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NC State opens its season against a Bucknell team with lots of question marks

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The Bison did not have a great offseason. (Or a good, er, inseason.)

NCAA Basketball: Bucknell at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020-21 college basketball season came with a lot of strangeness for everybody, and I’m not just talking about playing in empty arenas. Take Bucknell, for instance: the Bison ended up playing just a dozen games, all of them within the Patriot League, which didn’t start its season until January and did so with heavy travel restrictions.

The idea was for everybody to play 16 league games, but only two of the Patriot League’s 10 teams managed to do so. Bucknell only played 10, including four consecutive contests against Lehigh. (They beat Lehigh all four times.) And because of cancellations, the Bison nearly went the entire month of February without playing.

A dozen games played—two in the league tournament—but only five different opponents in total. That was Bucknell’s entire season. What the sweet hell is anyone supposed to take from the results? Not much, I reckon.

Nevertheless!

The Bison in 2021

... Adj OE/DE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
... Adj OE/DE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Offense 97.3 (262) 52.0 (84) 17.3 (94) 19.8 (336) 36.3 (58)
Defense 108.0 (288) 49.6 (148) 15.7 (325) 28.3 (187) 29.2 (118)

But seriously, I wouldn’t take anything from those numbers. I only threw them in here because I’d feel weird if I didn’t. But the raw figures are close to meaningless. There’s another reason for that beyond the odd schedule: a handful of players left the Bucknell program in the offseason, leaving the Bison will few experienced holdovers. It’s a much different team.

All five of the guys who left averaged double-figure minutes, and three were starters. The most significant loss is John Meeks, a forward who put up 25 points per game in the six games he played last season. He’s been a good high-workload player for several seasons, and now he plays for Charleston.

The two returning starters are the only guys on the roster who averaged in double figures last year and should be relied on heavily: point guard Xander Rice (6’3, 184) and shooting guard Andrew Funk (6’5, 188). Rice appeared to be turning a corner as a sophomore in 2021 and if so that’s much-needed news for the Bison. Funk has attempted 334 three-pointers in his career and made just 30.8 percent of ‘em. He’ll have to step up in that department moving forward.

Up front, the Bison are likely to throw big man Andre Screen (7’0, 251) at Manny Bates. Screen played some encouraging minutes as a freshman in 2021 but also committed more than six fouls per 40 minutes. Alex Timmerman (6’9, 265), Malachi Rhodes (6’8, 233), and Jake van der Heijden (6’9, 218) played sparingly last season. Van der Heijden is a Raleigh-native who went to Ravenscroft, so maybe he’s capable of a little hometown special. Dude also likes to shoot threes, which fits the profile.

While the Bison look to their guards for leadership, they’ll be trying to figure out where their freshmen fit and whether or not a couple of the guys who barely played last season are capable of stepping into much more important roles. That’s going to take some time—it’s really tough to lose a handful of rotation players in one offseason, especially when you’re already a struggling program.

KenPom likes NC State by 23.