Tomorrow's matchup against the Bucknell Bison should be more of a challenge than the game against Wagner.
On the low-major level, Dave Paulsen's Bucknell teams have been excellent in their league, even graduating a second-round pick that some people think has a real chance as a skilled big man in the NBA one day.
There's still a lot of talent. To get the feel of a team that most of us don't get to see on television often, the Rumble reached out to Kevin Doyle (@KLDoyle11) of NBC's excellent College Basketball Talk for more intel about Bucknell and what kind of threat they pose to the Johnnies tomorrow evening.
Q// Even without Mike Muscala - and during supposed rebuilding year - Dave Paulsen's Bison have hung with Stanford and have knocked off Penn State. Should St. John's be worried?
Dave Paulsen is at the point, now in his sixth season at Bucknell, where he no longer rebuilds, but rather reloads. While Bucknell graduated Muscala, along with two other All-Patriot League players in Bryson Johnson and Joe Willman, they return Cameron Ayers and have a bevy of underclassmen ready to fill in the voids left by the preceding three players.
Of course, expectations would be lower this season and a drop-off expected, but through three games Bucknell has looked like one of the nation's top mid-majors. St. John's should treat this game with the same level of seriousness that they would treat any Big East game. If they don't, the Bison certainly have the ability to knock off the Red Storm.
Going toe-to-toe with a solid Stanford team and then beating an improved Penn State team with Tim Frazier back in the lineup, it is clear that St. John's can't sleep on Bucknell.
Q// For those who will see Bucknell for the first time, which players are the most dangerous weapons on the court (offense and defense)?
Cameron Ayers has stepped into the role of being "they guy" this season. Ayers has been a fixture in the lineup ever since his freshman year, but with Bucknell graduating three of their four top scorers from a season ago, he is now the primary scoring option on offense.
After struggling against Stanford shooting 5-16 from the field and 1-8 from 3PT, Ayers has found his stroke combining to go 9-10 from 3PT in wins against Penn State and St. Francis (PA).
Ayers also happens to be Bucknell's top perimeter defender, but he has received help from Steven Kaspar, who has done an exceptional job moving into the starting point guard role.
Q// Speaking of defense, last year's squad was really good. Was that all Muscala-powered, or are they a tough defensive team again? Where do they excel on the defensive side and where are they vulnerable?
On the defensive end, Bucknell forces turnovers at an incredibly low rate. In fact, last season they were dead last in the country in forcing turnovers, but were still a solid defensive team as opponents shot a mere 41.1% on 2PT field goals. That number figures to rise this season without Muscala and Willman roaming the paint.
Dave Paulsen's defensive strategy is to not gamble on the perimeter; they are a very fundamentally sound and disciplined in this regard.
Q// What does Bucknell have to do to knock off St. John's on Tuesday?
First and foremost, they will have to contain D`Angelo Harrison in some capacity -- easier said than done. Expect Ayers to draw the assignment of defending Harrison. Because Bucknell rarely takes chances on defense, they are an excellent help-defense team, which is a necessity in order to have success defending an athletic group like St. John's who has a propensity to get to the basket, rather than shoot from the perimeter.
While Paulsen plays almost exclusively man-to-man defense, Ayers will not be left on islands while defending Harrison.
Secondly, they have to shoot well from the perimeter. In their win over Penn State, they shot a blistering 10-15 from 3PT. To that end, Ben Brackney -- who was nothing more than a mere role player for the past two seasons -- will need to have a strong shooting performance. On the season, Brackney is 9-16 from 3PT.
Q// Is this team a real contender in the Patriot League? (They're still in the Patriot, right? Realignment has me all kinds of confused...)
Yes, Bucknell is without a doubt a real contender in the Patriot League. They were picked to finish fourth in the league behind Boston University, Lafayette, and Army, but in the early going they have demonstrated they will challenge for the league crown, once again.
A win or very competitive showing against St. John's on Tuesday evening would further legitimize the Bison as the primary challenger for Boston University, who is the prohibitive favorite to win the league.