LEWISBURG, Pa. – The Bucknell men’s basketball team has announced a challenging 2014 non-conference schedule, and the highlights include the first home game against Penn State since 1976 as well as an appearance in the Legends Classic that will take the Bison on the road to Michigan, Villanova and Toledo. Bucknell will also travel to Wake Forest just before Christmas and host games against a pair of 2014 NCAA Tournament teams in Albany and Mount St. Mary’s.
All told, Bucknell’s 14 possible non-league opponents combined for a 245-216 (.531) record last season. Five opponents won 20 or more games and eight made postseason appearances, including four that played in the NCAA Tournament.
For the first time since 2007-08, the Bison will player their season-opener at home, taking on Marist on Friday, Nov. 14. The Red Foxes finished last season 12-19, but that included a 69-51 victory over Bucknell in Poughkeepsie, which was the Bison’s most one-sided setback of the year. Marist will be led by a new head coach this year in Mike Maker, who was Dave Paulsen’s successor at Williams.
Following the Marist game, Bucknell embarks on a difficult two-game road trip to Michigan and Villanova, both of which are Legends Classic regional games.
Bucknell will play Michigan for the very first time on Monday, Nov. 17 at Crisler Arena. The Wolverines finished 28-9 last season and were an eyelash away a Final Four appearance. Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with four seconds left to eliminate Michigan in the Elite Eight in Indianapolis. The trip to Ann Arbor will represent a homecoming for Bucknell’s Michigan natives Cory Starkey (Petoskey) and Chris Hass (Pellston), and Paulsen himself was a graduate assistant coach at Michigan under Steve Fisher in 1989-90.
Three days later the Bison will head to Philadelphia to take on Bucknell graduate Jay Wright ’83 and his Villanova Wildcats. Villanova went 29-5 overall and 16-2 in the Big East a year ago, and it was eliminated by eventual national champion Connecticut in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Bucknell is 9-15 all-time against the Wildcats, with the last meeting a 68-52 Villanova win in the 2010-11 season-opener.
After hosting defending Northeast Conference champion Mount St. Mary’s on Nov. 22, the Bison head right back to the Midwest for a Legends Classic sub-regional at Toledo. Bucknell will face the host Rockets, who are coming off a school-record 27-win season and an NIT appearance, on Nov. 24. The Bison will face either Detroit or Maryland-Eastern Shore the following day. They have never faced any of the other three teams at the Toledo sub-regional.
“We are thrilled about the opportunity to bring Cory Starkey and Chris Hass back home to Michigan, and the Legends Classic will obviously challenge us with some great competition,” said Paulsen. “We are excited to return to Villanova and meet up with a Bucknell legend in Jay Wright. And Toledo and Detroit are two of the top mid-major programs in the country.”
On Friday, Nov. 28, Penn State visits Lewisburg for the first time since Jan. 14, 1976, when Bucknell defeated the Nittany Lions 69-64. That was also Bucknell’s most recent win over Penn State until last year, when the Bison prevailed 90-80 at the Bryce Jordan Center. These two teams have met 101 times in a series that dates back to 1897. Penn State finished 16-18 overall and 6-12 in the Big Ten last season, and it advanced to the second round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).
“We have four great Division I non-conference home games during the first semester, and the Penn State game is certainly one of the highlights,” said Paulsen. “We are very excited that coach Pat Chambers and his staff were willing to continue this in-state rivalry and then make the trip to Lewisburg this year. It speaks volumes to his commitment to Pennsylvania basketball, and this game strengthens both programs.”
Bucknell opens the month of December with road tests at Fairfield (Dec. 1) and Columbia (Dec. 6). The Bison will be looking to avenge a 2013 home loss to Fairfield, and they defeated a strong Columbia squad that would go on to win 21 games and advance to the third round of the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament (CIT).
On Monday, Dec. 8, the Bison host reigning America East champion Albany. Bucknell enjoyed one of its best offensive nights of last season in a 77-64 win at Albany. The Bison started the game 10-for-12 from 3-point range and finished 14-for-21. Bucknell is 5-2 all-time against the Great Danes, who defeated Mount St. Mary’s in an NCAA Tournament first-round game in Dayton, Ohio, before falling to Florida 67-55 in the Round of 64.
“Albany and Mount St. Mary’s are two NCAA Tournament teams coming to Sojka Pavilion this season, and Marist is a team on the rise under new head coach Mike Maker,” said Paulsen. “The Marist game should make for a great season-opener.”
The Bison will come out of an 11-day break for final exams with a Dec. 19 game against Division III Case Western Reserve. The Spartans finished 14-11 a year ago under head coach Sean McDonnell, who served as an assistant coach under Paulsen at Le Moyne from 1997-99. The Case Western Reserve game will be the nightcap of a doubleheader with the Bison women’s squad, who will take on Yale earlier in the day.
Bucknell wraps up the non-conference slate with games at Wake Forest on Dec. 22 and Siena on Dec. 28. The Demon Deacons went 17-16 last season and will have a new head coach in former Kansas star Danny Manning. Siena finished 20-18 under coach Jimmy Patsos a year ago, and the Saints capped off the year in style by defeating Fresno State in a best-of-three championship series to claim the CBI title.
The Patriot League schedule will begin with a New Year’s Eve home game against defending-champion American. The remainder of the conference schedule, as well as all start times and televised games, will be announced at a later date.