The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

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The Herd Gathers: 2011-12 Men's Basketball Preview

By Greg Stevenson

Senior Writer

It wasn’t exactly the storybook ending the Bison men’s basketball team is used to.

Even after securing the Patriot League’s lone berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2011, and even though its opening-round opponent would eventually win the national championship, the lopsided, 29-point defeat at the hands of the Connecticut Huskies was not the legacy this team wanted to leave on the basketball program, especially in the shadow of the squads that beat Kansas and Arkansas years ago.

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“We don’t go a day without thinking about that game,” said Enoch Andoh ’12, a key bench player from last year’s team, expected see an expanded role this season.

And if motivation is to play a large role in the Bison men’s basketball team repeating as conference champions and returning to the postseason, look no further than that game.

“The UConn game definitely motivated us to work a lot harder and get stronger,” said Cameron Ayers ’14, who made significant strides at the end of last season and will likely fill the spot at point-guard left by Darryl Shazier ’11 in 2012. “We felt a little embarrassed, but we embraced the process and learned a lot from it and now we are more mature and ready for this year’s challenges.”

After winning 16 of 17 games in the Patriot League and going 23-3 after December last season, the expectations for this year’s team will be as high as they ever have been. The Bison were a unanimous selection to finish in first place in the conference again this season. And with the talent in both the front- and back-court, it is no surprise why.

The Orange and Blue return four starters from last year’s title-winning squad, including Patriot League Player of the Year and Tournament MVP Mike Muscala ’13. Arguably the most dominant player in the conference, Muscala recorded five double-doubles last season while averaging almost 15 points and eight rebounds per game. His national recognition skyrocketed when, in the course of a week, he had two buzzer-beating winning baskets, one to beat Richmond and the other Holy Cross.

Even with opposing defenses keying in on him, don’t expect much to change in Muscala’s game this season.

“I believe my role on the team this season is to be a leader, both by example and vocally, and to be a consistent force on the offensive and defensive end,” Muscala said.

As for his goals for this season, “I want to lead the league in rebounding this year,” Muscala said.

Also returning as starters for their third season in Bison uniform are Bryson Johnson ’13 and Joe Willman ’13. Garnering a reputation as a deadly-accurate outside shooter, Johnson finished seventh in the nation in three-point percentage. His speed and elusiveness, combined with a balanced offensive attack, should keep this sharpshooter going.

As a compliment to Muscala down low, Willman earned his spot in 2011 by grabbing hard-fought rebounds and making tough shots under the basket. His height will continue to expose many opponents’ weaknesses and prove to be a match-up problem for them.

Probably the most important asset this year will be Bryan Cohen ’12, who has become known as the premier stopper in the Patriot League. In his previous three seasons, Bryan Cohen ’12 has set the standard for how defensive basketball should be played and comes into 2012 looking to win conference Defensive Player of the Year for a third consecutive season.

Against UConn, Cohen had the tough task of guarding Kemba Walker, who eventually won NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player and was a lottery pick in the NBA draft.

“I pride myself on fulfilling my role of being a defensive stopper for our team and doing what is necessary for our team to win,” Cohen said. “I’m extremely excited for this upcoming season as it is my senior year and I make sure that my teammates and I are working their hardest to get a little better each day.”

The final position in the Orange and Blue starting line-up, point guard, will likely go to Ayers, who will have to fill the shoes of Shazier, one of the most outstanding players this program has seen at that position. A four-year starter, Shazier was a prototypical point-guard, finding open teammates while also taking care of the basketball, finishing second in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio.

Despite playing off the ball for most of the season, Ayers logged valuable minutes in key conference games, averaging nearly eight points per contest, and was named to the Patriot League All-Tournament team during his rookie year.

The Bison will once again need to rely on a deep bench, and production from their second rotation will start in the post with Andoh, whose performance in overtime in a late-season game against Lafayette kept their winning streak alive.

Also off the bench will be guards Ryan Hill ’14 and Ben Brackney ’14 and forwards Colin Klebon ’13 and Probese Leo ’12. Brian Fitzpatrick ’13 will play his first game in a Bison uniform after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Other newcomers, Joshea Singleton ’15, Cory Starkey ’15 and Steven Kaspar ’15 should see playing time in 2012.

Right out of the gates, the Orange and Blue will face two major conference opponents—Minnesota and Vanderbilt—during the first week of the season. In addition, the team will take on six out-of-league schools that made last year’s NCAA Tournament that includes Syracuse, Richmond and George Mason. Combined with the always-tough Patriot League schedule, the Bison will be tested early and often this season.

“Our tough non-conference schedule is important because it allows us to play against stronger and more athletic teams,” Johnson said. “We play every game to win and those games are really exciting for us to play in because we want to prove that we belong.”

With the disappointment from Connecticut game still lingering, the men’s basketball team heads into the 2011-2012 season looking to prove to the nation that the Bison belong on the national stage. But, before they have that opportunity, the Bison have a long road through a tough non-conference and Patriot League schedule ahead of them.

“I think we will do very well this year,” Willman said. “Anything less than winning the Patriot League will be a disappointment for all of us.”

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