One team will reach the NCAA Tournament while the other will come painfully close as the Colgate Raiders face the Bucknell Bison in Wednesday’s Patriot League Championship Game. With the game on Colgate’s home floor, the Raiders are favored by 3.5 points.
The Bison are hoping to reach the Big Dance for the third consecutive season, which would be a first in program history. Bucknell tied Colgate for first place in the Patriot League this season, as both finished with 13-5 league records. The Bison were also 21-11 overall, winning four of their last five games, including wins over Holy Cross and Lehigh in the Patriot League tournament.
As for Colgate, they haven’t been the NCAA Tournament since 1996 when they were led by longtime NBA player Adonal Foyle. But head coach Matt Langel has started to turn things around. The Raiders finished second in the Patriot League last year and played in the CBI Tournament. They also enter the conference title game on a 10-game winning streak that has made them 23-10 overall.
Size as a Strength
Colgate is somewhat unique for a small-conference team because they have legitimate size. Four of the eight players in their rotation are 6’8’’ or taller, which has helped them in conference play and could help in the NCAA Tournament. Rapolas Ivanauskas, a transfer from Northwestern, is 6’10’’ and the most important player on the floor for the Raiders. He averages 16.5 points per game and has only been held under 10 points twice in Patriot League play. Perhaps more importantly, he’s scored at least 20 points in both meetings with Bucknell this year, so the Bison don’t appear to have an answer for him.
Of course, the Raiders are far from a one-man team. Will Rayman is another forward who gives Colgate size, not to mention someone who can score both inside and outside. Meanwhile, point guard Jordan Burns is lightning quick and has been an excellent distributor for the Raiders late in the season. Freshman Tucker Richardson is also coming along strong, averaging over 11 points per game in his last eight games to give Colgate plenty of balance on offense.
The Experience Factor
Experience is one area where Colgate can’t possibly match the Bison. Bucknell’s top-four scorers are all upperclassmen who have played in the NCAA Tournament twice before and know how to get back there. More importantly, they have played in Patriot League Championship Games before and won’t be fazed by the moment.
On the floor, the Bison are led by seniors Kimbal Mackenzie and Nate Sestina, who average over 33 points per game. Bucknell also has three other players who average at least eight points every time out, so it’ll be a challenge for Colgate to shut down everyone. Mackenzie has taken over during the Patriot League Tournament, scoring 52 points over two games. As for Sestina, Bucknell’s best inside player, he has scored 37 points during the two tournament games and is poised for another big outing in the finals.
Three in a Row
Both Mackenzie and Sestina were held in check when Bucknell lost at Colgate the last time these teams met. But that will be tough for Colgate to pull off two games in a row. Bucknell’s experience will pay off and at least ensure this game comes down to the wire. Bet on Bucknell to beat the 3.5-point spread.