We need some good news around here, and it is coming in just four short days. Our Boilermaker Men's Basketball season officially tips off the season this coming with two home games to start the 2KSports Classic against Bucknell and Hofstra. Regardless of the outcome Purdue will go to New York for a four-team tournament at Madison Square Garden to complete the event.
The first game comes against the Bucknell Bison, who could be an NCAA Tournament team in 2013 and will provide a stiff test.
Location: Lewisburg, PA
2011-12 record: 25-10, 12-2 Patriot League (Regular Season Champion)
2012 Postseason: Lost to Nevada 75067 in NIT second Round
Final RPI: 92
Blog Representation: None
Series With Purdue: First meeting
TV: Big Ten Digital Network
Tickets: You can buy mine right here and print at home.
Bucknell was a really good team last year and was only ousted in the Patriot League Finals 82-77 by Lehigh, who went on to stun No. 2 seed Duke in the NCAA Tournament. The Bison split the season series with Lehigh and won the regular season conference title. In terms of common opponents they opened the year with a 12 point loss at Minnesota. They didn't have any noteworthy wins, but they did play decent games against Vanderbilt and Syracuse.
Their best win was probably their last one, as they went on the road and won 65-54 at Arizona in the first round of the NIT. This was a 1/8 seeded matchup, so it was an impressive NIT upset. Bucknell only got into that tournament because of their regular season conference title, but they made the most of it.
Purdue's new depth in the front court will be tested immediately with Mike Muscala, a three-time all-Patriot league selection and reigning conference Player of the Year anchoring their middle. The 6'11" 239 big man has an outside chance of making an NBA roster with a good year. He averaged 17 points, 9.1 rebounds, and nearly two assists per game as an all-around player. He can step out and hit the three (7 of 20 last season) but he is mostly an old school post player. If you foul him he hits 85% of his free throw attempts.
Cameron Ayers (11.1 ppg, 1.8 apg), Joe Willman (10.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg), and Joe Willman (9.3 ppg) also return as the top four scorers. This is a team that knows how to win and has a tone of experience. Muscala, Willman, and Johnson are all seniors and Ayers is a junior. Willman at 6'7" and Ayers as a 6'5" guard will be very challenging.
Sophomore Steven Kaspar (2.3.ppg, 2.3 apg) will likely take over as the starting point guard after the departure of Bryan Cohen, but this is already a team that shares the basketball extremely well. This team averaged 14 assists against only 12 turnovers last season.
Defensively, Muscala protected the rim will with almost two blocks per game, but as a team they averaged only four steals per game. They were a pretty average rebounding team with the exception of Muscala, who really is a do-everything player for them at 6'11".
What concerns me about Muscala is that he has guard skills. He really could be a poor man's Cody Zeller in that he does not have to anchor himself to the low lost on both ends of the floor. We have the size to defend him, but A.J. Hammons and Sandi Marcius lack the quickness to guard him when pulled out to the perimeter. Travis Carroll is better, given his success against Myles Leonard last year, but this could be a game for Donnie Hale, Jay Simpson, and Jacob Lawson to use their athleticism to defend him.
Bucknell will have success against us if Muscala opens things up for his teammates much like how Zeller opened things up for IU last year. They shoot the basketball well with Muscala and Willman hitting better than 50% from the floor. Ayers and Johnson are deadly three-point shooters on the perimeter. Ronnie Johnson and Terone Johnson will have their hands full with them. Ben Brackney is even better, hitting 51.5% in a limited role last year.
Honestly, this team scares me a little and they are very capable of walking out of Mackey Arena with a victory. They are deep, talented, and experienced with a ton of wins under their belts. They only have a handful of chances to get a win over a major conference program that might boost them to an at large bid because they play at Purdue, Penn State, and Missouri. Beating Purdue would at least give them something to show the committee in March if they do not win the Patriot League Tourney again.
Our youth is also a major issue. I don't think there is a question of talent for Purdue. Our freshmen are still freshmen, however, playing their first collegiate regular season game. Playing a possible NCAA team and a conference favorite in a low major conference will be an excellent test to see how ready they are.
Prediction: Purdue 70, Bucknell 62