Bucknell vs. Syracuse
Tip off: 7 PM EST
Spread: SYR -18.5
Last season was good for the Orange, but all indications are that this year may be even better. After posting a 27-8 record and going 12-6 in the rugged Big East last year, the Orange have stormed off to an 11-0 start this season. They have only played one ranked opponent (then #9 Florida), but they won by 4, and won’t face their next ranked opponent until January 7th when they take on #10 Marquette.
They have employed a versatile ten man rotation, that is highlighted by the trio of Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters, and Brandon Triche.
Joseph, a 6’7″ senior, hit 41% of his threes last season and has dialed up 39.6% so far this year. He’s good at getting to the line, but has looked to improve his turnovers. So far, it has worked. After averaging 2.1 TO/g last season, that number has dipped to a very impressive 1.1. It has been one of the keys in the Syracuse offense this season, an offense that ranks 15th in the nation in points per game with 80.8 per contest. The efficiency has also transpired in their assists production, as the Orange rank 21st in the nation in assists with 16.5 per game, despite the fact that no one averages more than 4.0 per game individually.
Expect some of the lower rotation players (Michael Carter-Williams, Rakeem Christmas, Baye Moussa Keita) to get more time tonight in a game that they are so heavily favored in. Naturally, as with most predicted blowouts, it makes assessing the value of the spread more difficult.
While Bucknell posted a 12-8 out of conference record — mediocre, to say the best — they dominated the heck out of the Patriot league. They won 13 of their 14 in conference games and it earned them a berth to the Big Dance. While they did lose by 29 in the opening round to UCONN, no one expected them to win anyway, and the season still was constituted as a great success for the Bison.
Their only conference loss last season was a bizarre 20 point defeat to none other than the US Army.
While the Bison lose All-Patriot PG Darryl Shazier, they return all four of the other starters which has rendered them a pretty good team so far. They won five straight at one point (Nov 19 thru Nov 27), and have won their last two over Richmond and Binghamton.
In the game against Richmond, they received 50 points from the trio of Byrson Johnson (18), Mike Muscala (22), and Cameron Ayers (23). Muscala pulled down 12 rebounds in addition to his 22 points, and the 6’11” junior has now posted five double doubles this season. His 9.2 rebounds per game account for roughly 25% of all Bucknell’s rebounding.
Other than Bryan Cohen, all starters average double figures, and Cameron Ayers’ 13.2 points per game edge him out over Muscala for the team lead in scoring. Despite that, Ayers has been wildly inconsistent, posting 8 points or less four times already this season, while posting three games over 20 points as well. While such players are hardly unusual in small conference teams (they play such a variance in opponents), Ayers must improve his consistency if Bucknell is to do more than just a one round showing in March.
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