2013 NCAA Tournament Preview: Bucknell vs. Butler

Michael Hickey

There is a legend playing Thursday, and most people have never heard of, or seen him play.

There is a player who will be a legend at the mid-major ranks and his name is not Nate Wolters. Oh we love the Nater -- maybe not as much as Matt Norlander -- but there is someone who is more of an unsung hero than any player in the country.

I am beginning to wonder if he might be more valuable than any player in recent memory.

That man is Mike Muscala of the Bucknell Bison.

Think about how dominant Anthony Davis was last season for Kentucky. He didn't need to score every night; he just needed to use his length and athleticism to block anything that came near him, and rebound just as much. He scored the highest HOOPWAR score we thought we would ever see.

Davis was responsible for 17 of his team's wins -- a ridiculous number -- and averaged down to just a 30-game season, Davis scored a 12.9, the best in the country (by a small margin over Weber State's Damian Lillard).

So far this season, Muscala has been responsible for 17 of Bucknell's wins, and averaged down to a 30-game slate, he has a HW30 of 15.75. Yes, I am still picking my jaw off the floor.

Mike Muscala is the most valuable player in America, and I would challenge you to find a player that is more necessary for his team to win than the Moose.

This is important everyone. This means something for the second round game between the Bison and Butler. This means that Bucknell will be moving to the second round.

We have talked a lot about Bucknell and the importance of Muscala. It wasn't until the numbers were final that we were able to fully gauge his impact. We kind of new earlier this season, but it seemed impossible that he would keep it up all season long.

Now we know: it was possible. Moose will be a decoy. Moose will score. Moose will rebound.

Moose will make it possible for Cameron Ayers (2.68 HW30) and Joe Willman (2.28 HW30) to make a real difference in this game against Butler.

We haven't touched Butler much this season, except for maybe a few mentions in the computer rankings, the AP analysis, and after they beat Gonzaga. OK, maybe we have touched on them more than we thought.

But that single thought remains the same: Butler isn't as good as the wins they have scored would have you believe. The computer doesn't love them, sticking them at No. 46 in the country, more than a dozen behind the Bison.

That seems quite low for a team that managed to wiggle its way into the top 10 in the country this year. But then again, we argued that they should have never been there in the first place.

Everyone worries about Rotnei Clarke, and he can shoot the lights out in the gym if a team lets him. Bucknell has a defense that will be better than almost every defense that the Bulldogs have seen this season, except for maybe Virginia Commonwealth.

The length of Muscala, the length of Ayers, the length of Willman: that is what will keep Clarke away from the basket here. He will not be the difference maker here.

Brad Stevens has done a nice job of moving his team up in the world (think of it this way: what would the A-10 be without VCU and Butler this season?), but this is still primarily a team that was built to compete in the Horizon League, not one that is built to win on the big stage.

Butler may have some scalps on its belt, but many of those came with major clutch performances at the end of games. They were not dominant.

There will be someone dominant on the court Thursday, and his name is Mike Muscala.

And remember, he might just be the greatest unsung hero to ever take the floor in the NCAA Tournament.

The MRI computer rankings favor Bucknell, with a 60.6 percent chance of winning.

Check out the full bracket and print one of your own. And don't forget to compete in the Mid-Major Madness bracket contest.

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