The winner of Thursday's opener of the NCAA East Regional in Lexington will be: B-u- ... (fill in the blanks).
No. 6 seed Butler (26-8) and No. 11 Bucknell (28-5) will tip off at 12:40 p.m. in Rupp Arena.
Butler, making its sixth NCAA appearance in seven years, includes five players with tourney experience. Atop that list is Andrew Smith, who has played in nine NCAA games, including two for the national championship.
A 6-foot-11 senior, he'll be matched against Bucknell's go-to guy, 6-11 Mike Muscala.
"It's going to be a team effort, and not one guy is going to be able to guard Muscala," Smith said before Wednesday's practice. "... We have the utmost faith in our coach's game plan. We think if we follow it, then we have a good chance of winning the game. And on the offensive end, just executing and running our stuff."
Muscala (19.0 ppg, 11.2 rpg) leads the nation in double-doubles with 22.
He is one of three seniors starting for the Bison, along with 6-7 Joe Willman (10.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and 6-2 Bryson Johnson (11.1 ppg, 2.4 apg).
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"I consider these guys brothers, so (I) definitely want to play with them as long as I can and really cherish these moments," Johnson said. "We're just going to go out there and try to do our best, and try to extend this as long as we can."
While Bucknell has four scorers averaging double digits, including 6-5 junior Cameron Ayers (12.5), Butler has five averaging 9.9 or more.
Rotnei Clarke is the Bulldogs' top three-pointer shooter and averages 16.7 points.
Smith (11.1) and Roosevelt Jones (10.1) add 5.7 rebounds each. Kellen Dunham and Khyle Marshall average 9.9 points.
"Butler really kind of set the gold standard, in my mind, for preparation and attention to detail and being the team that doesn't beat itself. That's kind of how we've tried to model our program," Bucknell Coach Dave Paulsen said. "... They're an incredibly physical team. They maybe don't have that reputation, but they're very, very physical defensively, and they're very, very physical offensively in terms of the amount of screens they set. They're incredibly detail-oriented. So we're really going to have to be able to match their physicality and really be focused on the defensive end. Then, obviously, play with a high level of poise on offense."
Seed: No. 6 in East Regional
Coach: Brad Stevens, sixth year with the Bulldogs. Previously served as an assistant at Butler (2001-07).
Record against NCAA field: 6-6
How they got here: At-large bid after a 26-8 season that included a share of third place in the Atlantic 10 and a semifinals berth in the A-10 tournament.
NCAA history: This is the Bulldogs' 12th NCAA tournament appearance, and their sixth in seven years. They are 18-11 all-time in the tournament and made it to the championship game in 2010 vs. Duke and 2011 vs. Connecticut.
Track record: Butler has won its first game in five of its past six NCAA Tournament appearances. The Bulldogs beat two of this year's No. 1 seeds — Gonzaga and Indiana.
What Butler has to do to advance: Keep Bucknell's Mike Muscala in check and execute the game plan — running the offense and crashing the boards.
Seed: No. 11 in East Regional
Coach: Dave Paulsen, fifth year with the Bison. Previously took St. Lawrence University (1996-97) and Williams (2002-04, '07) to NCAA Division III, winning a national championship in 2003.
Record against NCAA field: 2-1
How they got here: Automatic bid after sweeping regular-season and post-season tournament titles in the Patriot League.
NCAA history: This is Bucknell's sixth NCAA tournament appearance. It has won two games in the tournament. It beat Kansas in 2005 and Arkansas in 2006.
Milestones: Coach Dave Paulsen's next win will be his 100th with Bucknell. Mike Muscala needs 19 rebounds to reach 1,103, which would tie the records for the Patriot League (Adonal Foyle) and Bucknell (Hal Danzig).
What Bucknell has to do to advance: The Bison must match Butler's physical play, play solid "help" defense and maintain poise on offense.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @markmaloneyhl. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com