The long and lonely off-season is over on Friday when the Villanova Wildcats take the court against Coach Jay Wright's alma mater, Bucknell University. The Bison made a late charge last season to finish second in the Patriot League behind Lehigh and hope to resume to their winning ways of January and February last season to open up 2010-2011.
With all five starters returning, the Bison are a team that has had plenty of time to gel and create chemistry.
Mike Muscala, a 6'10 center, was a key player for the Bison last year, averaging 13.1 points and 6.5 rebounds in conference play (9.9ppg and 4.9rpg overall). Muscala may give some Villanova fans flashbacks to 2004-2006, when Kevin Pittsnogle regularly showed off his shooting range in BIG EAST play. Yes, Bucknell has a center who likes to shoot from downtown, and has been the team's second-best shooter from beyond the arc -- at least in practice.
Shooting guard Bryson Johnson is their most dangerous shooter, having made 67 of his 204 shots from beyond the arc last season (32.9%). Johnson was only third in scoring (with 9.5 ppg), however, as senior point guard Daryl Shazier lead the team in scoring (and field goals attempted) with 10.1 points per game.
Ken Pomeroy's projections only give Bucknell a 3% chance of winning this game, but this could be a tougher match-up than Pomeroy's statistics suggest. Villanova's defense has been weak against the 3 since last season, and appears to be similarly situated this season, after allowing University of D.C.'s Tim Ellison to connect on 6 of 9 attempts from beyond the arc in their exhibition last week. With at least two players with the range to take advantage of the 'Cats from 3, this is an area of concern.
Last season Bucknell averaged only 12 turnovers per game. Villanova handed it over 21 times against UDC last week -- an area that will have to improve for the 'Cats to win games against Division 1 opponents this season.
Bucknell have a history playing the scrappy underdog, upsetting Kansas in 2005 and Arkansas in 2006. Coach Dave Paulsen hopes to revive that tradition in his third season at the helm and it will be up to Jay Wright to ensure that Villanova will not be the first major-confernce victim of Paulsen's tenure.
Expect to see some more switching on defense. The bigger lineups this season will allow the Wildcats to add some 2-3 zone defense to their repertoire, along side the man and triangle-and-2 sets that we have seen over the last few years.
The Wildcats cannot come into this game with the expectation that they will win. They will need to work hard to keep the Bucknell shooters from getting comfortable. The Bison are a tough defensive team that includes the Patriot League defensive player of the year as well as the shot-blocking prowess of Muscala.
To ensure a victory, Jay Wright needs to get his team to play the Bison as hard as they would play any BIG EAST opponent.
The game will tip-off on Friday, November 12, 2010 at 8:00PM from the Pavilion. It will be broadcast live on ESPN3.com.