LEWISBURG, Pa. – The Bucknell men’s basketball team, defending Patriot League champion and winners of six of the last seven Patriot League outright regular-season titles, this season will face one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the 123-year history of the program.
Head coach Nathan Davis announced a 13-game non-conference slate that features five 2017 NCAA Tournament teams, including defending national champion North Carolina, as well as four other teams that played in other postseason tournaments. The game at North Carolina on Wednesday, Nov. 15, will mark the first time the Bison have ever squared off against the defending national champion.
Bucknell’s non-conference opponents combined for a 284-156 (.645) record last season, including a 155-79 (.662) mark within their respective leagues. Only two of the 13 opponents had a sub-.500 record in 2016-17.
Bucknell’s non-league opponents produced an average final RPI ranking of 95.2 and an average Pomeroy rating of 108.7.
“We obviously have put together a very challenging schedule, but that is what guys come to expect when they come to Bucknell,” said Davis. “They want to compete against the best night in and night out. This is a tremendous opportunity for our team to grow together and compete against historically great teams. By design, our non-conference schedule is going to put us under adversity, expose some areas of weakness that need to be corrected, and get us ready for the demands of our league schedule.”
The gauntlet begins on Friday, Nov. 10, when the Bison travel to Monmouth. The Hawks finished atop the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with an 18-2 record (27-7 overall), before being upset by Siena, another Bucknell opponent, in the MAAC semifinals. Monmouth went on to play in the NIT, where they fell to Ole Miss. Bucknell and Monmouth last met in the 2016 NIT, where the Hawks prevailed 90-80 in West Long Branch, N.J.
Bucknell’s challenging opening week continues with three more road games in three different power conferences. The Bison visit Arkansas on Sunday, Nov. 12, North Carolina on Wednesday, Nov. 15, and Maryland on Saturday, Nov. 18. The Arkansas and UNC games are part of the PK80 – Phil Knight Invitational.
Bucknell and Arkansas have met only once previously, and Bison fans will remember it well. The ninth-seeded Bison defeated the eighth-seeded Razorbacks 59-55 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Dallas. Arkansas finished 26-10 overall, 12-6 in the Southeastern Conference, last season. The Razorbacks fell to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament final, and then beat Seton Hall in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to North Carolina 72-65 in the Round of 32.
The Tar Heels stormed through the NCAA Tournament last March, beating Gonzaga in the championship game for their sixth national title. Coach Roy Williams’s team finished 33-7 overall and 14-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. This will be the first-ever meeting between Bucknell and North Carolina.
Maryland finished 24-9 overall and 12-6 in the Big Ten last season. The sixth-seeded Terrapins, led by a trio of heralded freshmen, were upset by No. 11 Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Bison are 0-7 all-time against Maryland, with the last meeting coming in the 2008-09 season opener.
Bucknell returns to the friendly confines of Sojka Pavilion for a pair of home games during the week leading up to Thanksgiving. Siena is the opponent for the home opener on Monday, Nov. 20, when the 2017 championship banners will be unveiled, with Ball State coming to Lewisburg two nights later.
Bucknell and Siena will meet for the fourth straight year, with the Bison searching for their first win in the series. The Saints finished 17-17 overall and 12-8 in the MAAC a year ago, dropping an 87-86 overtime heartbreaker to Iona in the MAAC Tournament final. Meanwhile, Ball State went 21-13 overall (11-7 Mid-American Conference) and played in the CIT postseason tournament. The Cardinals have topped the 20-win mark and shared the MAC West division title in each of the last two seasons. Bucknell and Ball State will meet for the third time. The Cardinals won the previous two in 1971 and 1998.
After a visit to Stony Brook (18-14, 12-4 America East) on Nov. 26, Bucknell will close out the month of November with a trip to Saint Joseph’s (11-20, 4-14 Atlantic-10), which will be the first of four Atlantic-10 opponents over a six-game stretch. The Bison and Hawks will meet for the first time since 2006 on Nov. 29 in Philadelphia.
