Jay Wright and the sixth-ranked Villanova Wildcats open up their highly anticipated 2010-11 season, as they play host to the Bucknell Bison at the Pavilion this evening.
The Wildcats finished the 2009-10 season with a 25-8 record, including a 13-5 mark in the Big East. The team was poised for a strong run in the NCAA Tournament, but was bounced in the second round by Saint Mary's after barely getting by Robert Morris in first-round action (73-70 in OT). Needless to say, the way the season finished left a bad taste in the mouth of Wright and the returning players and making good on the team's potential is something that everyone to a man is determined to do this season.
The Bison are guided by third-year head coach Dave Paulsen. Bucknell only won 14 games last season, but that was double the victories from Paulsen's first season (7-23 in 2008-09). While a similar jump is probably too much to ask for, Bucknell could be much more competitive in the Patriot League this season.
This is the 24th meeting between these two teams, with Villanova holding a 14-9 series advantage.
Sophomore forward Mike Muscala is the focal point of the Bison attack. Named a preseason All-conference selection, Muscala (9.9 ppg) gives coach Paulsen a solid force in the paint, averaging almost five rebounds per game. He was also responsible for 65 of the team's 113 blocked shots. Bryan Cohen will once again don the Bucknell thread after he won the league's defensive player of the year award last season. Senior guard Darryl Shazier led the team in scoring last season with 10.1 ppg and also accounted for both 3.2 rpg and 3.8 apg. Rounding out the starting five will be sophomore forward Joe Willman (5.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and sophomore guard Bryson Johnson (9.5 ppg).
losing All-American Scottie Reynolds would really hurt most teams, yet the Wildcats are right back in the thick of things thanks to a solid core of returning talent. Despite losing the second-leading scorer in program history, Villanova still has enough to win the Big East, thanks in large part to the senior trio of Corey Fisher, Antonio Pena and Corey Stokes. Despite not being household names on a national level yet, these guys can produce. Fisher, with his 13.3 ppg and team-best 3.9 apg a year ago, was an All-Big East Third Team selection last year. Pena, a 57.7 percent shooter from the floor, who accounted for 10.5 ppg and was responsible for a team-best seven rebounds per outing should improve those numbers this season. Stokes (9.5 ppg) gives Villanova its best option out on the perimeter after knocking down 38.3 percent from three-point range last season.
Wright is Bucknell alum, but that won't keep him from emptying out the arsenal on the Bison. The Wildcats would like to make a statement early on this season and will get off to a good start with a lopsided win here.