Bucknell quickly came a trendy upset pick when the brackets were announced on Sunday evening, and it wasn’t necessarily wrong.
The Bison are really good and they have an NBA caliber center in Mike Muscala. That’s a combination that is ideal when trying to identify what under-the-radar teams have a chance to make a run in the tournament.
Except for one thing: they drew Butler.
That’s the Butler that is coached by Brad Stevens. The Butler that has 6-foot-11 grinder Andrew Smith in the middle. The Butler that can be as physical and stymieing defensively as anyone in the country. No one in the country game-plans better than Stevens, and no team in the country executes a game-plan better than his Bulldogs.
Which, if you listened to me (I love self-congratulation), means that you are happy after No. 6 seed Butler’s 68-56 win over No. 11 Bucknell in the opening round of East Region play out in Lexington. Muscala finished with nine points on 4-17 shooting to go along with 10 boards and four fouls, and outside of a flurry of early-second half mid-range jumpers from Joe William (20 points, 10-17 shooting) and a bunch of threes in the final minutes when the outcome had already been decided, the Bison spent a good 30 minutes of this game completely incapable of executing offensively.
And that’s good news for the Bulldogs.
Because they weren’t all that good on Thursday, either. Rotnei Clarke was 5-14 from the floor and 2-8 from three; he missed his first six triples — Butler as a team missed their first 14 — before hitting two daggers in the final minutes. As a team, Butler shot 36.4% from the field and 3-17 from three.
They won this game because they were able to defend, something that Butler is going to be able to do pretty consistently. And if you think Clarke and company are going to shoot that poorly throughout the whole tournament, well, it’s no wonder you’re already 0-1 in your bracket in the East Region.
Butler advances to take on the winner of No. 3 Marquette-No. 14 Davidson.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.