LEWISBURG, Pa. – The Bucknell men’s basketball team is accustomed to playing difficult non-conference schedules. It’s more of the same in 2018, as the Bison figure to be well-prepared – and well-traveled – in advance of the always-grueling Patriot League slate.
Coming off seven Patriot League regular-season titles in the last eight years and back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, this Bison squad is actually going to kick off the year in early August with a European tour that will take them through the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The non-conference schedule concludes with a first-ever trip to Hawai’i for the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic during Christmas week, and in between, Bucknell will face nine opponents that combined to win more than 64 percent of their games a year ago.
“Everyone in our program is eagerly awaiting what’s in store for the first part of this season,” said head coach Nathan Davis. “The European trip is going to be a great educational and team bonding opportunity, with a little bit of basketball mixed in, and then we are looking forward to what should be an exciting non-conference schedule culminating with a trip to Hawai’I for the Diamond Head Classic.”
Not including the three possible opponents at the Diamond Head Classic – pairings for the eight-team tournament will be announced later this summer – Bucknell’s nine non-conference foes combined for a 193-108 (.641) overall record and a 112-48 (.700) mark within their respective leagues. Six of the nine teams won at least 21 games and seven of the nine had winning records.
“This year’s schedule will present another major challenge, but guys come to Bucknell expecting to compete against teams of this caliber,” said Davis. “Year in and year out, the Patriot League schedule is always a difficult grind, and we want to make sure that we are fully prepared. You want your weaknesses to be exposed early in the year, so that you can get them corrected for league play.”
Whereas in past years the college basketball schedule officially began on the second Friday in November, the calendar has been moved up slightly, and Bucknell will open the 2018-19 season on the road at St. Bonaventure on Wednesday, Nov. 7. The Bonnies were one of the top teams in the Atlantic 10 a year ago, finishing 26-8 overall and 14-4 in league play. They received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and defeated UCLA, 65-58, at the First Four in Dayton before falling to Florida, 77-62, in the round of 64.
An exciting development in the 2018 non-conference schedule is that all four home games will take place during the semester, when students are on campus. The home opener will be on Saturday, Nov. 10, against Fairfield at 7 p.m., and that will kick off a stretch of four games out of five at Sojka Pavilion. The Stags went 17-16 and 9-9 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last season. They were one win away from an NCAA bid, but fell to Iona in the MAAC Tournament final.
Another top MAAC team, Canisius, will follow Fairfield into Lewisburg, The Golden Griffins, who went 21-12 and 15-3 in the MAAC last season, will visit Bucknell on Wednesday, Nov. 14. Canisius was the No. 2 seed in the MAAC Tournament last March but was upset by Quinnipiac. The Golden Griffins appeared in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) postseason tournament, where they lost their opening game in overtime to Jacksonville State. Bucknell and Canisius will be meeting for the first time since 2002.
On Sunday, Nov. 25, Bucknell will return the trip to Vermont for a matchup between two of the nation’s top “mid-major” programs. The Catamounts have dominated the America East Conference in recent years, but last year they were upset by eventual NCAA Cinderella UMBC on a buzzer-beater in the America East Tournament final. Vermont finished last season 27-8 overall and 15-1 in conference play, with one of those losses coming at Sojka Pavilion by an 81-77 margin. The Catamounts fell to Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the NIT.
The following week, the Bison will look to avenge a pair of road losses from last season when Northeastern (Wednesday, Nov. 28) and Monmouth (Saturday, Dec. 1) come to Sojka Pavilion. Northeastern finished 23-10 overall and 14-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association last season. The Huskies were the No. 2 seed in the CAA Tournament and lost to Charleston in the championship game.
Monmouth, which edged the Bison 79-78 in last year’s season opener, went on to finish 11-20 overall and 7-11 in the MAAC. The Hawks won 27 games the prior season.
Bucknell will travel to La Salle on Tuesday, Dec. 4, before taking an 11-day break for final exams. The Bison defeated the Explorers 88-81 at home a year ago. La Salle went on to finish 13-19 and 7-11 in the Atlantic 10.
Following the exam break, Bucknell will travel to Ohio State to face the Buckeyes for just the second time. The other came in the 1986-87 season opener, a 90-62 Ohio State victory in Columbus. The Bison would go on to make their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance that season. Ohio State was a No. 5 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes opened with a win over South Dakota State before falling to Gonzaga, 90-84, in the second round. Chris Holtmann’s squad finished the season 25-9 overall and 15-3 in the Big 10.
On Wednesday, Dec. 19, Bucknell makes a stop in California to face perennial West Coast Conference power Saint Mary’s on the way out to Hawai’i. This will be the second meeting between the Bison and Gaels. Bucknell fell 84-66 in Moraga early in the 1995-96 season. Saint Mary’s went 30-6 (16-2 WCC) last season but missed out on an NCAA bid after falling to BYU in the WCC Tournament semifinals. The Gaels went on to beat Southeastern Louisiana and Washington in the NIT before being ousted by Utah in the quarterfinals.
The Saint Mary’s game will be a homecoming for Bucknell rising senior Matt O'Reilly, who is a Moraga native.
Bucknell will be one of three 2018 NCAA Tournament teams in the field for the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, joining TCU and Rhode Island. The event also features host Hawai’i, UNLV, Colorado, Indiana State and Charlotte.
All games in the Diamond Head Classic will be televised on the ESPN family of networks, with game times and pairings to be announced. Games are slated for December 22, 23 and 25.
“The Diamond Head Classic is a great testament to how our program is viewed by others around the country,” said Davis. “It is a credit to past teams and past coaches who have helped build up our reputation as a consistent title contender.”
The games in Hawai’i will serve as a final tune-up prior to the start of Patriot League play. The conference schedule will be announced at a later date.
Bucknell finished 25-10 overall and 16-2 in Patriot League play last season. The Bison made their eighth NCAA Tournament appearance, falling to Michigan State 82-78 in the first round in Detroit.
2018-19 Bucknell Non-Conference Schedule:
Nov. 7 at St. Bonaventure
Nov. 10 FAIRFIELD
Nov. 14 CANISIUS
Nov. 25 at Vermont
Nov. 28 NORTHEASTERN
Dec. 1 MONMOUTH
Dec. 4 at La Salle
Dec. 15 at Ohio State
Dec. 19 at Saint Mary’s
Dec. 22, 23, 25 at Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic