By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
LEXINGTON, Kent -- Butler University has become synonymous as an underdog in the NCAA Tournament, reaching the 2010 and 2011 championship games as a member of the Horizon League.
But now the Bulldogs are in a different position entering the 2013 Tournament, representing a high-level league in the Atlantic 10 and rumors of joining the Catholic schools of the Big East in a new super basketball conference.
Butler enters as a No. 6-seed and opens play in the East Regional against No. 11-seed Bucknell at 12:40 p.m. Thursday at Rupp Arena.
The Bison (28-5) enter the tournament with the third-most wins in the country and won the Patriot League, while Butler (26-8) lost in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament to eventual champion Saint Louis on Saturday.
Bucknell, while not possessing the overall tournament experience of the Bulldogs, will not be in awe when in enters the home of the Kentucky Wildcats to face Butler.
The core of the Bison team played in the NCAA Tournament in an 81-52 first-round loss to eventual national champion UConn back in 2011.
"It was an experience. (UConn) was really hot when we were sophomores," Patriot League Player of the Year Mike Muscala said. "I think we'll have a little less of the wow factor when we play (in the tournament) this time."
"I think we were in awe," Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. "We didn't beat a high-level team that year."
With that in mind, Paulsen made the choice to play as many bigger conference schools as possible this season, including trips to Purdue -- a win -- and to Missouri -- a one-point loss. Bucknell also played NCAA Tournament teams New Mexico State and LaSalle, beating both.
"We really challenged ourselves (this season) as much as other teams would allow us in our nonleague, starting with a win at Purdue, playing George Mason and LaSalle," Paulsen said. "I know every one of those guys in that locker room feels like we should have beaten Missouri."
The Bulldogs will certainly provide a test for the Bison. Butler will be one of the biggest teams Bucknell will face this season with seven players 6-foot-6 or taller, including 6-foot-11 senior center Andrew Smith, who will most certainly match up against Muscala. That length allows the Bulldogs to outrebound their opponents by more than seven per game -- Smith and Roosevelt Smith each average 5.7 rebounds per game to lead the team.
Senior Rotnei Clark, a transfer from Arkansas, leads Butler in scoring at 16.7 points per game with both Smith (11.1) and Jones (10.1) averaging in double figures as well.
Bucknell of course will need a big game from Muscala. He leads the team in scoring and rebounding, also leading the nation in double-doubles. The senior from Minnesota is the second most efficient player in the country behind Gonzaga center Kelly Olynk, according to ESPN Player Efficiency Rating.
The teams are quite evenly matched offensively, but the Bison are the better defensive team by the numbers, holding teams to a lower shooting percentage on both 2- and 3-pointers.
But the most important part for the Bison is even if they lose they will have given the Bulldogs everything they could handle.
"I don't know if we'll win or lose, but I know we won't be in awe," Paulsen said. "We won't play on our heels. A team's going to have play pretty well to beat us."