Bucknell is not the defending Patriot League champion. However, no one can deny that the Bison have put the league on the basketball map in recent years.
Bucknell upset Kansas in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, then beat Arkansas in an 8-9 game the following March. The Bison even cracked the Associated Press top 25 during the 2005-06 season.
However, Bucknell was dethroned by Holy Cross last season. Now, as the Patriot League gets set to begin Friday night with Bucknell hosting Navy, the Bison have the worst overall record of the eight league members at 5-9.
What has happened to the Patriot League darlings?
"We just haven't played well offensively," Bucknell coach Pat Flannery said. "We haven't been able to get into any kind of rhythm on offense. We're really struggled to score."
Indeed, the Bison are 277th in the nation in raw offensive efficiency (92.6) and 288th in adjusted offensive efficiency (90.9). They are also 278th in three-point field goal percentage (31.2) and 242nd in two-point field goal percentage (45.9).
Part of Bucknell's problem is that it has not found inside scorers to replace forward Donald Brown and center Chris McNaughton, who combined to score 24.3 points a game as seniors last season. The Bison were also without senior forward Darren Mastropaolo, the last remaining starter from the teams that pulled the upsets in the NCAAs, until two games ago. Mastropaolo suffered a major knee injury while playing in a pick-up game over the summer.
"It's a process but it's getting better," said Mastropaolo, who is averaging 4.0 points and 2.5 rebounds a game. "I feel better every day but it's going to take some time to get to 100 percent."
Mastropaolo was not a big scorer before he was hurt, so he likely won't make up all of the front-line offense that was lost to graduation. The only two Bucknell players scoring in double figures are senior guard John Griffin (12.5) and junior guard Justin Castleberry (11.6).
Bucknell is getting other contributions from the big men as junior center Josh Linthicum is 57th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (14.3) and freshman center Todd O'Brien is 14th in percentage of blocks (12.0) and 71st in defensive rebounding percentage (23.5). However, Linthicum is scoring just 6.0 points a game and O'Brien is averaging 4.7.
"We haven't played as well as I had hoped but, in fairness, we've played a very tough schedule and we really haven't had a minute to breathe since the season started," Flannery said. "But I think our schedule has prepared us for league play."
Bucknell, though, ranks just fifth in the Patriot League in the Pomeroy Rankings (through Wednesday) behind Holy Cross (9-4), American (8-7), Lafayette (9-6) and Lehigh (7-7).
Holy Cross, which has beaten Saint Joseph's and lost by just two points to Dayton, is led by senior center Tim Clifford, who is averaging 17.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. He is also 10th nationally in percentage of shots taken (36.0), 37th in effective field goal percentage (65.4) and 38th in offensive rebounding percentage (15.2) for the Crusaders, who rank ninth nationally in that category with a 42.2 mark. Meanwhile, junior guard Pat Doherty is averaging 10.0 points, 4.7 assists and 2.0 steals.
Junior guards Garrison Carr (15.5) and Derrick Mercer (14.4) are scoring in double digits for American, which knocked off Maryland last month. Mercer is also averaging 4.2 assists a game and he leads the nation in percentage of minutes played (95.0).
Sharp-shooting Lafayette is 10th in the country in three-point field goal percentage (41.4), led by junior guard Andrew Brown. He is averaging 16.4 points and 3.1 assists while ranking 27th in effective field goal percentage (66.3). Senior guard Bilal Abdullah is scoring 13.6 points a game.
Lehigh is a team many league coaches feel could be quite dangerous with the trio of sophomore guard Marquis Hall, sophomore forward Zahir Carrington and senior forward Brian White. Hall is averaging 12.3 points and 5.0 assists a game, Carrington is scoring 11.9 points a game and White is averaging 10.7 points and 7.9 rebounds for coach Brett Reed, who was promoted from his assistant's job in August when Billy Taylor left for Ball State.
"I wouldn't say I'm satisfied at this point in the season, but I do like the way various players are settling into their roles," Reed said. "I feel like we're getting better."
Texas Tech coach Bob Knight will go after his 900th career victory Saturday when the Red Raiders visit Oklahoma State. The only other NCAA coaches to win 900 games are women's coaches, Tennessee's Pat Summitt (959) and Judy Conradt, who retired at Texas at the end of last season with 900.
The all-team men's coaching leader is Harry Statham, who has won 958 games in 42 seasons at McKendree, an NAIA school in Illinois.
Not surprisingly, Knight is not impressed by being on the doorstep of No. 900. He says it is more a byproduct of spending 42 seasons as a head coach.
"Things that transpire relative to numbers are usually a matter of longevity more than anything else," Knight told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "You want to be able to do the job well. But I think there have been a lot of really good coaches who coached a relatively short period of time."
Knight won't say how much longer he will coach. His contract runs through the 2011-12 season and his son, Texas Tech assistant Pat, has been designated as the successor.
"You'll read about it somewhere in the newspaper," Bob Knight said. "When I quit everybody will know at the same time that I quit, and they'll have no idea where to find me."
Bouncing Back at Pitt
Some observers feel Pittsburgh will struggle in the Big East after losing guards Mike Cook and Levance Fields to injury in recent weeks.
Cook, a senior averaging 10.4 points, suffered torn ligaments during the overtime period of Pitt's win over Duke at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 20. Nine days later, Fields broke his foot in a loss at Dayton, costing the Panthers 11.9 points and 5.4 assists a game. Fields is also 61st in the nation in assist rate (33.0).
However, senior guard Keith Benjamin stepped up Wednesday night and scored a career-high 20 points in a 79-66 win at South Florida. He is adamant that it is unwise to write Pitt off.
"A lot of people are talking like our season is over because we've lost a couple of guys," Benjamin said. "I'm not a guy who talks a lot. I'm more of a guy who likes to shut people up. I think this game should shut up those people who think we're finished.
"We got a road win in the toughest conference in the country. It's not going to be our last win, either. We're still going to win a lot of games this season. We've still one of the premier teams in the country."
Team to Watch
This week's Team to Watch is Ohio State, which is not in the AP top 25 yet but has moved up to No. 18 in the Pomeroy Ratings as an eight-game winning streak has pushed the Buckeyes' record to 12-3 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten.
Coach Thad Matta has only one starter and four players back from last year's team, the one that lost to Florida in the national championship game. However, Ohio State is rolling as it gets set to travel to Purdue on Saturday before a showdown at Michigan State on Tuesday night.
Highly touted freshman forward Kosta Koufos is leading the way as he is averaging 14.5 points and 7.0 rebounds a game, both team highs. Senior guard Jamar Butler, the lone returning starter, is scoring 14.0 points and dishing out 6.3 assists a game.
Defense has been the key for the Buckeyes as they rank first in the nation in free throw rate allowed (17.5), eighth in three-point field goal percentage allowed (28.1), ninth in adjusted defensive efficiency (84.5) and 15th in effective field goal percentage allowed (42.9).
Games of the Week
The top five games of the week from Jan. 11-17 according to the Pomeroy Ratings (all times Eastern):
No. 12 Washington State at No. 6 UCLA, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net
No. 21 Oklahoma at No. 1 Kansas, Monday, 9 p.m., ESPN
No. 15 Notre Dame at No. 8 Marquette, Saturday, 2 p.m., Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
No. 18 Ohio State at No. 13 Michigan State, Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN
No. 11 Georgetown at No. 24 Pittsburgh, Monday, 7 p.m., ESPN
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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