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NCAA Tournament Profile: Get to know the Bucknell Bison

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The Bison look to avenge an early exit from the tourney last year thanks to a trio of seniors.

NCAA Basketball: Bucknell at North Carolina Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Bucknell is back in the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row after winning the Patriot League Tournament. The Bison dedicated their whole season to getting back where they were last year: in the NCAA Tournament. Bucknell kept it close with West Virginia the whole way last year, but they just couldn’t inch themselves closer than six points. The Bison returned this year with a much greater target on their back in conference play. However, they improved their conference record to 16-2, which is one game better than last year’s 15-3 mark. Here’s what makes them capable of an upset in the tournament:

Personnel

This is Bucknell’s year because their three best players, Zach Thomas, Nana Foulland and Stephen Brown are all seniors (and all were named to the Patriot League First Team). All have their own strengths, but let’s start with Thomas, the Patriot League Player of the Year.

Thomas is one of the best players the Patriot League has seen in recent (and that’s impressive because the league has seen stars like C.J. McCollum and Mike Muscala). The senior stud averages 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Thomas is in the mold of Kevin Love. He’s a real force in the paint and excels in getting to the hoop, but he can also shoot the long ball. He has an uncanny ability to get free throws; he’s fifth nationally in fouls drawn with an average eight fouls drawn per 40 minutes, which is ahead of stars like Trae Young and Collin Sexton.

Nana Foulland is more than Thomas’ complimentary twin tower. He’s arguably a better defender and he showed off his balanced play with eight double-doubles on the year. He leads the team in field goal percentage at 60 percent, and blocks per game with 1.8.

Then we have our severely underrated point guard, Stephen Brown. Bucknell’s offense revolves around Brown. He’s had five or more assists in 18 games for the Bison. He absolutely went off in the Patriot League Tournament. His stat line in the last two games was 48 points, nine assists, three steals and six made three-pointers. This man can do it all and if he’s on, the Bison will be on.

Bucknell’s X-factors are Kimbal Mackenzie and Nate Sestina. Mackenzie is an energetic guard who tends to chuck up a bunch of shots behind the arc; some smart shot, others are, well, questionable. Last year, he led the Bison in scoring against West Virginia with 23 points and he went 5-7 from three. Sestina is actually a very solid forward, but he gets swept under the rug because of Thomas and Foulland’s talents. He’ll be counted on next year to fill their void but for now, he’s showing he can play. He made 7-9 shots in the Patriot League Championship and pulled the Bison over the edge with his 16 points.

How they can win

It’s clear by now that Bucknell has a myriad of ways to score. They can beat opponents with interior scoring from Thomas or Foulland, or with strong guard play from Brown. They are 38th nationally in points per game because their offense is deadly. Bucknell will also really need to get to the line because that is their specialty, and when more fouls are drawn, more points are on the board.

A win for Bucknell will also depend on consistency behind the arc. Thomas shoots 37 percent and Brown shoots 36 percent from three, but if they are off their game, three-point specialist Avi Toomer or Mackenzie must fill these roles.

Prediction

It’s easy to see a squad this deep and talented pulling an upset in the Big Dance. They hung with West Virginia last year and picked up a nice win against Vermont earlier this season. The Bison are yet to beat a powerhouse team, but with these hungry seniors, I wouldn’t bet against them in the first round.