HOOP TIME NOTEBOOK
The last time Bucknell was in New Haven, they arrived with a sub-.500 record. They battled their way to a 73-65 win over Yale in overtime and went on to win 11 in a row en route to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
That is not to say Bucknell is headed back to the tournament if they win at Yale. Pat Flannery is still trying to figure out how his pieces fit. By the time league play begins in January, Flannery will have his answers, for good or ill.
The point is simply that despite an 0-4 start, it is way too early to be counting the Bison out of anything. Those four losses have been to opponents with a combined record of 12-2. None of the four losses have been by more than 10 points. Two came in overtime, each by 3 points. The Bison even had decent leads in each, leads that wilted under rotation problems still to be resolved. Some combinations that have played thus far have really struggled to score. That has not been helped by the constant foul trouble the Bison have found, which has forced Bison coach Pat Flannery to use guys in roles he perhaps had not planned.
None of the foul trouble has been more troublesome than that being experienced by6-11 senior center Chris McNaughton, who has found it difficult to stay on the floor for any extended stretches. The lack of run has hurt McNaughton's offense. He has found it difficult to find a rhythm in most games.
Meanwhile, the development of juniors Darren Mastropaolo and Andrew Morrison has done a lot to solidify the frontline rotation. Mastropaolo's ability to score in the post combines well with Morrison's ability to shoot the jumper when McNaughton comes out of the game and Mastropaolo slides over to the five.
Donald Brown's problems adjusting to the small forward role are another problem. Unless Brown starts hitting a few jumpers occasionally, at least enough of them to force people to guard him 10 feet from the basket, Rob Thomas and Jason Vegotsky will need to play a lot at the three, just to give Flannery some scoring options. Problem is, Thomas (6-3) and Vegotsky (6-2) are more third guards than small forwards. They lack Brown's size (6-6) and athleticism to defend bigger threes. Charles Lee (6-3) could get away with it because of his strength and athleticism.
Of course a lot of these pieces are easier to fit into place if McNaughton snaps out of the funk he has been in and point guard Abe Badmus finds some comfort offensively.
Badmus seems to be struggling with his role. Flannery insists Badmus has the offensive game to do the things being asked of him this season -- namely more scoring. But Badmus has seemed conflicted in that role. After three seasons unselfishly finding others for their shot, Badmus seems hesitant to take his own, especially early in the shot clock. Too many possessions have begun with Badmus passing on open jumpers and ended with him turning the ball over after desperately driving into a help defense double-team as the shot clock winds down.
If Badmus starts taking those open looks (and knocking a few down) earlier in the clock, it will open things up for the Bison inside. Badmus might also think about trying to finish on more of those drives. He is strong enough, and has the springs, to take it to the rack against bigger men. Might even draw few fouls, which could have the added benefit of forcing opponents to be more guarded in their aggressive physical defensive tactics employed against the Bison big men (especially McNaughton).
With McNaughton and Badmus both seemingly in a funk, it begs the question: Are they a little burned out? The two have spent the last two summers with national teams. Badmus was point guard for the Nigerian national team in 2005 when the D'Tigers qualified for the 2006 World Championships and was the last guy cut before the D'Tigers left for Japan this summer. McNaughton was also one of the last two cut from the German team that played in Japan. He played internationally with Germany's World University Games team in the summer of 2005.
Bucknell's schedule lightens considerably following the four games in eight days stretch that starts at Yale and ends with nest weekend's back to back games against Northern Iowa and George Mason. The Bison only have five games the remaining 28 days of the year. Maybe the lighter schedule and the lighter practice schedule during finals will help rejuvenate them.
We shall see.
In the meantime, it is definitely not a one-team league in the Patriot this season.
Here's some news and notes from elsewhere:
BIG MAN IS BACK: Lehigh's Jason Mgebroff is a big guy. At 6-10, 275-pounds, Mgebroff showed tremendous promise as a freshman, averaging 7 points per game. As a sophomore, Mgebroff started 27 games, and averages 8.7 ppg. Small progress, especially in a league without many quality big men, but at least some progress.
