Technically, the NCAA men's basketball tournament began Tuesday night with a couple of play-in games in Dayton. But in reality, March Madness kicks off today and one of the teams in the early spotlight will be the Valley's own Bucknell Bison.
Coach Dave Paulsen's squad is back in the tournament for the second time in three seasons, this time taking on tournament darling Butler of Indiana, which played in the national title game in both 2010 and 2011. Bucknell has garnered all sorts of national attention, ranging from mention on Jimmy Kimmel's late show to front-page stories on national publications like the USA Today and New York Post.
College sports can rub some people the wrong way with rules that aren't quite enforced equally and how, at times, the playing field isn't quite level for all student-athletes.
Bucknell represents all that is right about college sports, and that is what makes it easy to root for these Bison. They go to class and graduate at a 100 percent rate, well above the 70 percent mark of all 68 teams in the field, and just one of 11 teams with a perfect graduation rate. All four of the seniors are Dean's List students, led by senior all-star Mike Muscala.
Muscala is the leader on and off the court. He was the conference's Player of the Year and he was the Scholar Athlete of the year, majoring in management.
Muscala is part of a team with players from all over the country who have come to our little corner of the globe to become one of the nation's best basketball teams.
Of the 15 players on Bucknell's roster, five are from Pennsylvania. Other players are from Minnesota, Michigan, Tennessee, North Carolina, Illinois and even Pictou, Nova Scotia, which is as far off the map as it sounds.
So while the Bison didn't go to Valley high schools -- other than hometown star Colin Klebon out of Southern Columbia -- they are our players, and our team.
The NCAA basketball tournament draws a lot of interest each year -- everybody will have a bracket and a highlighter on their desk starting today -- but more so when Bucknell is part of it. It ramps up our rooting interesting considerably, even more so when they are likeable, good kids who represent themselves and their school as true student-athletes.