Midnight (almost) in the garden of deep and talented

They started Midnight Mania three hours early at Bucknell last night.

Good thing, too.

It’s almost scary to imagine how crazy Sojka Pavilion might have been if the kids had three extra hours of drinking before they donned their costumes and trekked down the hill to the Bison hoops meet and greet.

The Bucknell softball team came dressed as the characters from Wizard of Oz, carrying a banner that said “We’re not in Kansas anymore. There’s no place like Sojka.”

They were actually some of the calmer folks in the gym.

The men’s lacrosse team showed up in practice gear, sticks and freshly painted helmets included. The women’s swim team showed up in their Speedos, the Greeks in painted faces and full regalia. There was even a full pep band, something the Bison couldn’t muster when they went to the NCAAs last spring and a rare sight in Sojka Pavilion.

They screamed, the yelled, they danced and chanted. It was as loud, if not louder, than any home game last season, rivaling the decibel levels of old Davis Gym. It got even louder when they unfurled the Patriot League championship and NCAA Tournament banners.

There were easily double, maybe three times, as many students as showed up for any of the Bison’s games in recent memory.

Whether that was the result of the fever generated by Bucknell’s dream season, or the prizes (cash, bus trips) offered for the most spirited groups, probably won’t be certain until early December, when Villanova comes to Lewisburg to open a four-game homestand (Bucknell’s first home date, Nov. 26 against Yale, comes during the Thanksgiving weekend). But if even half those students show up and make half that noise, along with the usual golf-clap locals, the Bison’s already significant homecourt advantage will be even more intimidating for visiting teams.

That might be a scary thought to the rest of the Patriot League, which already has to deal with a team that returns seven of its top eight players after winning the league title and scoring a first round upset over Kansas in the Big Dance.

Here is an even scarier thought: As good as that team was last season, it has the potential to be far better this year.

For starters, the Bison are more experienced this year. It is easy to forget that last year’s squad started two sophomores and a freshman, along with juniors Charles Lee and Kevin Bettencourt, who are now the team’s senior co-captains.

The Bison also expect to be deeper this year. Last year, Pat Flannery’s rotation was basically eight deep, with 6-7 strongman Tarik Viar-McClymont, the ninth guy in the rotation, seeing action in all but one game, but often only for a minute or two to give 6-11 center Chris McNaughton a quick breather.

This year, Flannery says he anticipates going 10 deep, if some of the youngsters on the roster, including three freshmen, develop the way he hopes.

One of those freshmen, 6-11 center Josh Linthicum, is almost certain to get some time in the frontcourt rotation. Linthicum generated a lot of crowd excitement last night in Sojka with a thundering variety of dunks during the brief part of the festivities when the team actually rolled out a ball.

If that small first glance is to be believed, Linthicum certainly seems to fit Flannery’s description of his new big man.

“The Linthicum kid is very athletic and very skilled,” says Flannery. He also appears to be plenty strong enough to hold his own in the paint. Back in the old days of non-scholarship ball, most Patriot League big men came in either skinny as Paris Hilton or slow afoot as your Aunt Betty.

Big men in the Patriot League used to be Projects R Us. Linthicum looks more like another Chris McNaughton, though it remains to be seen if he has that kind of offensive ability. Nonetheless, he instantly gives the Bison something they lacked last season: a guy off the bench taller than 6-8.

Flannery is high on the potential of the other two freshmen, too. Jason Vegotsky, a 6-2 guard, “Can score in a lot of different ways,” Flannery says. Justin Castleberry, a 6-1 point guard, “is very physical. He is very strong. He has been giving our guards fits with his strength,” says Flannery.

Of course what the freshmen did in preseason pickup games and how well they pick up Flannery’s and fit into Flannery’s system are two very different things.

“I like the way they are fitting in, but it is too soon to say how much playing time they will get. It is still early,” Flannery says.

Flannery knows a little more about some of the guys that are coming back this season. Viar-McClymont, a senior, could well see his role expanded as Flannery looks for a replacement for graduated Chris Niesz, whose perimeter skills at the four position helped stretch the floor and opened things up inside for McNaughton.

The idea would be for Viar-McClymont to see minutes in the post, with McNaughton sliding over to the four. That might be surprising to folks who have watched McNaughton light up opposing defenses with his variety of post moves, but like many European big men, McNaughton is very comfortable on the outside. In fact, that is the way the Germans used him in the World University Games this summer.

Sophomore Andrew Morrison, 6-7, who saw limited minutes at the three as a freshman, is another guy who might see time at the four, filling the Niesz role as a perimeter threat when likely starter Darren Mastropaolo gets a blow.

Donald Brown, a 6-6 junior, will also see a lot of time at the four spot, though as Flannery points out, he doesn’t have the perimeter game to stretch the floor for McNaughton inside. Brown was a starter early in the season and made a strong contribution off the bench as part of the Mastropaolo-Niesz-Brown three-headed monster that was a key part of Bucknell’s late season success after 6-7 John Clark was forced out of the lineup by a foot injury midway through the season.

