GAME NOTES: 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
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
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
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.
This game will come down to how well the Bulldogs can handle Muscala. That is
easier said than done especially for a Butler team that doesn't have a ton of
size up front. If Muscala avoids foul trouble and puts up another big effort
this could be one of the first upsets of the Tournament.