Second Basketball Scouting Report: Bucknell
Navy's 79-point outburst against Army rates as one of the biggest surprises of the entire Patriot League season, and a very pleasant one at that for head coach Ed DeChellis. The Midshipmen have been celebrating, and rightly, so, for the past few days. Now, though, another game must be played in a season that still has four weeks of competition left on the slate. Football allows for week-long breaks, but basketball cuts that time period in half. The ability to turn the page – from victories and defeats alike – is more central to success in basketball (and exponentially more so in baseball). Navy has to show – to itself more than anyone else – that it can follow one great performance with another and turn this home stretch into something more than just "playing out the string." The Midshipmen need to show themselves and their coaching staff that as satisfying as the win over Army was, they can replicate good performances and establish a foundation for the 2014-2015 season.
Coach David Paulsen faces a situation that's uncomfortably similar to what Navy has dealt with: His team just can't score consistently. In Bucknell's last six games, it is 2-4. The Bison scored at least 70 points in their two wins, but no more than 63 in each of their four losses. If either team can hit the high 60s in this game, it will like its chances.
The Bison use a nine-man rotation. Of their four reserves, their primary bench contributor is forward Dom Hoffman. His scoring average has declined by 1.4 points per game since the last time these two teams met. That's just one indication of why Bucknell has moved downward in the Patriot League standings, a far cry from the just-concluded Mike Muscala era.
Forward – Brian Fitzpatrick – Senior, 6-8, 230; 2013-14: 9.5 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game
Fitzpatrick has actually increased his scoring and rebounding averages since the first encounter between these two teams this season, but only by slight amounts (0.6 points and 0.3 boards). Bucknell needs more substantial improvements to become more of a threat on a nightly basis in the Patriot League.
Guard – Cameron Ayers – Senior, 6-5, 205; 2013-14: 15.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.4 assists per game
Ayers' scoring average is up by 1.5 points per game from Jan. 15 (the date of the previous Navy-Bucknell clash), but it's worth pointing out that he's logging 34.2 minutes per game, which is eight minutes more than any other player on the Bison's roster. As an extension of the minutes he's getting, Ayers's numbers aren't as spectacular as they look. Nevertheless, it's impressive that his rebounding average has slightly increased over the past month (0.4 boards per game). This tells you that Ayers isn't just focusing on his scoring; he's making an attempt to get involved (and stay involved) in other ways.
Guard – Chris Hass – Sophomore, 6-4, 170; 2013-14: 10.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg
Hass – whose scoring average is slightly up from Jan. 15 (0.4 points per game) and whose rebounding average is slightly down (by a margin of 0.3 boards per game) – remains an above-average three-point shooter, at 40.4 percent. Navy has to be vigilant when guarding him, and the same is true for Ayers (41.4 percent from three-point range).
Guard – Ben Brackney – Senior, 6-6, 205; 2013-14: 8.1 ppg, 4 rpg
Brackney is improving as a rebounder, but his scoring average is off half a point from Jan. 15. If Navy has to make decisions on defense, making Brackney shoot instead of the Ayers-Hass combo should be one of them to the extent that it's possible.
Guard – Steven Kaspar – Junior, 6-3, 193; 2013-14: 7.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.9 apg
Kaspar is still the jack of all trades on this team, but it's worth noting that while Ayers and Hass have become better scorers, Kaspar and Brackney have not been as productive in the scoring column. This basic reality should make Navy's defensive plan easier to implement and stick to.
Keys to the Game
1) Guard the perimeter. We see this so often in college basketball: Shooters toss in outrageously long shots and get on a hot streak – it's not sustainable on a weekly basis, but it happens plenty of times in individual games. Navy has to make sure that no Bucknell shooter gets really hot. Running Ayers and Hass off the three-point line will likely be a central component of its defensive plan.
2) The season continues. There is an easy temptation for Navy to think that its season is over now that it has thrashed Army. That is indeed a season-defining accomplishment, but it's not the end of the road by any means. The Midshipmen should consider it a foremost goal to try to replicate their performance in West Point. The trajectory of their season could change for the better if they can merely play 70 percent as well as they did against Army over the weekend.
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