The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

November 27, 2012

Bill Bowman's college sports column: Muscala wants the ball, he needs the ball


Daily Item

---- — Mike Muscala did exactly what you would expect him to do: He fell on the sword and took one for the team on Friday afternoon.

A quick look at the box score after Penn State outlasted Muscala's Bucknell men's basketball team showed that the Bison center, one of the best players to ever play for the program and in the Patriot League, got up four shots.

Four. In 37 minutes.

Ryan Hill and Stephen Kaspar, the two who split time at the point for the Bison, combined for eight shots in 39 minutes.

One of those should happen, in fact maybe a little more. But one of those things should never happen. Ever.

The Bison managed just 41 shots in the game, but for Muscala to get less than 10 percent of them is inexcusable.

When asked if he was frustrated by the lack of shots -- Muscala did turn the ball over three times and the Bison had a couple of turnovers trying to get the ball to him in the double team -- Muscala blamed himself.

"I didn't do a good job of getting good post position or handling it when they started to double," said the All-Patriot center. "The guards did a really good job of looking for me, but I've got to do a better job getting in better position."

Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen quickly jumped in and while he agreed Muscala needed to deal with the double-team better, he also acknowledged they need to get the ball inside.

"Mike got pushed off the post all night, so he does have to do a better job," the fifth-year Bison coach said. "But our guards have to do a better job finding him. We aren't going to win a game against a Big Ten team on the road when Mike gets four shots.

"We need to get it to him quicker, deeper, better, more often, all of the above."

Here's a secret that's not really a secret: There are a lot of basketball teams that are as good if not better than Bucknell from 1 to 4. But the list gets considerably shorter when you factor in Muscala, one of the nation's best bigs.

He is a difference-maker, the difference-maker for Bucknell and when you have one of those dudes, you get him the ball some how, some way.

In six games, Muscala has taken 63 shots, topping out at 19 against New Mexico State. In six games, Muscala has taken 13, 8, 12, 19, 7 and 4 shots. The other true difference maker in the Patriot League, Lehigh's C.J. McCollum, has taken 112 shots, nearly twice as many at Muscala. In his six games, McCollum has taken 32, 15, 11, 21, 19 and 14 shots.

Now I understand McCollum is a guard and he has the ball in his hands more than Muscala does, but there is no reason McCollum, a preseason AP All-American, should have twice as many shots as someone of Muscala's caliber. I also feel like Bucknell can be more successful without a huge night from Muscala than Lehigh can without a huge night from McCollum (which technically doesn't happen that often), so Bucknell does not have to rely on him quite as much.

In Friday's disappointing loss, Muscala had 10 points on four shots against a Big Ten team and Bucknell still almost won. So the Bison can be successful without Muscala putting up huge numbers.

Muscala will never, ever, complain about not getting shots (at least not to us) that's not his style. He is leader in every sense, the guy his teammates will follow anywhere.

That's not the point. The point is if you have him, use him. It's like leaving a Porsche in the garage and taking the minivan. It can be practical, but where's the fun in that.

n Sports editor Bill Bowman covers college sports for The Daily Item. Email comments to bbowman@dailyitem.com. Follow him at twitter.com/williambbowman.