Bucknell , which has won the Patriot
Conference Tourney the last two years, is no cupcake. Kansas, in the 2005 NCAA
Tourney and Arkansas in the 2006 Tourney, may have been looking past Bucknell in
the first round, which resulted in their early and surprising exit. So watch
Without consideration of statistics, I believe Bucknell's main strength lies in their discipline and mental toughness, much like Princeton and AF, year in year out.. You know what AF did to us. After that game, Coach Knight indicated Air Force was much tougher than Tech. Despite the disparity in those two aspects in the Air Force game, Tech has recently shown its ability to also be patient, as in the Arkansas game. As far as mental toughness, Tech has proven to be a team of road warriors. Away from home, time after time, opponents made strong runs at them. Yet, they gutted it up and would not allow themselves to be beaten.
Normally in scouting a team, I first look to statistical anomalies or matchups, trying to find the opponent's vulnerabilities. However in this instance, preliminarily, considering that overall we should have the superior athletes on the court; patience and discipline, as well as the degree of mental toughness Tech exhibits, may be the principal keys to a win against Bucknell.
By the Numbers
In terms of relative strength, I use my own Composite Power Rating which indicates Tech should be at least a nine point favorite. In terms of RPI, Tech is proceeding nicely with a composite number in the high twenties or low 30s. Bucknell is approximately at 150. To reiterate from past articles,
the RPI is not a power ranking, but an indicator the NCAA looks at carefully. Because of a home loss penalty the NCAA has put into the formula, we don't want to lose to Bucknell at all, but certainly not at home.
Per Game Statistical Comparison (Rounded Off)
From a statistical viewpoint, Tech would
seem to be by far the better team, one which can pretty much sleepwalk to
victory. And I would have to say that Tech does seem unquestionably better.
However, an analyst can be too quick to point out certain statistical
differences between teams and say this or that statistic clearly indicates
certain weaknesses to be exploited.
But statistics can be illusory. For example, a cursory examination might elicit the advice, "Buckness has an inordinate number of T/Os, so that is a key to try to exploit." Perhaps, but an opportunity more because of the strength of our guards than any statistical advantage,. Besides, a closer examination would show Bucknell has only averaged 14 TOs in the last four games.
Likewise, with a look at their relatively low shooting average, one might tend to become somewhat overconfident. In fact, Bucknell has shot 51% in the last two games, both on the road and at least against George Mason, against pretty decent competition. What does that mean. Is Bucknell improving? Possibly, because the competition does not seem worse. But one cannot know for sure. Could it be the new starting lineup I alluded to elsewhere? Again, uncertain at best. That's why scouting or analysis based purely or even mainly on a cursory review of statistics is treacherous.
One area where statistics may actually be meaningful here is 3 point shooting. Tech has made 81/167, or thirty more made with just twenty more shots taken, compared to Bucknell's 51/147. What makes it more significant is that Tech has done it with many more shooters than Bucknell. Bucknell basically has two designated 3 point shooters, Jason Vogotney at 16/40 for 40% and John Griffin at 17/51 for .333%, which is still credible, since it translates to 50% on 2 pointers. Also while used sparingly, I should mention Rob Thomas and Justin Castleberry, who between them avergage about 20 ninutes per game and are good perimeter shooters, but based on small numbers. Of course, speaking objectively, it would be nice to continue the nine steals per game average.
Possible problems for Tech
Bucknell's real on court strength appears to be its defensive tenacity. It's team may not shoot that great, but neither do its opponents. They are shooting 44%., which again is only indicative but not decisive, because of the difficulty in assessing the quality of Bucknell's opposition in comparison to Tech. Nevertheless, defense appears to be Bucknell's strong suit, reflected by the fact that its opponents are being limited to only 62 points per game. In fact the Bisons have held five of their foes to fewer than 60 points, but have only won three of those because of their own inability to generate sufficient offense.
The usual suspect, rebounding, may also prove problematical. The Bisons are rebounding well, never outrebounded by much and surpassing five opponents, including Wake Forest by thirty three to twenty eight.
Bucknell Player Update
Despite what was said earlier about Tech's physical superiority, at least one player is worthy of immense respect and seems to have intangible qualities, in addition to being physically gifted. That is 6' 11" Center Chris McNaughton, the Bison's star and hero two seasons ago against Kansas. The statistical sheet at 9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1 assist, and less than 1 block, per game does not seem very intimidating, but he has had big games and made big shots, If he is not held in check, it could spell some trouble.
NcNaughton, John Griffin, Abe Badmus and Donald Brown, have started every game. Most of the season, Darren Mastropaolo also started; but as mentioned preseason, this leaves them with a dearth of perimeter shooters, since of that contingent, only Griffin is consistent at 3 point range. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that Badmus is in a bad 3 point slump. However in the last two games, the only other reliable 3 point shooter with substantial minutes, Vegotsky, has started, rather than Darren. That is something to look for. Perhaps this is in the hope that additional firepower might jumpstart Bucknell at the beginning of the game.
Coincidentally, Bucknell has won those two games. Hopefully, against Tech, Badmus will continue to throw up 3 point bricks at his season's pace of 6/24 for 25%.
Without going into detail , these six player carry the scoring load, very evenly distributed, and the bulk of court time, with about 170 minutes among them. Including Castleberry and Thomas, the basic eight man rotation plays about 190 minutes.
Let's look at Bucknell's schedule, focusing on a few key games, as an indicator of how good Tech's opponent might be. Bucknell has had a solid schedule so far, and while not that difficult overall in terms of team composition, it must have been extremely trying, because it includes seven of nine road games.
