Penn State vs. Bucknell Preview

Story posted November 12, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Uriah Tagle

After a season-opening win against Wagner at the Bryce Jordan Center, the Penn State men’s basketball team looks to improve to 2-0, as the central Pennsylvania rival Bucknell Bison, come to town.

Last year, Bucknell set a school record for wins, going 28-6 (12-2 in the Patriot League) on their way to a Patriot League title, and an 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament.  Although the Bison lost to 6-seeded Butler in their lone tournament game, the appearance in the Big Dance, capped an incredible three-year run for head coach David Paulsen. His team went 78-25 (45-6 in the Patriot League) and made two tourney appearances, the first coming in 2011 as a 14-seed.

The big story surrounding Bucknell as they begin the 2013-2014 season is the departure of senior center and all-time leading scorer Mike Muscala.  Muscala averaged 18.7 ppg, 11.1 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks in his senior campaign en route to his second Patriot League Player of the Year award.  Although he was selected with the 44th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Muscala elected instead to play overseas in Spain, where he signed a one-year deal with the Rio Natura Monbús of the Spanish ACB League.

Muscala was not the only key player the Bison lost in the offseason as fellow senior starters Bryson Johnson and Joe Willman also graduated.  Both were 1,000 point scorers, and Bucknell will miss their leadership just as much as their on-the-court production; Johnson averaging 12.4 ppg and four rebounds while Willman had 10.6 ppg and 5.9 rebounds a season ago. 

With only two returning starters and the superstar void left empty after Muscala’s departure, the stage is set for a breakout season from senior Cameron Ayers.  After averaging 12.4 ppg and shooting 46.6% from the field and 39.6% on three pointers last season, Ayers was a First-Team All-Patriot League selection.  A preseason All-Patriot League selection this year, the 6-5 guard out of Blue Bell, PA, will look to increase his scoring numbers from a season ago as he will have the opportunity to take more shots and have the ball in his hands more often. 

Joining Ayers in the backcourt is co-captain junior guard Steven Kaspar out of Lakeland, Tennessee.  The only other returning starter for the Bison, Kaspar will see a lot more minutes and possessions during the 2013-2014 campaign.  Rounding out the starting five is the frontcourt trio of senior forward Ben Brackney, sophomore forward Dom Hoffman, and graduate student and former Penn transfer, center Brian Fitzpatrick.  All three frontcourt players made their first career collegiate starts on Friday in the season-opening loss to Stanford, so inexperience will certainly be an issue for Bucknell early in the season. 

The matchup with Penn State on Wednesday will be the 101st all-time meeting between the two programs with the Nittany Lions leading the series 76-24.  When the two teams met for the 100th time early in the season last year, Penn State beat the Bison 60-57 in a nail-biter win at the Bryce Jordan Center.  For Bucknell to get revenge for the contest last year and steal a win on the road, they will need to control the glass.  Both teams are a bit undersized and whichever team can win the rebounding battle will likely have the edge on the scoreboard. 

In addition to the rebounding battle, the matchup between Nittany Lions guard Tim Frazier and Bucknell’s Cameron Ayers could swing the momentum of the game.  Ayers is a terrific shooter and if he heats up early, the Bison could jump out to a lead and never look back.   

For Bucknell, a win in State College would be Dave Paulsen’s 100th as the head coach of the Bison and the first for the “new-look” squad.  The talent is certainly there, but due to the lack of experience, Bucknell probably will not be in the NCAA Tournament conversation come March.

For Penn State and head coach Patrick Chambers, defending their home court would mean a 2-0 start and a bit of momentum to carry into their first road contest against Penn on Saturday, November 16th.

ComRadio’s coverage of the game begins at 6:30 p.m. with the ComRadio Basketball Pregame Show.  Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.

Uriah Tagle is a junior majoring in communication arts and sciences, and economics. To contact him, email uriahtagle@gmail.com