By William Bowman
The Daily Item
Over the past seven days the landscape in the Patriot League men’s basketball race has changed dramatically.
An injury to preseason All-American C.J.McCollum, the Lehigh senior who was the nation’s leading scorer before breaking his foot at VCU on Saturday, has thrust Bucknell into the role as prohibitive favorite when Patriot League play begins this evening.
What was expected to be a two-team race between two of the all-time greats in league history is on the back burner for now. The Bison, 13-3 behind the play of star center Mike Muscala, will get a jump-start on their third regular-season league title in four years when Army visits Sojka Pavilion tonight.
The Mountain Hawks, who are 10-4, host Holy Cross (8-7). It will be Lehigh’s second game without McCollum, who could miss two months with the injury but might be back in time for the league tournament in March.
Bucknell will look to continue its dominance in the Patriot League. The Bison, who have won 25 games in each of the past two seasons, have won 33 of their last 38 Patriot League regular-season games.
The veteran Bison, who returned four starters from last year’s NIT team, have been led by Muscala from the start. The senior from Roseville, Minn., is averaging 19.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.5 blocks this season. He is one of just two players in the nation to lead his team in all four major categories.
Muscala enters tonight’s game third on Bucknell’s all-time scoring list with 1,708 points, fourth in rebounds (889) and second in blocks (231). He also ranks 10th in Patriot League history in scoring.
His last time out, Muscala had 25 points and 14 boards in a two-pont loss at No. 12 Missouri.
Muscala is part of a veteran senior class of Bison that includes Joe Willman and Bryson Johnson, as well as Southern Columbia grad Colin Klebon. Johnson and Muscala will be playing in their 116th career game tonight, while Willman will appear in his 117th consecutive game. Muscala and Johnson are already 1,000-point scorers; Willman is 34 points away.
“It seems like just yesterday we were recruiting Mike Muscala, Bryson Johnson and Joe Willman and now they are seniors,” said Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen, whose teams are 63-22 over the last two and a half seasons. “They have really embodied what we have tried to do at Bucknell and really bought into our program.
“We are fortunate to coach a group of guys like that.”