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This is one of those matchups that no one knows what to do with. It pits No. 11 Bucknell, a team many think is over seeded, against No. 6 Butler who was ranked as high as No. 9 in the AP Polls this year. Yet, the Bulldogs are sitting as just -3.5 point favorites at 5 Dimes Sportsbook.
Bucknell's out-of-conference schedule is highlighted by a couple games. They lost at Penn State (the worst team in the Big 10), but also by only two points at Missouri (a power home team that beat Florida). In like matchups, the Bison beat La Salle at home by eight points. Butler most recently beat the Explorers by 11 points in the Atlantic 10 tourney.
But what Butler team is going to show up in this game? The one that beat Indiana earlier in the season or the one that lost to Charlotte at home? Under Brad Stevens, the Bulldogs have had tons of success in the tourney in recent years. While they didn't make it to the Big Dance last year, they made it to the Championship game the two seasons before that. But that was a couple years ago and this is a new team which is why this line is so low. No one knows what to make of this team.
As usual, Butler has a mostly balanced squad, but one player that can fill it up. Guard Rotnei Clarke has made 108 threes this year shooting 41 percent from behind the arc. He's a shooter that you need to stay tight on and averages over 16 points per game on the year. The rest of his offensive help is hit or miss with four other players averaging at least 9.9 points. Kellen Dunham is their only other player that has made more than 16 threes this year which could be a problem. Big man Andrew Smith may be the most important player in this game as he will have to deal with the Bison's Mike Muscala. Smith doesn't have great numbers, but he does the job in the paint which is what he will have to do in this game.
Muscala isn't your typical mid-major big man. He is a legitimate threat in the post at 6-11 with a solid mid-range shot. If Butler can stop Muscala, this game is theirs, but it's easier said than done. Muscala is averaging 19 points and 11 boards on the season. In one of his more difficult matchups of the year, Muscala outmuscled Alex Oriakhi of Missouri en route to 25 points and 14 rebounds. Bucknell's depth is definitely worrisome as they only have four players averaging more than three points. Joe Willman works well on the other side of Muscala, but Cameron Ayers will be the one that needs to step up. Ayers usually takes a backseat to Muscala and the bigs, but he will need to be on this game. He hasn't hit a three-pointer in three straight games which is something that will have to change if Bucknell is to win.
In the end, it's going to be hard for the Bison to grab a win as Stevens and company will have almost a full week to prepare for Muscala. Nevertheless, it's never easy to fully control an experienced senior that averages a double-double.
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