Flannery expects Clark, who had the foot operated on Aug. 1, to be ready to go by January, giving the Bison tremendous depth up front.

The added depth and experience could well allow Flannery to turn this year’s Bison loose in ways that can only mean headaches for opposing teams.

“The big change for us is that we are deep enough to go up and down the floor more. I would like to press more. The kids would like that and I think we can disrupt some people that way,” Flannery says.

“I am not saying we are going to be a full court, run-and-gun team, but we are good enough to get up and down the floor.”

BISON CHIPS: The surprise of the evening during Midnight Mania at Sojka had to be Kevin Bettencourt throwing down two-handed. Known more as a three-point shooter than penetrator, Bettencourt showed surprising hops during the “dunk-around” . . . While Flannery is not expecting Clark back before the holidays, Clark is more optimistic. The junior from Oklahoma says he could be back as early as November . . . The Bison got serious early this morning, practicing at 8:30 before adjourning for the team’s customary pregame football tailgate at Christy Matthewson Memorial Stadium . . . Expect the Bison roster to expand during the season. Assistant coach Nathan Davis’ wife, Miki, is expecting and although we didn’t ask about the due date, it is pretty obvious that Davis will be a dad well before tournament time . . . The Bison have scheduled an exhibition against Division II Lock Haven for Nov. 5 at Sojka. They tip the regular season Nov. 18 at Rider and travel to Syracuse Nov. 22 before hosting Yale in the home opener.

  • Corky Blake of the Express-Times checks in with an early look at Lehigh and Lafayette, including recruiting news on the Mountain Hawks.

  • A Navy preview from the Annapolis Capital

    Read more!
  • Make it 2 for BU

    Sources tell Hoop Time Bucknell has gained a second oral commit for next year's freshman class. Pat Behan, a forward from Notre Dame Academy in Middleburg, Va., verballed the Bison late last week.

    Behan is either 6-7 or 6-8, depending which source you believe. College Hoops Net had this report on him from the summer's Reebok ABCD Camp:
    Behan was a mixed bag today. For a big, he definitely is comfortable on the perimeter, and likes to beat guys off the dribble. It was working against big Franklin Jones who isn’t used to guarding way out there. But, even though he beats his man off the dribble, he isn’t able to then get down low with ease and finish. It seems like Behan was lacking confidence in his game in the afternoon, and his teammates also lacked confidence in Behan’s ability. By the end of the first game, he was trying to way to hard to impress and was not letting the game come to him. However, during the evening, he was much more relaxed and showed off his long range. He seems most suited for a Princeton-style offense.
    According to Scout.com, Behan drew interest from a number of schools, including South Carolina, George Washington and LaSalle and was offered scholarships from San Francisco and Saint Bonaventure. How accurate that report is, though, is hard to say, since they din not even list Bucknell as one of the schools recruiting Behan.

    Read more!

    Let the madness begin!

    It's finally here, the start of hoops season. For folks at Bucknell, where the football team is struggling mightily, it couldn't come soon enough.

    We will be in Lewisburg tonight as the Bison unfurl their Patriot League title banner and kick things off with what is still being called Midnight Mania, even though it will run from 9-11 p.m.

    Look for a report tomorrow, most likely late in the day after we get done schlepping kids to soccer games in the morning.

    Down in the valley, Lehigh will wait until 11 a.m. Saturday to get started. ESPN college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb will be the emcee for the Mountain Hawks event in Stabler Arena. During last week's Holy Cross-Lehigh football game, Billy Taylor said the reason for the Saturday start is to allow alums on campus for reunion weekend to take part.

    In Worcester, Hart Hysteria will get underway tonight at 10 p.m.

    Army's start apparently will be more low key. All the Cadets' Web site mentions is the start of practice today.

    Ditto for Navy.

    By the way, in case you have not been there lately, Matt is turning the Patriot Hoops Blog into some sort of graphical wonderland with all kinds of charts and numbers. There are more than enough stats to ponder while you wait for the actual games to tip off.

    Don't believe his bullshit about being the next president of AU though, bloggers are way too low budget for that job.

    Read more!

    Californian headed to BU

    It's just a one-line mention in the LA Times, but apparently Bucknell has gotten an oral commit from a ach Evans out of West Hills Chaminade H.S.

    Evans, who is listed as 6-5, 185, was also recruited by Princeton and Columbia, according to Basketball U. He averaged 13.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per game last season.

    A capsule on Evans in Full Court Press during his cophomore season described him as a "slashing scorer has nice touch on his jumper." Apparently he is still growing.

    Read more!
    Saturday, October 15, 2005
    Midnight (almost) in the garden of deep and talented

    Make it 2 for BU
    Friday, October 14, 2005
    Let the madness begin!

    Californian headed to BU

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