From every angle, this one looks close

In the wake of all the hype about Bucknell’s upset win over Pittsburgh, it would be easy to view the Bison as heavy favorites in Saturday’s conference opener against Holy Cross.
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It would be easy; but it would also be wrong.

Bucknell is probably the favorite in this one. But it’s because the game is in Lewisburg, not because the Bison beat Pittsburgh. The homecourt advantage is really the only big edge to be found when you start breaking down the numbers and looking close at how these two match up. And even that is dubious at best.

Start with the records: Bucknell is 9-4, Holy Cross 8-4. The RPI types rank HC’s schedule as tougher—No. 75 vs. No. 131. Frankly, we don’t see that much difference. The biggest difference we see is that Bucknell doesn’t play Villanova until February.

Both played, and lost, to Princeton. Bucknell beat Pitt; Holy Cross lost in OT to Boston College. Bucknell lost to Iowa State; HC to Minnesota.

As a group, it would be hard to argue that Boston U., Marist, Fordham, Brown, Rhode Island, Northeastern, Vermont and Dartmouth is much tougher than Rider, Stephen F. Austin, St. Francis, Penn, Northern Colorado, Yale, Robert Morris, Cornell, St. Joe’s and Niagara.

In many ways, this is a continuation of last season’s series, which Bucknell won 2-1 by taking the rubber match in the first round of the Patriot League Tournament. The starting lineups and rotations have not changed a whole lot since then.

Each team held serve at home in the regular season. Bucknell won the tourney game 65-60 in a game that Holy Cross led with 1:18 to play. The combined score of those three games: Bucknell 203, Holy Cross 199. That is pretty even.

Scrutinizing the box scores from those in search of something that might give us a clue to a key to Saturday’s game didn't turn up much. The only discernable pattern was that there was no pattern

For certain, the Chris McNaughton-Nate Lufkin matchup had to be the key, we thought. Especially after the first box we looked at was from the tournament game, where Lufkin fouled out while McNaughton had a 19-point, 11-rebound double-double.

We were certain we were on to something when we looked back to the second meeting, won by HC in Worcester. In that one, Lufkin won the matchup, scoring 14 points and grabbing 6 boards while McNaughton, limited to 20 minutes by foul troubles, had 6 points and 9 rebounds. For sure there was a pattern here.

Then we looked at the first game, a Bucknell win in Lewisburg. McNaughton fouled out in that one, finishing with 12 points and 3 rebounds. Lufkin had 12 points and 4 boards. Lufkin played 23 minutes, finished with four fouls; McNaughton 25 minutes before being disqualified. No advantage there.

Kevin Bettencourt went off for 29 for Bucknell in that first game. Surely we’d find a clue here.

Sorry, no. Bettencourt scored 21 in Worcester and BU lost, only 8 down in the horse barn and the Bison won.

Abe Badmus was such a key to Bucknell’s successes in conference play last season. Maybe the Bison point guard’s numbers would tell us something.

They did. They told us Bucknell can beat Holy Cross even when Badmus doesn’t have a big night. In the two Bucknell wins, Badmus had a total of 2 assists (both in the tournament) and 9 turnovers.

Rebounding? Nope. Holy Cross held the edge, 30-25, in Lewisburg; both teams had 37 in Worcester. Bench Production? Holy Cross’ reserves scored 71 points in the three games, Bucknell’s combined for 43, but Bucknell won two out of three.

Bucknell had 28 turnovers in the tournament game and still won, it can’t be that.

Three-point shooting was not a big factor either. Matter of fact, in two of the trhee games, the team that made the most treys lost.

So what was the difference in those three games?

Like we told you before: 4 points.

The difference Saturday might be even less.

If last year’s games are not enough to convince you this is a toss-up, take a look at some of this year’s stats. Holy Cross is averaging 64 points per game while allowing 57.9. Bucknell is scoring 63.4 and allowing 59.

Bucknell holds a 45.7 to 43.6 edge in field goal percentage; Holy Cross has a 34.5 to 32.5 advantage in rebounding. Both teams have three guys averaging in double figures.

The Bison lead the all-time series, but only by a 19-17 margin. Despite all the years the two met in Davis Gym, where Bucknell was almost invincible many seasons, the Bison’s edge at home is only 8-7 and in Sojka Pavilion the two have split a pair of games. So much for home court advantage.

What about the coaches? In Patriot League play, Holy Cross’ Ralph Willard has a .636 winning percentage, Bucknell’s Pat Flannery .633

If you were the betting type, and you could actually find a spread on Patriot League games, you’d probably be smart to take the points. A better bet, though, might be on seeing these two settle things, for this season anyhow, on a Friday afternoon in the second week of March.

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