FORT WAYNE – With distant Bucknell as the opening team to beat in the NCAA tournament pairings announced Sunday, Butler has competition in the Cinderella department.
The sixth-seeded Bulldogs (26-8) will face the No. 11 seed Bison (28-5) in Thursday’s second round of the East Regional at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.
Once upon a time, before the Bulldogs made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA championship game in 2010 and 2011, Butler was the belle of the basketball tournament: the little engine that could and almost did, losing to Duke in 2010, then Connecticut a year later.
But with a No. 6 seed, a 26-8 record, a December victory over Big Ten kingpin Indiana to its credit and a national reputation, Butler must surrender the underdog status to Bucknell, champion of the Patriot League.
I think that Bucknell is going to out-Butler Butler, said CBS studio analyst Seth Davis during Sunday’s pairings announcement.
Although Butler lost to Saint Louis 67-56 in the Atlantic-10 tournament semifinals, it had built enough of a résumé to warrant a No. 6 seed.
The Bulldogs strung together 13 consecutive victories this season, which included the 88-86 overtime victory over Indiana, when the Hoosiers were ranked No. 1.
There was the period from Jan. 23 through early March when Butler lost five of 11 games.
According to coach Brad Stevens, that doesn’t matter.
Any bitterness that you feel from yesterday is gone, he told the Indianapolis Star.
Like, it’s gone. You’re in the biggest tournament. You have a chance to play in the biggest tournament on the biggest stage.
There’s only 68 of us that get a chance to do that. It’s humbling. It’s hard. They should get to enjoy that.
Balance has been the secret to the Bulldogs’ success this year.
Rotnei Clarke, a 6-foot senior guard, leads the team in scoring with a 16.7 average, but others are close behind.
Andrew Smith averages 11.1, Roosevelt Jones averages 10.1, and two others – Kellen Dunham and Khyle Marshall – average 9.9.