All you need to know about Michigan State’s First Round opponent, the 14th seeded Bucknell Bison, champions of the Patriot League.
Tom Izzo is fully immersed in preparations for Friday night’s First Round matchup with 14th seeded Bucknell University as he and his Spartans get set for the program’s sensational 21st consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Bison earned a second consecutive conference championship and a second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament this season by charging to a 25-9 record that included a 16-2 mark in the under-appreciated Patriot League.
Bucknell head coach Nathan Davis is the architect of the Patriot League three-peat and has posted an impressive 68-32 overall mark in his three seasons on the bucolic Lewisburg, PA campus entering Friday’s contest with the Spartans.
Prior to dominating the Patriot League this season, Bucknell played an impressive non-conference slate that included dates with North Carolina (L, 93-81), Arkansas (L, 101-73), Maryland (L, 80-78), and St. Joseph’s (L, 83-70). Yes, Bucknell came up short in each of these hefty non-conference contests – but Bucknell is battle tested and may not be wide eyed on Friday night.
Nathan Davis has a balanced batch of players that includes quickness, in-the-paint athleticism and a little bit of size.
Zach Thomas is a 6’7″ force from Ijamsville, Maryland who, after wreaking havoc on his Patriot League opponents for his first three years, had a monster senior season in which he averaged 20.3 points a game to go along with 9.2 boards a game. Let’s go ahead and give the guy a double/duble there – but it’s fair to envision a locked-in Miles Bridges limiting Thomas’s game while getting the best of Thomas on the other end of the floor.
Nana Fouland is a 6’10” senior beast from Redding, Pennsylvania who goes for 15.4 points per game with 7.1 rebounds and would appear to be the natural target for what must be Jaren Jackson’s laser-focused tenacity, fire, and discipline on defense.
Stephen Brown is a 5’11” jackrabbit who – like his fellow seniors that make up a veteran squad – averages in double figures in scoring with 14.9 a game to go along with his 4.3 assists per contest. A combination of Cassius and Tum Tum would seem to be able to keep Brown from ruining the night for State.
Kimbal Mackenzie is a 6’1″ junior guard who adds to a balanced starting lineup with 8 points and 2 assists a game.
It is this group of four – Thomas, Fouland, Brown, and Mackenzie – that gives Bucknell firepower that’s led to an offense that’s averaged 81.1 points a game.
Compare that to Michigan State’s 81 point per game average and you have two teams that can score.
The teams’ offensive statistical comparisons are mitigated by the defensive numbers.
Bucknell allows 73 points a game compared to State’s rugged defense that has allowed 65 points a game.
The hallmark of Izzo’s program – particularly in March – has always been a relentless pounding of the glass. Michigan State has averaged 40 rebounds a game this season compared with opponents’ grabbing 30.
Depth, athleticism, perimeter shooting, muscle and strength on the boards – all of these Spartan dynamics should be enough to give Izzo the chance to advance.
Can Michigan State take care of business by simply adhering to the principles that have made this a special season?
As important as it is to examine the Bucknell personnel, it’s perhaps even more vital to understand what makes the university that was initially founded as the University at Lewisburg tick.
Let’s take a look at some of the luminaries that have made this school nestled alongside the West Branc Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania one of America’s finest private liberal arts colleges.
SZOT WAS HOT
Walter Szot was a three-year starter for the Bucknell gridders and served as the co-captain of the 1943 Bison.
Szot also was a pugilist, competing in the ring for the Bison for a single season while also serving as president of the “B Club” during his senior year.
Szot was drafted by the Chicago Cardinals in the 18th Round of the 1944 NFL Draft and went on to play five seasons in the NFL. Following three seasons with the Cardinals, Szot played another two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Throughout his five years as an NFLer, Szot wore jersey #s 36 and 89 with pride.
Bucknell honored Szot by inducting him into the Bucknell Hall of Fame in 1993 which, unfortunately, came twelve years after his death.
In addition to playing football for the Bison, John Bolger appeared in several campus theater productions. After graduating from Bucknell in 1977, Bolger efforted to get his name in lights along Broadway’s Great White Way – but he managed limited success.
However, the twinkle in Bolger’s eye combined with his irresistible charisma gave away the fact that he was the great nephew of Ray Bolger who, of course, portrayed the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz.”
If you haven’t heard of Theodore “Ducth” Van Kirk, perhaps you should visit a public library and go to the section that has books on the decision made by President Harry S Truman to drop two bombs on Japan in 1945.
Bucknell’s own “Dutch” Van Kirk was the navigator of the Enola Gay on August 6th, 1945.
Thank you, Dutch.
Ralph Waite was a proud graduate of Bucknell before he attacked show business and delivered joy to the hearts of so many Americans with his brilliant and stoic portrayal of John Walton, Sr on the iconic television series “The Waltons.”
Waite passed on due to age-related illnesses in 1992.
May he rest in peace.
One of Bucknell’s favorite sons is also the creator of the timeless and pithy comic strip, “Close To Home.” Cartoonist John McPherson has brought warm hearted laughs and commentaries on everyday life that always seems to hit us……..close to home.
Before he was elected as Honolulu’s eighth mayor (his term was from1955-1959), Neal Blaisdell was the quarterback of the football team. His legacy is a living and breathing one in Honolulu right now and is evidenced by the city’s civic center being named in his honor. The Neal S. Blaisdell Center recently underwent a long term planning renovation that was very well-received by the citizenry.
Since his passing in 1975, Blaisdell has rested at Oahu Cemetery where all are welcome to pay respects.
Bucknell has a proud tradition of political activism.
Perhaps no Bison graduate represents this spirit better than Ye Htoon.
Ye Htoon was picked up, had his teeth kicked out and was sentenced to 19 years hard-labor rigorous imprisonment, for participating in the 1988 Democratic Uprising. The specific crime, according to the junta, was that he had met Bertil Lintner and provided him with information. He is also accused of being a ghost writer for Outrage, a book authored by Lintner. He was imprisoned for four years, from 1989 to 1993.
Bucknell is going to do everything it can to get Jaren Jackson into early foul trouble by hammering it in to the Bison big man, Nana Fouland from the outset. The Bison might have some success with this approach as Jackson is getting his first taste of March Madness.
And while the first half may cause Spartan fans to feel like they may be creeping close to experiencing a similar fate to that of Ye Htoon, Michigan State has too much strength, too much skill, too much power, and too much depth to let the Bison impersonate Middle Tennessee State.
Miles Bridges might not score 25 points, but the offensive balance of the Spartans and the ability on defense to keep Bucknell from any second chance scoring opportunities will lead Michigan State to a relatively easy First Round victory.
Michigan State – 83
Bucknell – 66
Best of luck to the Bucknell University Bison in all future endeavors.