CBB: Bucknell vs Fairfield Preview and Pick
College basketball season is here–and as we have done for the last few years, MFST will be previewing and predicting the winners of all of the games each day. We pride ourselves on our love for the mid-majors, so you can count on us for all of your game previews and analysis. This year, we will be keeping track on our picks against the spread–the last two years we have had better than a 50% pick-rate ATS. Let’s make the 2019-20 season the most profitable yet…
Bucknell vs Fairfield
Get to know Bucknell
Bucknell was picked second to Colgate in the Patriot League preseason poll. Those two teams played in the 2019 Patriot League Tournament final, with the Raiders prevailing 94-80 to thwart Bucknell’s hopes of a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Bison return three starters in 2019-20, but the two graduation losses were both All-Patriot League selections. Guard Kimbal Mackenzie (pictured above) was a First Team pick after averaging 17.6 points per game last season, and he is now playing professionally in Spain. Center Nate Sestina (15.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg) was a Second Team all-star last season, and he is using his final year of eligibility as a graduate student at Kentucky.
Senior wing Avi Toomer, senior forward Bruce Moore, and junior point guard Jimmy Sotos all return to their starting posts this year, although Toomer is expected to miss the start of the season due to injury. Senior Ben Robertson, a co-captain along with Moore and Toomer, is in line for his first career start in Toomer’s absence.
In last year’s meeting at Sojka Pavilion, Bucknell erased a double-digit deficit but just could not get over the hump. Moments after Mackenzie tied the game with a driving layup, Fairfield’s Neftali Alvarez answered with a layup at the other end with three seconds remaining to send the Stags to a 60-58 win, spoiling Bucknell’s home opener. Sotos nearly won it with a running 3-point try from 30 feet out, but his bank shot rimmed out at the buzzer. The Bison trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half and by 10 at intermission after the Stags outshot Bucknell 61% to 32% in the opening 20 minutes. The Bison locked down defensively in the second half, holding Fairfield to 6-for-26 shooting (.231), but the hosts came away empty numerous times in a one-possession game before finally tying it on Mackenzie’s drive with nine seconds to go. Bucknell had just stolen the ball from the shifty Alvarez on the previous possession, setting up the Mackenzie shot, but Alvarez had the answer this time and finished with a game-high 16 points.
Get to know Fairfield
The 2019-20 season could be a long one for the Stags, just like last season when the team finished 9-20 overall and 6-12 in the MAAC. However, there is a sign of hope–and that comes in the form of a new coaching staff led by first-time head coach Jay Young, who was previously an assistant at Rutgers.
Young has spent the last six months molding his roster for the 2019-20 season, taking his mixture of returning veterans and talented newcomers and turning them into a team that will be ready to compete with some of the finest basketball teams in the nation. And that run starts with Bucknell University on Tuesday night, a program which has won more Patriot League regular season championships than any other team in the league including last year’s co-championship.
Young has the good fortune of returning three student-athletes who spent a good part of the 2018-19 campaign as starters, namely Landon Taliaferro, Jesus Cruz, and Taj Benning. The trio of guards combined for nearly 40 percent of the team’s offense last year and look to make that number even larger this season. Taliaferro led all Fairfield scorers with a 12.3 scoring average, most of which came from his 90 three-point field goals. Cruz is next among top returning scorers as he just missed double figures with 9.4 points per contest. Benning turned into one of the team’s top playmakers a year ago, dishing off 48 assists in 28 appearances to compliment his 4.7 scoring average.
Landon worked hard in the off season to do more off the dribble and diversify his game, Young said. I think you will see more than just a guy who can catch and shoot this year. Jesus is a jack of all trades with a unique offensive game. He is also a grinder on defense who makes the opponents work for everything. Taj did a great job for us throughout the preseason. He worked really hard on his jump shot and has become more of a reliable weapon on the perimeter.
Senior Aidas Kavaliauskas will also look to make contributions after serving as a reserve for all 28 of his appearances last season. The guard dished off 72 assists in those games which stands as the top total among returning players. His ability to handle the ball and find open shooters will make him a valuable resource when he is on the court.
The Stags also have a formidable outside shooter in sophomore Calvin Whipple, who earned 24 appearances in his rookie season. Whipple became one of the team’s go-to-guys when it came to long range shooting as illustrated by his 24 three pointers. He finished his season with a 3.3 scoring average along with 10 assists and five steals.
I really love Calvin’s toughness and he’s a guy who will work hard to stay in the lineup,” Young said. “He will shot the ball really well during the preseason which will make it tough to keep him off the court this season.
Bucknell and Fairfield will be meeting for the sixth time in the last seven years–last year the Stags pulled out an early-season win at Sojka Pavilion, 60-58. Will they be able to pull another upset to open the season?
LINE: Bucknell -4.5
Score: Bucknell 70 Fairfield 58
Dan’s Bet: Bucknell -4.5
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