If you’ve read John Feinstein’s novel, The Last Amateurs, you know at least one thing about Patriot League basketball: it’s college hoops at its truest, purest form. The league is a place where one-and-dones and academic scandals don’t exist. It’s the land of the C.J. McCollum and Mike Muscala — men who studied their tails off and made it big along the way. This year, Bucknell will represent the Patriot League in the NCAA Tournament, not only as a team of upstart youngsters, but one that could be among the best to ever come out of the conference.
How They Got Here
The Bison own a 26-8 record, including three losses by three points or fewer. Their best wins of the season were against Vanderbilt, Richmond, and Lehigh (after losing to the Mountain Hawks twice), while they suffered close defeats to Princeton and Loyola Maryland. They eventually won the Patriot League regular season championship as well as the conference tournament to receive an automatic bid.
Center Nana Foulland and forward Zach Thomas have been essential to Bucknell’s success this year. They cleaned up in conference accolades as Foulland was named Player of the Year and to the All-Defensive Team, and both were named First-Team All Patriot League. Other key pieces to the team’s success are second-teamer Stephen Brown and third-team honoree Kimbal Mackenzie. Coach Nathan Davis was named Patriot League Coach of the Year and has done remarkable things at Bucknell in just two years as head coach.
Their identity as a team is one with strong perimeter shooters with Brown and Mackenzie, a star in the paint in Foulland, and a an all-around, Kevin Love-type player in Thomas. Thomas led the team with 16.9 points per game and Foulland came in as a close second with 14.9 points per game. Thomas, Mackenzie, and Brown shoot over 39 percent from three-point range, and Foulland leads the team with 7.8 rebounds per game.
How They Could Win
Bucknell has a team that can match up well with almost anyone because of its versatility. For the Bison to succeed, a few things need to happen. First, Foulland must be an absolute beast under the hoop. He succeeded against Vanderbilt and others when he’s been able to muscle for the defensive rebounds. Second, it’s essential that Thomas gets going. When he is shooting well and defending without fouling, the Bison have all the ingredients to succeed. This is because they have some of the fiercest guards in the game. For example, even though Thomas was firing from all cylinders vs. Lehigh in the championship game, Brown and Mackenzie pitched in a combined 30 points and five threes. Strong guard performance will need to extend to the defensive end and Brown is especially great at what he does. If he’s able to create stops and pick and pop to Foulland and Thomas, it will be hard to stop the Bison.
How They Could Lose
Bucknell’s makeup as a team can be a double-edged sword. Though they have a versatile squad, it is likely that many Power 5 teams will be more athletic at every position. If Bucknell doesn’t succeed in terms of its strengths — three-point shooting, relentlessness at the guard position and securing the ball (thanks to Foulland) — it will suffer. The Bison can’t afford to rely only on Thomas because we’ve seen that they can lose even in games he’s put up 19 points. Other than Foulland, Bucknell also does not have another huge rim protector. Unfortunately for the Bison, they are not the deepest team ever. Apart from Thomas, Foulland, Mackenzie, and Brown, there aren’t many Bison who can be counted on to contribute consistently.