The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 10, 2012

Bill Bowman's college sports column: By any measure, Muscala shines


Daily Item

---- — Numbers are the essence of sports. Only now we've got these new statistics that make your grandfather shake his head, wondering what was wrong with 56 or 755.

Give someone enough time and a good calculator, and they can figure out how valuable a player is based on his WAR -- Wins Above Replacement. Not sure how you do that, but the cyber-smarties tell me it matters.

Right now those dudes tell me Bucknell center Mike Muscala is the second most efficient player in Division I basketball. Using ESPN's Player Efficiency Rating (PER), which takes into account things like Assist Ratio, Turnover Ratio, Offensive and Defensive rebound rate and something called Usage Rate -- the number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes -- Muscala's PER is 35.08, second only to Pittsburgh's Talib Zanna's 35.65. And for Patriot League aficionados, Lehigh's C.J. McCollum is seventh at 33.60.

Again, I'm not the smartest guy in the world -- a stunner to regular readers, I'm sure -- but the average PER is 15.00 and Muscala is 20 points better than that, so he's pretty darn efficient. I get that.

But here's a simpler number to wrap your head around: There are 347 schools playing Division I basketball this season. If those 347 teams have a dozen players each, that means there are roughly 4,164 Division I basketball players right now.

And according to PER, Muscala is more efficient than 4,163 of them.

Simple enough, right?

By any measurable, Muscala is having a great season and a tremendous career at Bucknell. I don't need fancy-shmancy numbering to tell me that. I can look at the old-fashioned stuff and see it.

The senior from Roseville, Minn., is averaging 18.8 points and 11.4 rebounds game through nine games this year, one of only two players in the country averaging that -- and the other is Duke's Mason Plumlee. The 11.4 rebounds puts Muscala in the top 10 nationally in rebounding.

Muscala recently became the second player in Patriot League history with 1,500 career points and 800 career rebounds. You might have heard of the other guy: Colgate's Adonal Foyle, who was the eighth pick in the 1997 NBA Draft and played more than 10 years in the league.

Muscala enters the final three months or so of his career already having etched himself among the greats at BU. By the time he is done, he might be the greatest, at least statistically.

Muscala has 1,568 career points and 818 rebounds in 108 games with Bucknell. Heading into Saturday's game against La Salle, Muscala is fifth in BU history in scoring, trailing just Al Leslie (1,973), Bob Barry (1,809), Mike Bright (1,670) and Kevin Bettencourt (1,577). Other than Bettencourt, who was part of Bucknell's terrific teams in the mid 2000s, Bright played most recently out of that group, graduating in 1993, which means Muscala has scored more points than all but one other BU player in the last two decades and he still has at least 22 games to play.

The senior is averaging 18.8 points every time he steps on the floor, and if he keeps that pace up, he will hit 1,981 22 games from now -- or the Patriot League quarterfinals -- and pass Leslie for first. One thing worth noting, however, is that Saturday's game against La Salle will mark Muscala's 109th career game, the same number Leslie played in his entire career.

As for rebounding, Muscala's 815 boards puts him on eighth-place in program history. Averaging 11.4 boards a game, Muscala is on pace for 1,069 rebounds, which would put him second behind only Hal Danzig's 1,134.

So those aren't scientific numbers or anything, just routine math I picked up in elementary school. They are impressive all the same. But the next time you see him, ask Muscala if he wants 2,000 points, or to add to his 72 career wins with the Bison over the past three-plus seasons.

I bet all the money in my pocket it's the latter.

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