Butler and Bucknell both enter the NCAA tournament as fashionable “dark-horse” picks, but only one can advance.
Butler came out of the gates hot and recorded nonconference wins over Marquette, and No. 1 seeds Indiana and Gonzaga. At one point, the Bulldogs reached as high as No. 9 in the polls, but then struggled through the meat of their conference schedule.
The Bulldogs finished the season with a 26-8 overall record and an 11-5 record in conference which was good enough for a tie for third place in their first year in the Atlantic 10. They are in the tournament via an at-large bid.
Bucknell features one of the best players you have never heard of in Mike Muscala. The senior center averaged 19 points and 11.2 rebounds per game this season to lead the Bison to a 28-5 record.
Bucknell won the Patriot league regular-season title with a 12-2 record and earned the conference’s automatic bid with a 64-56 win of Lafayette in the Patriot League championship game.
Neither team has any reported injuries.
Where: Lexington, Kentucky at Rupp Arena
Who will win the game?
When: Thursday, March 21 at 12:40 p.m. ET
Listen: Here is a link to the live streaming audio for Butler. Here is a link to the live streaming audio broadcast for Bucknell.
Betting Line: Butler -3.5 according to Bodog
What's at Stake?
The ability to move on the Round of 32 and face the winner of the Marquette/Davidson game.
What They're Saying
Genaro C. Armas of the Associated Press talks about how Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen tries to model his program after Butler.
Butler, to me, is the gold standard for mid-major programs. So much of what we do, or try to do, is modeled on Butler.
This is Butler’s sixth tourney appearance in seven years and 11th in 17 years. The Bulldogs were national runners-up in 2010 and 2011 but missed the tournament in 2012.
Stevens said making the field can never be taken for granted. Defending champion Kentucky didn’t make this year’s tournament.
“I don’t care if you’re Butler. I don’t care if you haven’t been in (it in) 30 years,” Stevens said. “I don’t care if you’re Carolina or Duke. It’s not a given. You have to earn it. That’s the fun part about being in that room tonight.”
Most Important Player to Watch: Bucknell Center Mike Muscala
Muscala is one of the best big men in the country. He averages a double-double per game and has had success against strong competition. He had 25 points and 14 rebounds in a January game against then No. 12 Missouri and recorded 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists against fellow tournament team La Salle.
Key Matchup: Cameron Ayers vs. Roosevelt Jones
With Muscala in the low-post, the Bison have received most of their offensive production from the frontcourt. Ayers is a lanky scorer who provides an outside offensive threat. He is second on the team with an average of 12.5 points per game.
Jones is a solid all-around player and is one of the Bulldogs' best defenders. He averages 10.1 points per game, 5.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists. If Jones can produce offensively and force the Bison to be one-dimensional by shutting down Ayers, Butler will win.
Prediction: Butler 55, Bucknell 51
This is matchup of two of the premier mid-major programs in the country. They are very evenly matched, but, although Butler did not go to the tournament in 2012, the difference will be experience.
Butler coach Brad Stevens simply wins in the tournament and his team has won numerous close games all year. This game will be close until the final minutes, but look for Butler to execute down the stretch and pull out a close victory.