In a matchup of mid-major powers the sixth- seed Butler Bulldogs will take on the 11th-seed Bucknell Bison in the second round of the NCAA Tournament East Region at Rupp Arena on Thursday afternoon.
Bucknell coasted to both the regular season title and conference tourney crown in the Patriot League this season as the unquestioned class of the conference. The Bison are the first team in conference history to win three straight league titles as they get set for their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Bucknell has just two wins in seven previous contests in the tourney, including an 81-52 rout of Connecticut last year.
Though Butler has not played in one of the power conferences it has been one of the more successful teams in the NCAA Tournament in recent memory. The Bulldogs missed out on a spot last season after making consecutive trips to the title game in 2010 and 2011. This season was the Bulldogs' first in the Atlantic 10 and they certainly made a splash, spending time in the national rankings, while posting a 26-8 overall record. Butler also collected a win against the East Region's No. 1 seed when it stunned Indiana, 88-86, in December.
This game marks the first time these teams have ever been matched up. Whichever squad manages to advance will get to face either third-seed Marquette or 14th-seed Davidson.
Patriot League Player of the Year Mike Muscala was at it again as he led the Bison to a 64-56 win over Lafayette for the conference crown. Muscala had 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Bison who outscored Lafayette, 28-16, in the paint.
Muscala (19.0 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 2.4 bpg) is the key for the Bison if they hope to pull off the upset. The 6-foot-11 center has posted an NCAA-leading 22 double- doubles this season and can be expected to get the ball fed to him on the low block early and often on Thursday. With Butler likely to be keying in on Muscala the Bison will need strong efforts from their other key pieces, including Cameron Ayers (12.5 ppg), Bryon Johnson (11.1 ppg) and Joe Willman (10.3 ppg). Muscala doesn't just make an impact on offense as he can really protect the rim and anchors the Bison's exemplary efforts on that end. Bucknell allows just 57.5 points per game and holds foes to 37.8 percent shooting.
Butler was another victim to the stingy defense of Saint Louis in the battle between the teams in the semifinals of the A-10 Tournament. The Bulldogs hit just 38.9 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 20 times in the contest. Rotnei Clarke did his best to keep the Bulldogs in the contest but needed 15 attempts to get his team-high 16 points.
Clarke (16.7 ppg) is the centerpiece for Butler on the offensive end. The 6- foot guard had the best season of his career after transferring from Arkansas setting career-highs in points while netting 41.2 percent from beyond the arc. Clarke didn't mind deferring when he needed to either as he set a career-high with 2.7 assists per game. Andre Smith (11.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg) will have the unenviable task of matching up with Muscala but he has been a solid scorer in his own right. Roosevelt Jones (10.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.5 apg) provides versatility as well for the Bulldogs.