Lehigh Valley college basketball: Local teams battling for playoff positioning

While the Division III college basketball postseason starts next week, the Lehigh Valley’s Division I and II programs still have a few weeks of regular-season play remaining.

That makes the rest of February prime time for playoff jockeying.

Here’s a look at what’s at stake for several local teams as we move toward March.

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Lafayette (10-15 overall, 9-3 Patriot League)

At stake: Staying home through at least the Patriot League tournament semifinals.

Outlook: Even after a double-overtime loss to rival Lehigh on Saturday night, the Leopards have played themselves into a solid position.

Lafayette can secure a top-four seed for the Patriot League tournament by splitting its six remaining games. It also began the week with a two-game edge on American and Bucknell for second place. The top two finishers secure home-court advantage through the tournament semifinals.

How the Leopards play on the road will be crucial to where they land. They visit the two teams chasing them for second place, American and Bucknell, over the next three weeks.

Lehigh (8-15 overall, 5-7 Patriot League)

At stake: Avoiding a Patriot League tournament first-round game.

Outlook: The Mountain Hawks began this week in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Patriot League. Two other teams sat a game back.

Everyone in the Patriot League’s vast middle wants to avoid finishing below sixth place.

Teams that land in the 7-10 slots must play first-round games and therefore need to win four games instead of three to capture the tournament title.

The Mountain Hawks need to improve their road play to secure a top-six finish. They went into Monday’s trip to Bucknell 1-5 on the road in Patriot League games.

East Stroudsburg (20-2 overall, 14-2 PSAC)

At stake: A top-two finish in the PSAC East.

Outlook: The Warriors have rolled to seven straight wins, grabbing a one-game lead over Lock Haven and Millersville in the PSAC East. The division’s top two finishers receive byes into the quarterfinals and host quarterfinal games.

As well as ESU has played so far, its hold on the division lead will hinge on its ability to continue winning on the road. The Warriors, who are 10-0 on the road, play four of their final six games away from Koehler Fieldhouse. That includes trips to Lock Haven on Wednesday and Millersville on Feb. 24.

WOMEN

Lehigh (14-8 overall, 6-5 Patriot League)

At stake: At least one Patriot League tournament home game.

Outlook: With league-leading Holy Cross losing two straight games, the Patriot League
standings have tightened. Lehigh has won two straight to move into a tie for fourth place, one
game out of a second-place tie and two games behind Holy Cross.

The Mountain Hawks are also only two games out of sliding to ninth place. A top-four finish
means avoiding a first-round game and hosting a quarterfinal.

Lehigh has two things working in its favor. The Mountain Hawks have already played Holy Cross twice and have four of their last seven games at Stabler Arena.

A double for DeSales

The DeSales men (21-2 overall, 12-0 MAC Freedom Conference) and women (21-2, 12-0) have both clinched MAC Freedom Conference regular-season titles with a week left in the regular season.

The men have won 18 straight games after rolling past Lebanon Valley on Saturday. The women have ripped off 14 straight wins after also beating Lebanon Valley.

DeSales will host a MAC Freedom Conference semifinal doubleheader Feb. 21. The women will play at 6 p.m., with the men slated to follow at 8 p.m.

The semifinal pairings won’t be finalized until later this week.

Taking note

– Wilkes sophomore forward Lucas Lesko (Northampton) scored a career-high 36 points in
Saturday’s win at Elizabethtown. He leads the Colonels in scoring at 16.3 points per game while ranking second in rebounding (5.4 boards per game) and blocks (32).

– Mercyhurst senior Grace Clary (Whitehall) tied her season high with 11 points in Wednesday’s win over Indiana (Pa.). She is shooting 36.1% from 3-point range for the Lakers, who are contending for a top-two finish in the PSAC West.

Stephen Miller is a freelance writer.

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