Its best opponent is 8-2 Northern Iowa, with road wins at Iowa and Bucknell, as well as a very close game in Seattle against then #15 Washington. Another foe, Penn State, is 7-4, but with a creampuff schedule. A third is, who knows how good they are Wake Forest, to whom they lost at home in OT. Wake started out with five straight wins, but then hit the wall, losing four straight. First they got blasted on the road by Air Force, then had losses on the road to Va Tech and De Paul, and a heartbreaker at home to Georgia. The last three teams also seem to be in the category of who knows how good they are, but the last two have good home wins, Georgia against then #16 Gonzaga and De Paul against then #5 Kansas.
It is apparent that Bucknell is battle hardened and road tested by those seven of nine road games. They play virtually everyone close, win or lose. The margin has been six or fewer point in six of nine games. Another game was a convincing victory and the other two were defeats by ten and nine points.
Everything indicates that while the win/loss of 4-5 record may not look impressive, Bucknell is not a team to be taken lightly. Related, I should mention that after four opening losses, the Bison have won four of five, the only loss, though at home, to a good above mentioned Northern Iowa.
In my estimation, the best thing Tech has going for it in this game and perhaps in the coming games, is the result of a schedule that now looks like shrewd planning, That is only apparent now, the team having survived it, but at its inception the schedule looked to me akin to the Bataan Death March.
That is, I believe the most important confrontation will be a mental one in preparation for the rest of the season, strength on strength. Tech can do something few, if any, other major conference teams can do this season, due to those teams' traditional reluctance to venture away from home. Tech can meet Bucknell's main strength of discipline and toughness with an equal if not more of the same, given that they too are battle hardened and road tested Therefore, while it has been useful to examine statistics and team strength, my advice is to keep it simple, do what you do best, which of course revolves around Tech's guard play. Don't get frustrated as a result of their pesky defense, stay patient. If Tech gets a lead , don't let up. Bucknell has proven to be extremely resilient and determined. They came back to win against Cornell on the road, after being down by seventeen in the first half. The Bisons also pulled a late 14-2 run in the last 2:55., down 54-46 to win 60-56, at St. Francis of Pennsylvania.
It also always helps to be the home team, especially after seven out of eight away.
College Hoops Net Overview:
Overall Rank: #58
Conference Rank: #1 Patriot
2005-06: 27-5, 14-0, 1st
2005-06 postseason: NCAA
How can Bucknell top the last two years? Taking Villanova out of the equation, the Bison have more NCAA Tournament wins over the last two seasons than all the other teams in the state of Pennsylvania combined. Sure, that's just one win each of the last two tournaments, but that doesn't happen everyday in Lewisburg, PA…the new Spokane of the East.
Who's Out: Without Charles Lee and Kevin Bettencourt on the perimeter, the Bison will have some work to do in order to be as good as last year. Lee, a 6-3 wing, led the squad with 13.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game during
his senior campaign. Bettencourt tacked on 12.7 points and the absence of those players leave major concerns about the long range shooting. Holland Mack and Tarik Viaer-McClymont provided limited minutes up front and have
run out of eligibility. After battling through injuries, forward John Clark has retired from his playing days at Bucknell.
Who's In: Coach Pat Flannery traditionally hasn't depended on freshmen to make a big impact on his team. It may be helpful for a couple of the newcomers to fill some minutes, but don't expect anybody in this group to
take the Patriot League by storm, at least not yet. Pat Behan is a sharp shooting 6-9 power forward. His ability to step out and hit the long ball will be a valuable resource in the years to come. Zach Evans will help fill the void on the wing. The McDonald's All-American nominee has the athleticism to contribute right away. Stephen Tyree is a solid ball handler and, using his solid defensive skills, can fill minutes at either guard spot as a freshman. Walk-on George Medrano will provide some emergency depth to the backcourt.
Who to Watch: Still best known for his game winning shot against Kansas in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, Chris McNaughton had another successful campaign in 2005-2006 averaging 12.8 points and 4.7 boards. Since the 6-11 center has spent the last two years dominating the Patriot League, he'll dominate even more as a senior. His frontcourt mate Darren Mastropaolo hasn't put up big numbers throughout his career, but the 6-8, 250 pounder is a tough defender and a solid screener. Center Josh Linthicum and forward Andrew Morrison will provide the depth up front.
Final Projection: Point guard Abe Badmus doesn't get all the accolades that his high scoring teammates do, but the 5-11 Chicago native has led his team to success during his time in Lewisburg. He's a solid distributor and
defender and will once again be the leader for the Bison on the court. John Griffin and Jason Vegotsky came off the bench last year, but both may be starting this year. Both will see a drastic increase in minutes and will
need to successfully and consistently hit three-pointers in order to somewhat replace the absence of Lee and Bettencourt. Donald Brown may earn a starting job at the small forward spot. He has more than enough experience
to step in, but it would leave Bucknell's starting five without many perimeter shooters. If last year's backcourt roleplayers can't consistently hit the outside shot, Bucknell will be in some trouble. They'll still win the Patriot League, but making it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year may be out of reach.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Abe Badmus, Senior, Guard, 6.6 points per game
John Griffin, Junior, Guard, 3.9 points per game
Donald Brown, Senior, Forward, 6.5 points per game
Darren Mastropaolo, Junior, Forward, 3.7 points per game
Chris McNaughton, Senior, Center, 12.8 points per game