Jeff Jones gives his thoughts on the NCAA tournament
Bucknell has become a chic pick in the NCAA Tournament to pull a first-round upset, and American University men’s basketball coach Jeff Jones understands why.
Jones, who coached the Eagles to the Patriot League title and an NCAA berth in 2009, played Bucknell this season and knows first hand what the Bison can do.
“Bucknell has an experienced team,” Jones said. “They’re really solid defensively. I could see it. I do see them being able to knock off Butler.”
The Patriot League, home to both American and Bucknell, has experienced a good amount of recent success in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, Lehigh came out of the Patriot League and knocked off Duke in the opening round of the tournament.
Lehigh’s star last season, C.J. McCollum, put on a clinic against the Blue Devils, and Jones thinks Bucknell big man Mike Muscala could have similar success against Butler.
“It’s interesting to me that each of the last two years the Patriot League has had the best player on the floor in their opening round game,” Jones said. “Muscala will be the best player on the floor.”
Jones confidence in Bucknell diminishes after the first game against Butler, though the AU coach thinks neighboring school Georgetown could do more damage in the tournament.
“Obviously they’re a terrific team. They’ve had an outstanding year,” Jones said of the Hoyas.
Early in the season, Georgetown lost Greg Whittington to academic troubles, but Jones thinks Whittington’s loss actually helped the Hoyas.
“I think it forced them to change. It was almost addition through subtraction,” Jones said. “I think maybe they got tougher, and relying on Porter more allowed him to step up and shine.”
Losing Whittington also gave Markel Starks the opportunity to grow.
“When [Starks] plays well they’re at their best,” Jones said. “Porter is great game-in, game-out, but when Starks is hitting jump shots the Hoyas can take a real step forward.”
With a developing backcourt of Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and the all-everything Porter, the Hoyas have the look of a team ready for a deep March run.
Jones thinks VCU could go on a similar run, including a win over Big Ten heavyweight Michigan. The Wolverines have a star in guard Trey Burke, but Jones believes that VCU’s “Havoc” defense will force other players to win the game. Jones suggested that a Michigan win will require big games from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glen Robinson III.
“Those guys are going to have to make plays. VCU wont let Burke beat them,” Jones said. “Can they do it?”