Unlike conference games, where teams are intimately familiar with each other, the NCAA Tournament is a completely different animal. After Selection Sunday, the early part of the week coaches scramble to watch game film and figure out the strengths and weaknesses of their next opponent. Then they practice a couple times, hop on a bus or plane, and before you know it, March Madness is officially underway.
I suspect that was the routine for Bucknell and UConn the past few days (although even someone with a passing interest in basketball could tell you that the Huskies' success starts with Kemba Walker). So who are the Bucknell names and faces to watch out for Thursday night?
- Offensively, the Bison are all about motion;
- Darryl Shazier is the perfect point guard for their offense…His assist/turnover ratio of 3.8 tells you he isn’t going to give the ball away;
- Bryson Johnson can flat-out shoot;
- Bison shoot over 40 percent from long range;
- Patriot League Player of the Year Mike Muscala can score on the post or facing the basket, even capable of hitting the very occasional three-pointer.
Defensively, Bucknell is primarily a man-to-man team. That sound you hear is a collective sigh of relief coming from Huskies supporters. No zone defense means that Walker won't be relegated to the perimeter where he is less effective. That said, UConn has successfully attacked zone defenses in recent games. Just look to the win over Syracuse in the conference semifinals for proof.
But no matter the defense, Walker will get his points. That's an immutable fact. Which means that Bucknell will have to do other things extremely well if it's going to have a chance. Former Bison player, Patrick Behan, writing in the New York Timesexplains exactly what has to happen for Bucknell to be competitive.
"To have a chance, Bucknell will have to … not get outrebounded, take care of the ball, make shots and, most importantly, play with great confidence. As winners of 23 of their last 25 games, including the last 10, the Bison will not be lacking in the confidence department. Plus, the program has a history of success as a lower seed. In 2005, as a 14 seed, Bucknell beat No. 3 seed Kansas. The next year, as a No. 9 seed, it beat No. 8 Arkansas."
At this point, confidence is key. Even better? Confidence and talent. Which is what the Huskies have been playing with the last five games. And if they pick up where they left off in Madison Square Garden -- Walker being Walker to go along with the continued emergence of the freshmen, and solid contributions from the big men -- the Huskies could make a serious run through the NCAAs.
The fun starts promptly at 7:20 PM. Hopefully, we will all be able to watch it.