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Know your last non-conference rival: Bucknell


Michael Hickey

A word of warning now: There are pretty good odds that you will not enjoy this game at all. Even if Mizzou wins comfortably, this game will not feature a lot of the things we tend to enjoy about basketball: steals, breakaways, etc. This is likely to be a halfcourt battle that Bucknell will attempt to slow to an incredible crawl. Like, you only think Mizzou plays slow this year. You have no idea.

Mizzou should win, yes, and that's always fun, but ... you've been warned.

Bucknell Bison (13-2)

Pace (No. of Possessions)
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.12 0.95
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.36 1.05
2-PT FG% 50.4% 39.9%
3-PT FG% 36.8% 31.5%
FT% 75.6% 68.0%
True Shooting % 57.0% 46.4%

Bucknell Opp.
Assists/Gm 13.0 10.9
Steals/Gm 3.7 5.1
Turnovers/Gm 9.9 9.1
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.70 1.75

Bucknell Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 9.6 12.4
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 8.0 9.6
Difference -1.6 -2.8

I'm not completely sure what goes into Ken Pomeroy's tempo stats, but he has their Adj. Tempo at 63.9 possessions instead of 61.7. I assume that means the Bison have played a lot of low-tempo teams. So it's not all them. But still ... 61.7 possessions per game is really, really low, six possessions lower than Mizzou's pace.

Describing Bucknell is about as boring as the pace, really. The Bison take their time looking for good shots, usually find them, pass the ball well, don't turn the ball over, don't crash the offensive glass very hard (they are too busy getting back down court to set up the defense), play rather passive defense, and clean up the glass if you miss. That's pretty much the playbook for every good Patriot League team of the last 10 years (and quite a few successful Missouri Valley teams, too, really). They are frustrating to play, and they eat impatient teams alive. But if you're patient, make your open shots, and stay disciplined, you can handle them.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

BU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

BU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 25 56 BU
Effective FG% 63 21 MU
Turnover % 9 331 BU big
Off. Reb. % 287 56 MU big
MU Offense vs BU Defense Ranks

MU Offense BU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 20 80 MU
Effective FG% 103 23 BU
Turnover % 96 346 MU big
Off. Reb. % 3 8 push
FTA/FGA 238 78 BU big

Where the Bison are weakest

When I say they are passive on defense, I mean it. They force even fewer turnovers than Missouri does, they don't step into passing lanes, and they don't foul. They also never stick around to try to grab offensive boards, and they don't attempt 3-pointers (321st in 3PA/FGA), which has been one way to kill Missouri frequently in the brief Frank Haith ear.

Perhaps as it pertains to this matchup, the most important Bucknell weakness could be the bench. Bucknell doesn't have one. The Bison are 320th in Bench Minutes, which is probably one of the reasons why they play so slowly. They are also only 153rd in Assists Per Field Goal Made, which is oddly low considering how well they shoot and how little a presence they have on the offensive glass. Then again, their No. 1 scorer is a post-up guy, so maybe that makes some sense.

Where they are best

This is a rather experienced (42nd in Experience), big (35th in Effective Height) team, one that won't be at an enormous disadvantage against Mizzou's own size and experience. And the Bison can certainly shoot: They rank 13th in FT%, 60th in 3PT% (they don't take many, but the ones they take are good ones) and 76th in 2PT%. Wait around for them to miss a shot, and they might not.

Meanwhile, as passive as they are on defense, they make sure you take contested shots. They are 20th in 2PT% on defense (which makes sense considering their size) and 85th in 3PT% (though opponents take quite a few 3-pointers against them).

Bucknell's Season to Date

  • Wins (Team Rank is from
    No. 59 La Salle (74-66)
    at No. 73 Purdue (70-65)
    No. 108 George Mason (61-56)
    No. 112 Kent State (76-60)
    vs. No. 118 New Mexico State (62-49)
    at No. 141 Loyola MD (66-46)
    at No. 151 Columbia (65-57)
    at No. 154 Niagara (88-71)
    No. 254 Marist (71-65)
    at No. 258 Cornell (72-56)
    No. 298 Dartmouth (62-49)
    at No. 320 St. Francis PA (76-49)
    vs. West Alabama (69-52)
  • Losses
    at No. 88 Princeton (67-79)
    at No. 157 Penn State (57-60)

Games vs. Teams Ranked 51st-100th: Bucknell 70.3, Opponent 70.0
Games vs. Teams Ranked 101st-200th: Bucknell 69.3, Opponent 57.0
Games vs. Teams Ranked 201st or worse: Bucknell 70.0, Opponent 54.2

Bucknell has yet to play a team ranked better than 59th, so we'll see what happens when they do, but looking at their games broken out by their opponent's KenPom rankings, it appears that their offense holds pretty steady while their defense regresses a decent amount versus better teams. Their defense is variable, and Mizzou has a Top 20 offense. That's probably a good thing.

