Bucknell and Mike Muscala Are Not to Be Overlooked…Posted by rtmsf on December 2nd, 2012
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. He filed this report after Saturday’s game between Bucknell and Columbia.
They don’t yet make a stat for a Mike Muscala. Sure, 29 points and 18 rebounds hint at greatness, as does an offensive rating that continues to hover in the stratosphere. None of those can truly capture or quantify what Muscala did to Columbia last night. The Lions led by 17 points in the first half of a game that Bucknell would ultimate win by eight. While the points that the Bison’s 6’11″ senior scored played a huge role in avoiding the minor upset, it was the points that Columbia couldn’t score that mattered far more. Lions center Mark Cisco was dominant early, scoring all 10 of his points in the first half. Cisco’s failure to score after the intermission wasn’t necessarily the product of great defense from Muscala, but quite simply because it’s impossible to score points from the bench.
That’s where the Bison big man sent Cisco with three fouls in the first half. Cisco’s backup Cory Osetkowski would join him in foul trouble early in the second. Then, undersized forward Zach En’Wezoh picked up three fouls in a five minute span while holding on to Muscala for dear life. Columbia guard Brian Barbour and forward Alex Rosenberg did their best to provide enough offense to stay in the game, but without the senior Cisco, the Lions were just weren’t the same squad. More than the points or the rebounds, it was that Muscala had made Columbia a completely different team that encapsulates the greatness of his impact. He is a match-up nightmare – too big for undersized fours and fives to guard and too quick for bigger, burlier post players. Inevitably, massive numbers of fouls follow, evidenced by Muscala ranking 17th nationally in fouls drawn last season according to Ken Pomeroy.
Muscala capped that campaign off as the Patriot League Player of the Year, but an 82-77 home loss to Lehigh in the Patriot League Tournament relegated the regular season champion Bison to the NIT. Muscala’s 20-point, nine-rebound performance in a first-round upset win at Arizona is the type of thing that usually makes noise in a small conference. Unless, of course, the league’s NCAA rep winds up having a dynamic guard drop 30 on Duke in an ever-rare 15-over-2 upset. That guard, of course, is C.J. McCollum. During the offseason, he decided to return to Lehigh rather than leave early for the NBA, keeping Muscala as one of the best second-best players the Patriot League has ever seen and his Bison as one of the best second-best teams the league has ever seen. Ultimately, the senior center and his teammates will get their chance to hand that second-best title to the rival Mountain Hawks, but for now, Bucknell’s status as one of the best mid-majors in the country isn’t enough to keep it from toiling in relative obscurity.
For its part, Columbia acquitted itself quite nicely, as a boisterous Levien Gymnasium kept the Lions in a game with a top 50 Pomeroy team for 40 minutes. Their plan to shut down Muscala worked beautifully in the early going, as frequent double teams kept the Bucknell big man from getting into a rhythm. If the Lions had an unlimited number of frontcourt fouls to burn, the story might have been a little different, but as foul trouble disrupted its normal rotation, Columbia started looking more and more lost. While the Lions weren’t quite good enough to fight off Muscala for 40 minutes, in a down Ivy League this season, such a feat won’t be necessary. Columbia’s performance tonight was another signal that the Lions should be considered one of the Ivy favorites.