Under second-year head coach Nathan Davis, Bucknell has not only improved in its man look, but within its match-up zone as well. The Bison have clamped down on opponents, allowing an average of just 67.4 points per game, third-best in the Patriot League. Blended with an opportunistic offense that features excellent shot selection and a league-best 41.8 field goal percentage - ranking 25th out of 347 Division I teams - Bucknell romped to a 26-8 mark by an average margin of victory of more 8.8 points (42nd nationally) in securing the automatic bid via the postseason title.
Davis' team has allowed more than 71 points just three times during a 14-2 closing stretch that frankly should have tested the team more than it did. In the Patriot League championship game, Bucknell held Lehigh, the conference's second-best scoring offense at 67 points per game, to just 65 in a blowout win. They also dismantled Boston University and Army, two other teams averaging 73-plus points per game, to 10 points below their season averages in the most recent meetings. Over the recent six-game winning streak, the numbers are even better with Bucknell holding foes to 37.4 percent shooting from the field and 23.5 percent from three-point range while forcing 80 turnovers.
"The biggest progression for us this year has been defensively," said point guard Stephen Brown, a team co-captain. "Since our class has been here, we kind of struggled defensively in the half court. I think we did a really good job focusing on the defensive end, helping out, and we have (center) Nana (Foulland) inside, Huge presence in communicating. I think all of the guys did a really good job of knowing their roles and knowing their spots, and the coaches have done a really good job of helping us, figuring out what to do on defense, and, you know, just being more scrappy this year. And just guarding our guy, guarding the ball, guarding ball screens, so we done a really good job on that, focusing on that, and it really helped us in the season."
Foulland, the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, gives the Bison solid size on the interior with a 6-9 frame and lanky wingspan. The junior leads the conference in blocks and is second in rebounding, but is one of just two Bucknell players at that height, and that's where West Virginia's overall size advantage could come to fruition.
"You are going to see both (man and zone)," said WVU guard Tarik Phillip. "They are going to throw a lot of things at us. It's tough to really play us one way because we will figure out a way to beat that one way. We've had a couple days to prepare, and so we worked it both ways, against man and zone. They are just trying to keep us out front and protect their big (in Foulland) because they only have one big man that they really focus around."
Which means that's a main target for West Virginia. Watch for the Mountaineers to try and get the ball at the rim by exposing both sets for passing lanes or creases where they can dump the ball on the block to Elijah Macon or, because it's a better match-up for him, Nate Adrian. Where Adrian couldn't effectively score against sizable Big 12 forwards, he should be able to operate against Foulland or, more likely, 6-7 forward Zach Thomas. That should stress Bucknell inside, where points in the paint and second-chance points will loom large for the Mountaineers.
"We have to attack, period," Phillip said. "I feel like if we put as much pressure as we can on the defense it is better for us because we play a lot of guys. That will make them work on offense and defense and wear them down."
Which is what happened in Bucknell's eight defeats. The Bison allowed an average of 80.6 points per game in losses and 63.2 per game over the 26 wins. Foes have shot 50 percent or better for the season just five times, and Bucknell is 0-5 in those games.
"We know they have big guys that are strong and physical inside, and playing bigger teams like this is not the same as when we play league play," said Davis, the Patriot League Coach of the Year for the second straight season. "Our nonconference schedule I think prepared us for that. We know it's going to be a physical game, but we've been practicing all week, preparing for it, and hopefully that will help us out and come game time, we'll be ready."