Bucknell Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Mike Muscala (6'11, 239, Sr.) 23.0 0.71 32.2 MPG, 18.9 PPG (56% 2PT, 33% 3PT, 82% FT), 10.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, 2.5 BPG, 2.0 TOPG
Joe Willman (6'7, 209, Sr.) 11.3 0.40 28.4 MPG, 11.0 PPG (53% 2PT, 83% FT), 5.8 RPG, 1.8 APG, 2.5 PFPG
Bryson Johnson (6'2, 198, Sr.) 10.8 0.34 32.3 MPG, 11.7 PPG (38% 2PT, 43% 3PT, 80% FT), 2.9 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.1 TOPG
Cameron Ayers (6'5, 205, Jr.) 10.7 0.34 31.9 MPG, 11.6 PPG (51% 2PT, 34% 3PT, 85% FT), 4.3 RPG, 1.6 APG
Ryan Hill (6'3, 191, Jr.) 2.7 0.12 21.9 MPG, 3.9 PPG (44% 2PT, 29% 3PT, 67% FT), 2.9 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.7 TOPG, 2.3 PFPG
Ryan Frazier (6'0, 181, Fr.) 2.5 0.14 17.3 MPG, 4.1 PPG (56% 2PT, 28% 3PT, 65% FT), 1.3 RPG
Steven Kaspar (6'3, 193, So.) 1.7 0.14 11.8 MPG, 2.5 PPG (44% 2PT, 50% 3PT, 50% FT), 1.3 RPG, 1.3 APG
Dom Hoffman (6'7, 216, Fr.) 1.6 0.18 9.0 MPG, 1.9 PPG, 1.7 RPG
Brian Fitzpatrick (6'8, 230, Sr.) 1.5 0.18 8.0 MPG, 1.7 PPG, 1.1 RPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls. It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • Highest Usage%: Muscala (30%), Willman (22%), Ayers (20%)
  • Highest Floor%: Muscala (47%), Willman (46%), Johnson (41%)
  • Highest %Pass: Kaspar (64%), Hill (61%), Johnson (52%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Hoffman (49%), Ayers (44%), Willman (40%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Fitzpatrick (24%), Muscala (17%), Johnson (14%)
  • Highest %T/O: Hill (11%), Fitzpatrick (10%), Kaspar (9%)

Mike Muscala is better than most of the bigs Mizzou will face in SEC play. It should be a lot of fun watching him bang with Alex Oriakhi. Then again, it will be a lot less fun if Oriakhi gets into foul trouble, and Tony Criswell misses another game (as expected). That could be a lot of Muscala vs. Ryan Rosburg, at least until Rosburg also gets into foul trouble.

With Oriakhi on the court, the matchups skew pretty far toward Mizzou. Oriakhi vs. Muscala could be a draw (or something close to it), Laurence Bowers beats Joe Willman, Phil Pressey trumps Bryson Johnson, Jabari Brown trumps Cameron Ayers, and Keion Bell and Ryan Hill (a battle of defensive specialists, it appears) is somewhere between a draw and a Mizzou advantage. But if Muscala establishes himself and gets Oriakhi out of the game, that skews everything.

Keys to the Game

  1. When Mizzou Misses. This game pits one of the nation's best offensive rebounding teams against one of the best defensive rebounding teams. If Bucknell can at least break even on this side of the glass, the Bison could hang around for 40 minutes. Mizzou is so reliant on second-chance points that not getting them might make the offense press quite a bit. And against a good FG% defense, that is a little scary.

  2. Manage Muscala. Again, if Oriakhi is able to neutralize Muscala (who can, at times, step away from the basket and make jumpers like UCLA's Wear twins), Mizzou wins. But if he doesn't, it starts a bit of a domino effect. Hold Muscala to at or below his season averages, and you're in very good shape.

  3. Play Your Game. Mizzou doesn't play Mike Anderson ball anymore, obviously. The Tigers aren't going to be pressing and attempting to push the tempo into the mid-70s. But they are taking on a team with experience and an extremely strong identity. Bucknell knows exactly what it is, and if the Bison suck Mizzou into playing an incredibly slow game, fighting to a draw on the boards, and turning this into a game of FG% and mistakes, Mizzou is in trouble. But if the Tigers rebound well, get second-chance points, play smart, physical defense and avoid offensive funks, they'll move to 11-2.


Ken Pomeroy's projections, still a little skeptical of Mizzou as a whole (though the Tigers have improved from 44th on December 8 to 21st today), projects just a 71-65 win over the No. 38 Bison. I'm more optimistic than that, but that projection does remind us that, with a slow pace and a smart, experienced team, it might be quite difficult for Mizzou to pull away, even if the Tigers are playing well. I say Mizzou wins something like 78-66, but be prepared for a dogfight.