Today was Butler’s final day of preparation before taking on the Bucknell Bison in the second round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Tomorrow’s game will be the first-ever meeting between the two teams.
Despite Butler being the higher seed at No. 6, many analysts and fans alike are calling for an upset by Bucknell in Butler-fashion.
But Butler is not looking at themselves as favorites.
“The way we’re looking at it, there’s no favorites going into this tournament,” senior guard Rotnei Clarke said. “Anyone who is in this tournament is deserving and Bucknell has got a lot of history themselves.”
Nor does head coach Brad Stevens consider the higher No. 6 seed an advantage.
“It becomes harder to win if you’re the top seeded teams because of all the talk,” Stevens said. “And I think that’s been the case with our two Final Four runs, we played with no pressure.”
Stevens doesn’t deny the threats of the Bison.
“Bucknell has all of the pieces and all of the experiences and all of the accomplishments that go along with the teams that go deep into the NCAA Tournament out of a non-BCS league,” Stevens said. “A lot like the Butler teams of the past.”
Bucknell has the Patriot League Player of the Year, defensive player of the year and scholar-athlete of the year in center Mike Muscala.
Muscala averages 19 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. The job to guard the monster center will be placed heavily on Butler senior center Andrew Smith.
“I can guarantee you it won’t be easy,” Smith said. “He’s a great player, but it’s going to be more than just me. It’s going to be a team effort.”
The Bison set a Patriot League and school record with 28 wins and were the Patriot League Champions behind seven straight victories to end the season.
“It’s going to come down to the little things, I think,” Clarke said. “Just executing well and rebounding, offensive rebounding, just hustle plays, things that determine the end of a game.”
Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said these are things that Butler do well and what he has modeled his program after.
“Butler has set the gold standard in my mind for preparation and attention to detail and being the team that doesn’t beat itself,” Paulsen said. “I hold Brad Stevens and the Butler program in the highest regard you could hold a coach and a program.”
Stevens echoed the sentiments and said that he, nor the people in the basketball circles across the country, have ignored the accomplishments of the Bison.
“There’s a reason (teams) don’t schedule them in the preseason,” Stevens said. “I don’t like preparing for them, but I’ve appreciated watching them.”
In the end Stevens said it will come down to his team and how they can perform against a good team.
“We’re just trying to win so our last locker room meeting doesn’t happen today,” Stevens said. “You know, one more day together.”
Odds and Ends
In typical Butler fashion the team watched film and had a practice at Transylvania University, before coming to Rupp Arena for press conferences and an open practice on the main court.
Rotnei Clarke went with his mom and dad to a gym last night to shoot his nightly routine. He said he shot for 30-45 minutes. Andrew Smith is the one who let it slip and apologized to Clarke if he embarrassed him, but said he “had to.”
It is Clarke’s first NCAA Tournament appearance and is appearing to be soaking it all in. After the press conference he tried to take his nameplate as a souvenir. Tournament officials kept it for later use though.
Brad Steven’s son, Brady, was on the court during the team’s open practice rebounding for the team. As the clock ran down, the team went to the corner to sign autographs for Butler fans in attendance. Brady got some coaching tips from his dad and sunk two shots to end the practice.