Bucknell (24-9) at Arizona (23-11)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, March 14, 9:00 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: McKale Center (14,545) -- Tucson, Arizona. Television: ESPN2. NIT Record: Bucknell 0-0, Arizona 0-3. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The Bucknell Bison will make their first appearance in the NIT, as they take on the Arizona Wildcats in first-round action at the McKale Center this evening.
Bucknell earned an eighth seed in the NIT this year after finishing the season with a 24-9 overall record, including a Patriot League regular-season title. The Bison had their NCAA Tournament hopes dashed however, losing to Lehigh in the Patriot League Tournament final, 82-77.
Arizona also fell in its conferences title game as well, surrendering a 53-51 decision and the Pac-12 title to Colorado. The Wildcats are now 23-11 this year and had a solid season in-conference at 12-6. All three of Arizona's previous appearances have ended in first-round exits but the team hasn't been in the tournament since 1951.
Not only will this be the first NIT appearance for Bucknell but it will also be the first time the Bison square off with Arizona.
Bucknell never led in the Patriot League title game but cut the lead to one late after back-to-back three pointers in four seconds to make the score 78-77 with under a minute to play. Lehigh then missed on two free throws giving the Bison an opportunity to take the lead in the final seconds by Cameron Ayers' reverse layup attempt was blocked and Lehigh hit its free throws on the second chance.
In the loss the Bison wasted a mammoth performance from Mike Muscala, who poured in 30 points, brought down 14 rebounds, dished out four assists and blocked three shots. The effort was a fitting end to a season for the junior center, who was fourth in the conference in scoring (16.7 ppg) the top rebounder (8.9 rpg) and the second best shot blocker (1.6 bpg). No player for the Bison is scoring as effectively as Muscala, but Ayers and Joe Willman each add 10.8 points per game. Bryson Johnson (9.3 ppg) has also been a capable score at times, but gets the majority of his minutes off the bench. As a team Bucknell was the third best scoring team in the Patriot League (69.0 ppg) but led the league in assists (13.7 pg), field goal percentage (.465) and scoring defense (61.2 ppg).
Arizona was also involved in a tight matchup in the Pac-12 title game. Despite trailing by 12 (48-36) midway through the second half, the Wildcats dug deep and made an 11-3 run to bring the game within four (51-47) After a Colorado bucket, Arizona scored four quick points and had a shot to win the game but Kyle Fogg's buzzer beater fell short and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament slipped away.
The Wildcats average 69.5 points per game on a modest 44.1 shooting percentage. Defense has been strong for the team though, with the squad allowing only 62.7 points per game. Fogg (13.7 ppg) is the team's leading scorer and emotional leader. He is also a staunch defender and earned a spot on the All-Pac-12 Defensive Team as a result. Fogg is one of three Wildcats ranked in the top 15 in the Pac-12 in three-point shooting (.441). Brendon Lavender (.509) leads the league and Solomon Hill (.382) ranks 11th. Hill (12.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg) can also score on the inside, while Lavender (5.6 ppg) is not as prolific an offensive threat. Joining Hill on the frontline is Jesse Perry (12.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg) to form one of the better rebounding combos in the Pac-12.
Arizona is a team that has a great deal of balance but tends to favor the three-point shot at times. That has led to feast or famine games. Against a strong defensive team like Bucknell the Wildcats will need to be on point and playing at home should help in that regard.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona 72, Bucknell 64
03/14 10:35:03 ET