Last season, though, Mgebrioff was like the holes of those donuts he was rumored to be so fond of. He left nothing in the middle for Lehigh. Reports from Bethlehem indicated Mgebroff reported overweight and out of shape when practice began. A foot injury early in the season did not help matters any. Whatever the reasons, whatever the spin, the bottom line was simple. After starting 43 games his first two seasons, Mgebroff found himself unable to beat out a stiff like Mike Fischman for the starting center job. Mgebroff's minutes dropped from an average of over 22 per game his first two seasons to 12.9 per game as a junior. His scoring (3.7 ppg) and rebounding (2.4 rpg) were career lows. Averaging better than 54 percent shooting from the field his first two seasons, Mgebroff plummeted to a 44 percent showing as a junior.
So far this season, Mgebroff is showing signs of finally fulfilling the promise exhibited his freshman season, when he scored 42 points in three league tournament games, making the All-Tournament team and helping Lehigh to the title. Through six games, Mgebroff, who looks slimmer, and much quicker, than he did last season, is averaging 12.7 ppg and shooting 73 percent from the field. He is also grabbing 6.2 rebounds per game, by far a career mark should it hold up over the course of the season. his scoring and rebounding numbers are tops among league big men thus far.
Last season, Mgebroff scored in double figures one time against Division I opposition, scoring 10 against Lafayette. This season, Mgebroff reached double figures in each of the Mountain Hawks' first four contests, missing a combined total of just five shots from the field during that stretch.
HOME COOKING: Holy Cross has started the season 4-0 for the first time in the Ralph Willard era. The Crusaders will look to go to 5-0 for the first time since 1988-89 Saturday when they host William and Mary. The only unbeaten team in the league, Holy Cross is also the only team that has played three home games to date. Bucknell and Lafayette, the two teams with the worst records in the league, have played just one home game each.
Navy may have the most impressive early season record when homecourts are factored into the equation. The 4-1 Mids have yet to play in Alumni Hall. Navy's lone "home" game was played at the ShowPlace Arena in nearby Upper Marlboro, Md. because some Fillipino dance troupe was appearing in Alumni Hall that night.
NO SWEAT: Keith Simmons does not seem to be sweating those cramping problems that hobbled the Holy Cross winger last season. Through four games, Simmons is averaging 34.5 minutes per game. His 18.8 points per game are second in the league only to Lehigh's Jose Olivero. Simmons 6.2 rebounds per game are tied for fourth.
In the Patriot League, only teammate Torey Thomas (37 mpg) is averaging more minutes than Simmons.
NO MINUTES: Notable for their lack of early season playing time: Army's John Moonshower, who showed a lot of promise the end of last season, has played a total of two minutes, appearing in three of Army's five games. One-time starter Jimmy Sewell has also played in just three games for the Black Knights. Sewell has produced 2 rebounds and 2 points in his eight minutes of action.
Georgetown-transfer Cornelio Guibunda, touted as one of the nation's top recruits when he signed with the Hoyas out of high school, has appeared in two of American's four-games, playing 7 minutes and totaling two free throws, a turnover and a steal.
NOT SEEING DOUBLE: Only one team has nobody averaging in double figures scoring. That team is Bucknell, which is led by Darren Mastropaolo and Jason Vegotsky, each averaging 9.8 ppg. Lafayette, led by Matt Betley (12.4 ppg) is the only other team without at least two players averaging in double figures.
Lehigh leads the way with three players averaging in doubles -- Jose Olivero (league leading 20.2 ppg), Jason Mgebroff (12.7 ppg) and Kyle Neptune (11.3 ppg).
TAKING OFFENSE: Think of Billy Taylor-coached you think of defense first. The Hawks have consistently been among the league's top defensive teams under Taylor, and pride themselves on that style of play.
So it might come as a little surprise to notice the Mountain Hawks are averaging a league-leading 73.3 ppg and giving up 75 ppg, second most allowed in the league.
NAVY ON THE LINE: The Mids are hitting an impressive 66.5 percent from the foul line thus far. Much of the credit for that league-leading stat goes to plebes Trey Stanton (12 for 12) and T.J. Topercer, who are a combined 23 of 24. Sophomore guard Kaleo Kina (16 for 18) has also been impressive.
CAN'T MISS: Speaking of good free throw shooting, five league players have yet to miss from the charity stripe. In addition to Stanton, HC center Tim Clifford is 10 for 10, Bucknell guard John Griffin is 9 for 9. Colgate bench guys Willie Morse (8 for 8) and Alex Woodhouse (4 for 4) also have not missed.
Labels: Army, AU, BU, CU, HC, Laf, Leh, Navy, notebook
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