Now without superstar C.J. McCollum, Lehigh's first impressions of 2013-14 have still been positive. (Photo courtesy of The Sporting News)
On the heels of an 89-74 loss to Syracuse Tuesday that saw a late rally and a career-high 33 points from Branden Frazier, Fordham returns home to Rose Hill Gym tomorrow night to renew their series with Lehigh, who the casual fan remembers from the Mountain Hawks' historic upset of Duke in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
After all-world guard C.J. McCollum graduated and was selected tenth overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA Draft this past June, many expected Lehigh to take a step back in the Patriot League. However, that has not been the case, at least through the Mountain Hawks' first two games, as Lehigh bounced back from a season-opening loss to Minnesota to defeat Rider in their last contest, giving Dr. Brett Reed's team the same 1-1 record that Fordham possesses on their ledger.
The Rams come into this game with revenge on their minds from a loss to Lehigh last season, and will have to deal with the underrated leadership of senior point guard Mackey McKnight, among others. As we have done for each of Fordham's first two games, we have enlisted a special guest to help us get to know the Rams' opponent a little better, and doing the honors tonight is Kevin Doyle of NBCSports.com's outstanding College Basketball Talk site. A Patriot League expert who is still hoping for a turnaround at Holy Cross, Kevin was gracious enough to take some time to answer the following questions as Lehigh invades Rose Hill:
Jaden Daly: How good does Lehigh look without C.J. McCollum?
Kevin Doyle: Different, and it's not just because McCollum has graduated. Lehigh actually got a look at what life would be like without McCollum midway through last season when an ankle injury against VCU sidelined him for all of conference play. The Mountain Hawks were still in the upper half of the Patriot League thanks in large part to fellow seniors Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner. Without these three, the Mountain Hawks definitely have a different look. Of course, they can no longer depend on McCollum to put up 20 points every night.
JD: From what you've seen, has Mackey McKnight made a full transition to team leader?
KD: McKnight is most certainly the leader. As starting point guard and one of just two seniors on the roster, McKnight has no choice but to lead, especially when three of the starters had no experience heading into the season. (Austin Price, Tim Kempton Jr., and Jesse Chuku)
JD: What is the scouting report on freshman guard Austin Price?
KD: Price was ostensibly Lehigh's top recruit in their 2013 class, and one of the most highly touted in the Patriot League. At one point, Fran McCaffery offered Price a scholarship at Iowa, and many of the top mid-majors around the country were involved. Through two games, Price is Lehigh's leading scorer, averaging 18 points per game. It is certainly bold to make this comparison, but Price may have a little bit of C.J. McCollum in him in that he isn't bashful on offense and has a scorer's mentality.
JD: For those who haven't seen Lehigh yet, what should be expected?
KD: Under Brett Reed, Lehigh has developed into one of the most potent offenses in the Patriot League. Last season they averaged 73.3 points per game, which ranked in the top 50 nationally. In their previous game against Rider, they put up 92 points on a decent Broncs squad, and had four starters score in double figures. Expect them to put up points, but to give them up, as well. The battle between Mackey McKnight and Branden Frazier will be a great one to watch.
JD: Finally, with trips to Houston and Pitt coming up next, how important is this game against an up-and-coming Fordham team?
KD: This is a great opportunity for a young Lehigh team as Tom Pecora may have his best team yet since he came to Fordham in 2010. In terms of importance though, it will not make or break Lehigh's season -- it's still an early-season non-conference game. The ability to move over the .500 mark prior to contests at Houston and Pittsburgh would certainly raise the confidence level of the young Mountain Hawks.