The last time (before Friday!) the Ephs played in back-to-back Final Fours, they were led by Dave Paulsen ’87, who finished a tremendous year leading Bucknell to the Patriot League title, earning conference coach of the year honors in the process.  Watch post-game video of Dave here hear his thoughts on the Ephs’ Final Four run here, and be sure to read fellow Eph Tim Layden’s story on Paulsen’s time at Williams.  Go Bison!  

Bucknell will be a massive underdog againt perennial power and Big East champion UConn, when they play on Thursday at 7:20 at the Verizon Center.  Bucknell will be particularly hard-pressed to contain UConn superstar guard Kemba Walker, who has been keeping Paulsen from a good night’s sleep this week.  (At least one regular Ephblogger will be in attendance to cheer Paulsen on).  Nevertheless, some feel that Bucknell has Cinderella potential.

Bucknell’s key players:

  • Bucknell’s star is Mike Muscala ’13: Patriot League player of the year.  He reminds me of Eph all-American Ben Coffin ’04, in both appearance, playing style, and ability level, although he has an extra two inches in height, and deeper shooting range.  Very tough player on both ends of the floor.  Follow Muscala’s tweets on BisonGoDancing.
  • Bryson Johnson ’13: second team all-Patriot two-guard who Paulsen has called the best shooter he has ever coached … quite a statement from a guy who coached legendary Eph marksmen like Tim Folan, Tucker Kain, and Chuck Abba.  Johnson is reasonably athletic and can get to the rim as well, but it is his tremendous range which gives Bucknell a shot at an upset.  They will need him to hit some tough, deep threes, which can be the equalizer verses a more talented team.
  • Darryl Shazier ’11: the lone senior starter, a small but lightning quick first team all-Patriot point guard, can get into foul trouble and runs hot and cold in terms of shooting, but an electrifying player and the engine that makes Bucknell run.   Bucknell has no other true point guards in the rotation, so he has to stay out of foul trouble — the Bison offense has a tendency to bog down when he is not on the floor.
  • Bryan Cohen ’12: two-time Patriot League defensive player of the year, scrappy as hell on both ends, consumate glue guy, won’t often create his own shot but a good passer who will make the hustle play.  In the mold of Ephs John Botti ’96 and Jim Frew ’99.  Cohen will face his steepest challenge as a collegian in attempting to guard the fastest, and arguably the best overall, guard in the country, surefire first team all-American Kemba Walker.

Other guys to watch include the fifth starter, Joe Willman ’13, who does some dirty work and can hit mid-range jumpers, and who will have a major challenge dealing with UConn’s bigger and more athletic forwards, Cameron Ayers ’14, a very talented frosh who plays like you’d expect from a coach’s son — poised, crafty, and can shoot, and fan favorite / energizer G.W. Boone ’11, who is another capable shooter from deep.  Bucknell is not a deep team, relying heavily on these seven guys.

As for UConn, everyone knows about Kemba Walker … he will be a major handful for Bucknell, who will surely try to force him to feed teammates rather than have one-on-one opportunities.  Walker’s supporting cast is, as you would expect from UConn, talented as well, although none of them are stars in the Big East (if they played in the Patriot League, that would likely be a different story).  In particular, Bucknell will have to focus on do-it-all 6’5 wing Jeremy Lamb (UConn’s second leading scorer), and 6’9 F/C Alex Oriakhi, a physically imposing player who is a dominant force on the glass and protecting the rim.  Bucknell is at a particular disadvantage up front, where Muscala is the only true big man who sees major minutes, while Connecticut rotates five players between 6’8 and 7’0.

To win, Bucknell will have to keep Walker under control and force the other UConn players to beat them, keep Muscala and Shazier out of foul trouble as both can ill afford to miss much game action, do a credible job on the glass vs. a bigger, more athletic team, and hit threes, and lots of them.  I think Bucknell will at least make it interesting, but I am sure Coach Paulsen will have some sleepless nights heading into his first D-1 tourney ….

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