---- — By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
LEWISBURG -- You don't replace the kind of senior class the Bucknell men's basketball team graduated last May.
An NBA draft pick, the school's all-time leader in 3-pointers made, and a 1,000-point scorer at power forward (Mike Muscala, Bryson Johnson and Joe Willman) all walked down the aisle. A class that led the Bison to 92 victories, three Patriot League regular season championships and two NCAA Tournament appearances is no more.
As Bucknell sits 3-4 now after a loss to Princeton on Saturday, there have been bright spots in the early season in the quest to find the identity of this year's Bison's squad, but as it currently stands -- two games before finals break -- Bucknell is still a work in progress.
"We are going to have some uneven stretches offensively with this group," Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. "It's a group that is largely untested."
The Bison got the season off to a positive start with a close, well-played loss to Stanford on the road in Maples Pavilion, followed by the school's first win over Penn State since 1976 and first win in the Bryce Jordan Center in 11 tries.
However, the Bison, who shot the ball the well at the beginning of the season, have struggled from the floor in a current two-game losing streak.
The core group returning from last year's team -- Cam Ayers, Stephen Kaspar, Brian Fitzpatrick and Ben Brackney -- are being looked on in new roles this season.
Ayers, long one of the team's top defensive players, is now expected to pick up more of the scoring slack from the departed seniors. Ayers, who averaged a career-high 12.4 points per game last year, leads the team in scoring at 15.2 this year.
Kaspar earned a starting role at point guard late last season, and his ability to penetrate and make passes in the lane were huge in Bucknell's strong early season offensive start.
Fitzpatrick and Brackney, both key players off the bench last year, have moved into starting roles this season. Fizpatrick and sophomore Dom Hoffman have the unenviable task of trying to replace Muscala in the post, while Brackney gives the Bison another deep threat behind the arc. Brackney, a 6-foot-6 senior, is shooting 48.5 percent from 3-point this season and 47.2 percent for his career.
The lone unknown in the early part of Bucknell's season has been the final starter. Sophomore Chris Hass might have earned that role with his play over the past two weeks. He's had the first three double-figure scoring games of his career, including a career-high 15 against Princeton. The 6-foot-5, 182-pounder has two big assets for the current landscape in college basketball -- 3-point shooting and athleticism.
The Bison will also look to get contributions from a couple freshmen this year.
Guard John Azzinaro, a 5-foot-11, 169-pounder from San Antonio, has played double-figure minutes off the bench in every game but one so far.
Ben Oberfeld, a Minnesotan like Muscala, is also expected to give Bucknell another big body inside this season. Oberfeld, a 6-foot-9, 240-pounder, made just his second appearance of the season on Saturday night against the Tigers. Oberfeld is rounding into shape after a preseason knee injury left him unavailable for Bucknell's first two games.