speed for a man of his size. He possesses a long wingspan and a quick first jump off the ground which should help him turn into an above average rebounder and shot blocker as he continues in his Lehigh career. Justin obtained some good experience as a rookie last year, playing in all of Lehigh’s 31 games, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he started the November 8th opener at one of the forward spots.

What Lehigh lacks in experience up front, it makes up in spades in terms of athleticism and upside of the three frontcourt remaining players who have yet to play a minute of college basketball. While sophomore Jesse Chuku didn’t just arrive on campus, the native of London who had to sit out his freshman year due to NCAA regulations is a physical specimen at 6’8, 230 pounds, and a wingspan of 7’4. Jesse played some high school ball here in the United States at Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire, a school that is part of a competitive New England prep school league. Chuku is a hybrid forward who possesses the rare ability to shoot the basketball from 3 point range but also bang down low in the paint. Jesse has a strong, athletic frame and he should be an immediate help on the rebounding front. Jesse has a really high upside and should be a big part of the team and in the frontcourt rotation from the beginning of this season, probably starting at the power forward spot when the ball tips off in Minnesota on November 8th.

Another newcomer to the frontcourt is Tim Kempton, a true freshman big man who hails from Scottsdale, Arizona. Tim bring legit center size to the program at a full 6’10 and 225 pounds, and he also brings a strong pedigree, as he is the son of the former Notre Dame star and NBA player with the same name. Tim joins Lehigh having excelled at Brophy Prep, where he was named 2013 Arizona Preps Boys Player of the Year. Tim should help defend and rebound the basketball on defense, and on offense he is known to have a nice jump shot and some classic big man post moves. Tim’s upside is as big as he is, and the opportunity for major minutes as a true freshman is there for the taking. The fifth member of the ’13-’14 frontcourt is the talented Shane Whitfield. Shane is a 6’7 point forward from the small town of Bayboro, North Carolina. Shane played 3 years of high school ball at Pamlico County High School before transferring to Word of God Christian Academy(alma mater of John Wall) in Raleigh, where he reclassified into the 2013 class. Whitfield is a highly versatile player who fits cleanly at the small forward position at Lehigh as an athletic 6’7 player. Shane will fit Lehigh’s up tempo offense quite well, as he’ll run and fill the lanes with ease. He has a versatile game, as he can hit the 17 foot jump shot, but can also break guys down off the dribble and finish in traffic while absorbing contact. In the half court game he can penetrate on bigs and shoot over smaller defenders, and Shane sees the court extremely well which helps him distribute the rock and be a good distributor. Shane’s senior year got cut short due to an injury, but assuming 100% health, he should be a serious factor in the Lehigh frontcourt in ’13-’14.

In conclusion, Lehigh fans should be really excited about the prospects of this extremely young Mountain Hawk team. While growing pains early on in a tough non-conference schedule should be expected, if a few of the highly talented newcomers can quickly acclimate to the college game, Lehigh has a legitimate shot to be competitive in the Patriot League in 2013-2014.



Lehigh Survives Wildcat Attack 34-27, Remains Undefeated

(Photo Credit: Matt Smith/The Express-Times)

It's pretty remarkable how routine it's all getting.

To Lehigh watchers, this come-from-behind 34-27 victory resembled all the others.  They'd seen this movie before.

Fall behind early, by double-digits if possible.  Regroup.  Mount a comeback.  Make huge defensive stops.  Win.

For the fourth straight game, Lehigh came from behind to win.

For the third time this season, Lehigh overcame a double-digit deficit to win.

It's as if all of Lehigh Nation simply expects the Mountain Hawks to fall behind in the first half, and recover in time to win.  You could feel it in the crowd of nearly 9,000 people at Murray Goodman Stadium.  Amazingly, down by 16, the game never felt out of reach.

But this particular come-from-behind win was different in one very important respect.

In beating the 7th-ranked New Hampshire Wildcats this weekend, the Mountain Hawks finally got to silence the critics across the country saying they haven't played anyone tough, can't beat anyone tough, and won't beat anyone tough.

They did.  They can.  And now, they have.
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CFB Week 5 Lehigh Fan Viewing Guide

It's that time of the week where I share with you your weekly Lehigh fan viewing guide for Week 5of the college football season.  Why go to website after website when all the information you need is right here?

This week's FCS Top 20 Clash at Murray Goodman will by broadcast on Service Electric 2 with Mike Zambelli, Mike Yadush and Al DiCarlo as the announcers.  For those not in the Lehigh Valley it will also be streamed for free on the Patriot League Network.

And I'll be listenting to the pregame on ESPN 1230 and 1320 of the Lehigh Valley, too, with Tom Fallon, Matt Kerr and Matt Markus.  That will also be live streamed here.

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Game 4 Breakdown: New Hampshire at Lehigh, 9/28/2013

(Photo Credit: John Doyle/Foster's Daily Democrat)

“I think we just need to get better coming out in the second half,” said UNH senior OL Seamus O’Neill in their win over Colgate two weeks ago. “We need to focus on playing the entire game. When we’re up on someone we need to keep our foot on the pedal.”

Sound somewhat familiar?

One of the more interesting subplots going into this weekend's game is how New Hampshire, thus far the ultimate first-half team, does against Lehigh, thus far the ultimate second-half team.

What I truly like about the Wildcats, though, is their game notes, which are extensive and easy to get to.  There's also the matter of their video preview as well, which was equally as valuable to me.

Let's break these guys down.
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Game Preview: New Hampshire at Lehigh, 9/28/2013

(Photo Credit: John Huff/Foster's Daily Democrat)

This weekend, it's homecoming at Lehigh.

The pre-football festivities for homecoming start at in the middle of Friday, with a campus rally, followed by a dinner and a movie presentation.

The movie happens to be Monsters University, the hit Disney/Pixar movie from this summer where the heroes Mike and Sully flash back to their days at old Monster U., and we find out how they made it through their college years.

It so happens that there is an associated website with the release of the movie that is still up - complete with references to the Monsters U. athletic program and homecoming

"The MU faithful were put to the test last year, losing the conference championship with a "Hail Scary" pass from Fear Tech. But MU is back this year with an excellent new recruitment class -- including three top-tier high school standouts: Bart Gates (quarterback), Uriah Pemberslime (fullback), and Harry Phiegel (wide receiver). The entire university community is buzzing with the prospect of Gates throwing to Phiegel for four years of touchdowns. "

In this entirely coincidental, fictionalized summary of the Monsters University football team is everything you need to know about this weekend's game.
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New Hampshire Was This Close To Joining Patriot League

This summer, the Shades of 48 William & Mary Blog posted a series on the history of the moves of the CAA in the spring and summer of 2012.

In those great pieces, it was possible to come up with a timeline, which I attempted to do to some degree, to detail the shifting sands around the CAA, Big East, America East, NEC, and Patriot League.

One important element to this timeline, it now can be told, involved New Hampshire and the Patriot League.

Somewhere after April, 2012, when the CAA was on their way to losing Old Dominion to Conference USA and VCU and George Mason to the Atlantic 10, members of the Patriot League got on the phone to certain CAA schools to remind them that there was an open invitation to a certain academically-focused conference with headquarters in the Lehigh Valley should the need arise.

One of those schools was William and Mary.  The other was New Hampshire.

And both schools took the invitation very seriously.
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