Cinderella Watch: Bucknell
by Patrick Stevens, Special to USA TODAY Sports
Team of the day: Bucknell
Route to the Dance: Automatic bid (Patriot League)
Credentials: 28-5 (12-2 Patriot), conference regular-season and tournament champions
Signature win: The Bison won 70-65 at Purdue on the first day of the season.
The value of that victory didn’t hold up as the Boilermakers wound their way to a losing season. Bucknell is 3-1 against the tournament field, with a 74-66 defeat of La Salle as the most noteworthy triumph; the Bison also lost by only two at Missouri on the eve conference play.
Team strength: Mike Muscala.
The conference player of the year averaged 19.0 points and 11.2 rebounds is Bucknell’s career leading scorer (2,027) and the only player in Patriot history to score 2,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds (only ex-Colgate star Adonal Foyle, with 1,776 points and 1,103 rebounds came close before).
The 6-foot-11 Minnesota native is a ruthlessly efficient post presence, establishing position effectively and then delivering high-percentage shots. Yet he can also step outside and connect on mid-range jumpers and (on rarer occasions) 3-pointers. Bucknell wisely is built around his talents, and his skills amplify the abilities of some capable complementary pieces.
This team will remind you of: Morehead State.
Bucknell is a well-coached team (Dave Paulsen won a Division III national title at Williams) that was expertly built around one exceptional big man but also incorporated a fair amount of help to create an offense that score more than a point per possession while establishing a consistent defense.
That sounds a bit like 2011 Morehead State. Kenneth Faried was a more ferocious rebounder than Muscala and higher percentage shooter, but there was a similar theme. With both Faried and Muscala, the whole world knew who the central figure on the roster was and those guys still ended up as walking double-doubles.
That 2011 Morehead team upended Louisville in the round of 64 before sputtering against Richmond two days later. For Bucknell to match that run, it will need to dispatch Butler in its first game.
Team weakness: For as good as Bucknell’s top four scorers are, it changed starting point guards in late February. Out went junior … [For more on Cinderella Watch: Bucknell has ingredients to be this year's darling, click here.]