America East power Vermont will make its first trip to Lewisburg on Saturday, Dec. 2. The Catamounts had another terrific season in 2016-17, finishing 29-6 overall and a perfect 16-0 in the America East. They were one of only two teams in the nation along with Princeton to run the table in their conference. Like Bucknell, Vermont was a No. 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they fell 80-70 to No. 4 Purdue in the first round after trailing by just one at the half. The Catamounts won the only two previous encounters with Bucknell, both coming in neutral-site tournaments in 1994 and 2001.
Bucknell wraps up the first semester with a trip to Boston and the first-ever meeting with Northeastern on Tuesday, Dec. 5. The Huskies finished 15-16 overall and 8-10 in the Colonial Athletic Association last season.
After an 11-day break for final exams, Bucknell closes out the non-conference slate against A-10 foes Virginia Commonwealth (Dec. 16), Richmond (Dec. 19) and La Salle (Dec. 22). The VCU and Richmond games will both be on the road against neighboring teams that combined for 48 wins a year ago.
VCU has been a rising power in recent years, highlighted by a run to the Final Four in 2011. The Rams went 26-9 overall and 14-4 in the A-10 last season, finishing one game behind Dayton for the regular-season title. Seeded 10th in the NCAA Tournament, VCU fell to No. 7 Saint Mary’s 85-77 in the first round.
This will be the first-ever meeting between Bucknell and VCU, but the two programs have some strong connections. First-year head coach Mike Rhoades was a star player for former Bison head coach Pat Flannery at Lebanon Valley. Rhodes was head coach at Randolph-Macon from 1999-2009, and when he left to become an assistant at VCU, Nathan Davis succeeded him as head coach at RMC. In addition, former Bison standout Donald Brown ’07 is VCU’s director of sports performance for men’s basketball. Assistant coach J.D. Byers was formerly an assistant on Davis’ staff at Randolph-Macon, and Davis also has ties to two Colgate grads on the VCU staff: associate head coach Jeremy Ballard and director of student-athlete development Mike Venezia.
Bucknell defeated Richmond 73-68 at Sojka Pavilion last season, but the Spiders went on to finish 22-13 overall and 13-5 in the A-10. After falling to VCU in overtime in the A-10 Tournament semifinals, Richmond went into the NIT, where it defeated Alabama and Oakland before falling to eventual-champion TCU in the quarterfinals. The Bison are 3-3 all-time against the Spiders.
The final non-conference game comes at Sojka Pavilion against La Salle, which broke open a close game at the half and defeated Bucknell 83-73 last season in Philadelphia. The Explorers finished the season 15-15/9-9. La Salle leads the all-time series 19-6, dating back to 1903.
Bucknell opens its 28th season of Patriot League play on Friday, Dec. 29 against American at Sojka Pavilion. The remainder of the conference schedule will be announced at a later date.
Bucknell Non-Conference Schedule Notes:
- n 13 games (4 home, 9 away)
- n First-ever meeting with defending national champion (North Carolina)
- n Five 2017 NCAA Tournament teams (North Carolina, Arkansas, Maryland, VCU, Vermont)
- n Four teams in other 2017 postseason tournaments (Monmouth – NIT, Richmond – NIT, Ball State – CIT, Stony Brook – CBI)
- n Combined 2016-17 record of 284-156 (.645)
- n Combined 2016-17 conference record of 155-79 (.662)
- n Average 2016-17 final RPI of 95.2; average 2016-17 final Pomeroy ranking of 108.7
- n 8 of 13 teams won 20 or more games in 2016-17
- n 11 of 13 teams finished .500 or better in 2016-17
- n Conference breakdown: four games vs. Atlantic 10, two games vs. MAAC and America East, one game each vs. ACC, SEC, Big 10, MAC, CAA
2017-18 Bucknell Non-Conference Schedule:
Nov. 10 at Monmouth
Nov. 12 at Arkansas^
Nov. 15 at North Carolina^
Nov. 18 at Maryland
Nov. 20 SIENA
Nov. 22 BALL STATE^
Nov. 26 at Stony Brook^
Nov. 29 at Saint Joseph’s
Dec. 2 VERMONT
Dec. 5 at Northeastern
Dec. 16 at VCU
Dec. 19 at Richmond
Dec. 22 LA SALLE
^Part of PK80 – Phil Knight Invitational
Game times and TV information to be announced.