INSIDE TOMORROW’S MATCHUP | Bucknell poses tough challenge

Butler will take on Patriot League regular-season and tournament champion Bucknell Thursday in the opening round of this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.

The Bison (28-5, 12-2) own wins over two NCAA tournament teams, earning victories against WAC champion New Mexico State and Atlantic 10 Conference school La Salle.

Other notable games include a season-opening 70-65 win at Purdue on Nov. 9 and a narrow 66-64 loss at then-12th-ranked Missouri on Jan. 5.
Besides a 79-67 road loss to Princeton, Bucknell lost four other games by a combined nine points.

The Bison also finished the season ranked 52nd in RPI, helping the team grab the East Region’s No. 11 seed.

Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said in an interview with the Associated Press that he bases his program’s philosophy off Butler.

“Butler, to me, is the gold standard for mid-major programs,” Paulsen said. “So much of what we do, or try to do, is modeled on Butler.”

Bucknell is led by 6-foot-11-inch forward/center Mike Muscala, who averaged a double-double this season with 19 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. Muscala tied for third in rebounding nationally.

Muscala also recently became the school’s all-time leading scorer.

The big man received all major awards in the Patriot League this season, winning Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year while also being named the conference tournament MVP.

Muscala joins Rotnei Clarke as one of 30 finalists for the Naismith Men’s Player of the Year Award.

Like fellow center Andrew Smith, Muscala was one of 15 players named to this year’s Academic All-America team and is a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award.

The Bison have three other double-digit scorers, including junior guard Cameron Ayers with 12.5 points per game, senior guard Bryson Johnson with 11.1 points per game and senior forward Joe Willman with 10.3 points per game.

Bucknell is 2-5 all-time in five NCAA tournament appearances.

The program made headlines during the 2005 NCAA tournament when No. 14 seed Bucknell shocked No. 3 seed Kansas 64-63 in the first round.

Bucknell followed up its 2005 tournament performance with a ninth seed in 2006, defeating No. 8 seed Arkansas 59-55 in the first round.

The Bison last appeared in the NCAA tournament in 2011 when they lost to eventual national champion Connecticut in the second round.

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