LEWISBURG - As the Bucknell men prepare to open defense of their Patriot League basketball title this afternoon at Army, Bison coach Dave Paulsen feels like his squad accomplished a lot in a 16-game exhibition season. Then again, he also still has plenty of concerns heading into today's trip to West Point.
Despite the league's toughest schedule to date -- RPIrating.com has BU playing the 101st toughest out of 344 Division I teams -- the Bison enter today's Patriot League opener against the Black Knights with 10 wins, the most in program history by the start of conference play. Bucknell (10-6) has already played seven opponents that were in last year's NCAA tournament, and its losses are to six teams with at least 10 wins apiece.
"At the beginning of the year, with the schedule we played, if you would have told me we would have 10 wins right now, I would have signed up for it in a heartbeat," said Paulsen. "We've really seen more things than we've ever seen, which is great. We've also found a way to win some games when we didn't play great."
But ... (Always a 'but')
Paulsen also has worries. Bucknell has been inconsistent of late, starting slow before playing better as games have worn on. The Bison have trailed at the half in each of their last three games and managed to win two of them. And while Bucknell is allowing a half-point less a game this year (63.9 to 63.4) than last year, the coach sees issues on defense as well.
"We're not where I'd like to be in terms of consistency at the offensive or defensive end," said Paulsen. "Clearly, we haven't peaked, which is a good thing, but there are definitely some things that need corrected."
Heading into the season the biggest question mark was point guard where the Bison had to find a replacement for Darryl Shazier. While they have been OK on the offensive end, the bigger issues have come on defense, Paulsen said.
"The most glaring thing is that we haven't really been able to keep the point guard out of the lane," said Paulsen. "Darryl was really able to limit that for us. Now we have the point penetrating and finding guys for layups or wide open 3s. That's a big concern." It could be in today's league opener against a West Point (7-8) squad that has won four of five and four in a row at Christl Arena.
The Black Knights were the only team to beat the Bison in 17 league games last year and they did so going away, routing Bucknell 90-70 thanks to a dozen 3-pointers. Where Army creates problems for the Bison is in its four-guard lineup, which has accounted for 124 made 3s so far. Ella Ellis leads the Black Knights with 18 points per, while Julian Simmons and Josh Herbeck account for another 20 between them. "We certainly shouldn't be anything but ready for them after what happened out there last year," said Paulsen. "They are one of the toughest matchups for us in the league because they go with four guards and they fire up a bunch of 3s. If they get in rhythm, like they did last year, it can be tough."
With four starters back from last year's league championship squad, the Bison were the league's preseason favorites. Lehigh, led by all-world guard C.J. McCollum, is out of the gates quickly at 12-4 and will be a contender as well, but Paulsen is confident BU will handle the role.
"We handled it last year, but when you start focusing on expectations and pressure, or starting looking over your shoulder, you have problems," he said. "We tell them to attack every possession and get a little better on defense. We focus on getting teams to miss two more shots a game and we when do that we don't get ahead of ourselves."