Chris Hass and his Bucknell teammates took the same class last fall — “Intro to Nathan Davis.” It was by no means a gut course, and the results reflected it.
The payoff, however, figured to come second semester, with the new coach’s foundation in place. Indications are that the lessons took hold, as the Bison are tied for first in the Patriot League headed into Wednesday’s game on ASN at Loyola (Md.).
“Coach (Davis) comes in with a whole different style on defense and offense,” Hass said. “When it comes to offense and defense, you’re working with 14 guys who don’t know the system at all. So essentially, you’re working with 14 freshmen in the preseason. You can see that in our earlier games, and you’re definitely starting to see us putting things together now.”
Indeed, Bucknell (8-9, 5-1 Patriot League) won five in a row before last Saturday’s stumble against Colgate. A seven-game losing streak in November and December is an instructive, if frustrating, memory.
“We didn’t get off in the non-conference season the way we wanted,” Davis said, “but have really played well since the New Year and league play started. We’re doing a lot of the little things you need to do to be successful. We’ve got talented offensive players that will do the things on defense and rebounding that we need, and we’ve got a chance to win a lot of games.”
The Bison’s non-conference schedule was challenging, with games against N.C. State, Wake Forest, Princeton, Penn State, Siena and Columbia.
“You never want the best team in your league to be the best team you play, and we certainly didn’t do that,” Davis said. “We played a lot of good teams. What that does is it exposes your flaws, so you get a chance to get it on film, get out there and see it and improve from it, and I think we’ve done that for the most part. We’re much better than we were a couple weeks ago, and we’re much better than we were at the end of November, so that’s a step in the right direction.”
Davis, a former Bucknell assistant under Pat Flannery, most recently was head coach at Division III power Randolph-Macon. He replaced Dave Paulsen, who took the George Mason job after last season.
Davis installed a quicker-paced offensive system that is 27th in the nation in adjusted tempo, according to KenPom.com. Paulsen’s more deliberate, half-court offense was routinely ranked below 200 in adjusted tempo, as high as 167th last season.
The Bison lead the Patriot in field goal percentage (.480), 3-point shooting (.393) and free throw percentage (.742), all of which are top-35 in NCAA rankings. Bucknell has the league’s most efficient offense by a wide margin, according to kenpom.com.
On defense, the Bison still employ a man-to-man scheme, but with more help-side and rotation principles than under Paulsen.
“Early in the year, I was trying to get comfortable,” Hass said. “I was basically a younger Chris. Instead of just playing basketball, I was thinking about where I needed to be. When you come in as a freshman, it’s the same thing. You’re so overwhelmed by this new system. But I think since I’m a little older and some of the other guys are older, the learning curve was a little faster.”
Hass needs no shooting lessons. The 6-5 senior from Pellston, Mich., is the league’s No. 2 scorer (19.3 ppg) and leading free throw shooter (.837). He scored 40 in a win against Army, hitting all 11 of his shots in a 32-point first half. He made seven 3-pointers in a 29-point game against N.C. State and scored 26 versus Wake Forest.
“He’s playing really well,” Davis said. “He’s a high level scorer. He can shoot with range. He can shoot off screens. He can put it on the floor. He can post. He’s really a good passer when he wants to be, as well. He gives you a lot of versatility on offense.
“He’ll continue to do those things, but the thing that he’s done that’s allowed us to get to 5-1 in the league is he’s become a quality defensive player. He’s been in the right place, he’s deflecting passes, he’s getting steals. He’s good at helping guys out, and we need that, as well.”
Hass said that he is a better, more well-rounded player, and that it’s exciting to see the strides that he and his teammates have made in just a few months.
“We’re 17 games in and we’re still learning,” Hass said, “which is very encouraging because it means we can still get better from here.”
Above: Learning a new system under coach Nathan Davis has been like reverting to a freshman for Chris Hass and Bucknell, but the lessons are paying off. (Courtesy Bucknell Athletics)