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2006-07 Preview: Bucknell Bison

10 November, 2006

by

There’s no need to rehash Bucknell’s spectacular 2005-06 season, nor the big numbers they to graduation. Bison backups Jason Vegotsky and Donald Brown have the misfortune of trying to replace Kevin Bettencourt and Charles Lee, with a lot of pressure to repeat at the top of the league. However, Bucknell is still led by a 6’10” anchor in the middle and a reliable point guard, and still has coach Pat Flannery’s stifling defensive schemes.

Point
Abe Badmus enters his third season at the helm of the Bison offense without the team’s two leading shot-takers from last year. Badmus has been a classic point guard, a distributor foremost who takes the shots given to him but doesn’t search for his own shot. In order to take defensive pressure off McNaughton and open up Vegotsky and Griffin for outside shots, Badmus will have to assert himself as a scoring threat. Badmus’ mid-range was good last year (50% from the floor), but his 29% touch from outside the arc and 69% shooting from the free throw line suggest exploitable weaknesses. If Badmus is a better shot this year, it would go a long way in helping the rest of the team find the basket unobstructed. The 2004-05 Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, Badmus can be counted on to give league point guards fits. His quick hands help him nab steals and defensive rebounds.
Rating: OOOO

Wing
Though the comparisons will come early and often, Jason Vegotsky is not Kevin Bettencourt. While Bettencourt stormed the league his freshman year as a starter and scoring threat, Vegotsky was brought along slowly last season, garnering 8.7 minutes per game. Vegotsky showed a great outside touch last year, hitting 55% of his three-point attempts, but it’s hard to tell if his shooting will stay sharp as he becomes more of a focus in the offense. Vegotsky will have to become more cohesive with the offensive system (he had just 11 assists in 261 minutes last year) and move without the ball, two things he rarely did as a spot-up shooter last year. On the other side of the ball, Vegotsky’s coverage of quick guards has been at times shaky. The Bison will be starved for offense, so as long as Vegotsky plays at least passable defense, he will garner big minutes.

The versatile Donald Brown has seen success off the bench as a power forward, but he will be relied on this season to play down to his 6’5” height as a wing. Brown was a solid defender and energy spark off the bench last year, but he has to prove that he has the motor to keep up with “third guards” like Andre Ingram and Kyle Neptune all game. On the offensive side, Brown displayed an ability to find the hoop last year, hitting 52.2 percent of his shots from the floor. Brown’s versatility plays perfectly into an offense that features Chris McNaughton on the high post and Vegotsky on the perimeter. He should become a key figure on offense this season.
Rating: OOO

Post
Center Chris McNaughton is the most feared post player in the Patriot League, but the stats didn’t reflect it last year. Because of all the skill around him in Bettencourt and Lee, McNaughton only averaged 12.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. McNaughton hit 57.8 percent of his shots last year, in part because he was able to pass outside to great shooters whenever he was double-teamed. For the big man to have such efficiency again, the Bison will need Vegotsky and the outside shooters to establish themselves as threats. If they fail to do so and teams know they can double-team McNaughton, Bucknell will struggle to score points.

Darren Mastropoulo was the “fifth Beatle” in last year’s Bison lineup, doing a lot of the little things and generally going unnoticed by spectators. With the scoring talent Bucknell had last year, they were able to essentially play 4-on-5 on offense. It’s not that Mastopoulo can’t be counted on to score more; it’s that we don’t know if he has the ability because he never had to showcase it last year. It would behoove the Bison for Mastopoulo to establish early in games that he can put the ball in the hoop, forcing opponents to abandon double-teams on McNaughton and freeing up the high post. It appears that Flannery is doing just that this year; Mastropoulo had a team-high 13 points in an intrasquad game a few weeks ago. Mastropoulo’s skills on defense are already confirmed, and you can count on his size and strength to disrupt the inside game of most Patriot League squads. Mastropoulo had 76 personal fouls last year, an average of 4.9 fouls per 40 minutes. If he misses big stretches of time with foul trouble, the Bison will slide Brown to the power forward spot and run a three-guard lineup, which neutralizes their size advantage in league play.
Rating: OOOO1/2

Bench
Combo guard John Griffin factors prominently into Bucknell’s plans this year, and in fact may get some starts over Vegotsky. Griffin is a good outside shooter and can run the offense when Badmus is off the court. He also plays strong defense, which may win him crunch-time minutes. Rob Thomas is a lean, athletic scorer who will pick up bench points for the Bison. Justin Castleberry will play some backup point guard for Bucknell. Three freshmen round out the backcourt bench. Stephen Tyree is a good defender and athletic; he will see the most time among the freshmen. Zach Evans is a good shooter and his 6-5 height can cause matchup problems on the wing. George Medrano is another backup point guard.

Backing up McNaughton for the Bison will be 6-11 sophomore Josh Linthicum. Linthicum saw very little action last year, but will be counted on to keep Bucknell in games when McNaughton is resting. Linthicum is a good shot-blocker and post defender. He had trouble scoring from the field last year, but should be improved in that area. Behind him, freshman Patrick Behan will garner bench minutes as well. Behan is an excellent outside shooter for a big man, which has the potential to cause big matchup problems. He will be used when the Bison need an offensive kick. Andrew Morrison, a tough defender, will see time at power forward as well.
Rating: OO1/2

Coaching Track Record
It’s tough to quibble with an undefeated league season. Flannery brought in great players, ran a great system and had the best season in Patriot League history last year. Bucknell lost a lot of production to graduation and other league teams got better, so Flannery has his work cut out for him this season. There’s every reason to believe Flannery will again get everything he can out of his players.
Rating: OOO1/2

Schedule
Not surprisingly, no one wants to come to Sojka Pavilion. Bucknell will host Wake Forest in November (Bison assistant Mark Prosser is the son of Wake coach Skip Prosser), and Northern Iowa in a return game from last year’s BracketBuster. They will have to travel for games at Penn State, St. Joseph’s, Albany, Xavier, Texas Tech, and a neutral-court game in Washington, D.C. against George Mason that will essentially be a home game for the Patriots. It will be very difficult for Bucknell to replicate last year’s non-conference success with that kind of schedule. Twice during the league schedule, the Bison will have to play American and Holy Cross in the same week.
Rating: OOO1/2

Overall
Bucknell is a hard team to read. The remaining players are clearly talented, but Lee and Bettencourt represented 38.5 percent of all the shots Bucknell took last year. The tough non-conference schedule will give a hint as to how well the Bison can adjust to losing that amount of offense, but until the Patriot League schedule begins we won’t know how they size up to the other top teams in the league.

Best-case scenario: Vegotsky and Griffin hit their outside shots, McNaughton dominates, and the Bison roll to a 13-1 league record and another title.

Worst-case scenario: Brown can’t adjust to playing the wing, Vegotsky can’t score when the defense keys in on him, McNaughton can’t do it alone, and Bucknell falls back to the middle of the pack with an 8-6 season.

Most likely scenario: Badmus and McNaughton carry the team, the role players contribute but can’t make up for all the offense lost, and the Bison go 11-3 and win the Patriot League in a split decision.
Rating: OOO1/2

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