Bucknell earns No. 11 seed, will face Butler

LEWISBURG – Ryan Frazier sat home on his couch watching the unveiling of the 2012 NCAA tournament brackets. The Bucknell freshman was on spring break from his Salisbury School in Connecticut when the pairings were announced a year ago and he remembered waiting anxiously to see who Patriot League champion Lehigh was going to draw.

A year later minus the comforts of home, Frazier sat in a chair at Lewisburg’s Campus Theatre surrounded by his teammates and hundreds of Bucknell fans awaiting his own destination. There was the pep band behind him on his right blaring songs that echoed off the walls, making normal conversations inaudible, and a movie theater-sized screen in front of him airing the CBS Selection Show.

His hands were clenched together and his one foot drummed faster than any beat the Bison pep band could deliver. This atmosphere was nothing like home and all new for the Bucknell freshman but one he’ll never forget.

“I was pretty anxious and my foot started jumping a little bit,” said Frazier, who counted three commercial breaks before the Bison learned their NCAA destination. “My teammate Joshea Singleton asked me if my stomach was turning a little bit and it was. It definitely was.”

Frazier’s nerves weren’t the only ones tested as Bison players, coaches, administrators and a supportive fans base awaited to learn Bucknell’s opponent in this season’s NCAA tournament – the program’s sixth.

Many anxious moments past before the third region announced showed the name Bucknell (28-5) paired with Butler (28-6) in Lexington, Ky., in the East Region. Unexpected players rose to their feet in appreciation of their 11th seed and in anticipation of meeting one of the tournament’s most recent Cinderella stories.

The second round game will be played on Thursday at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena. The winner of the Bucknell-Butler game will play the winner of Marquette-Davidson on Saturday in Lexington.

The 11th seed was the second-best seed in program history. The Bison were selected as a No. 9 in the 2006 tournament and opened with a 59-55 win over Arkansas before falling to No. 1 Memphis, 72-56.

Bucknell was seeded 14th in its most recent NCAA tournament appearance in 2011 and while the team expected to improve on that after winning the most games in school history, head coach Dave Paulsen and the players were all caught off-guard by the announcement.

“I don’t think many of us were expecting that high of a seed,” Bucknell senior Joe Willman said. “It was a great feeling and it shows other people respect what we have done this year and the past couple of years.”

Players and the standing-room only crowd inside the Campus Theatre in downtown Lewisburg grew in anticipation each time a No. 4 or No. 5 seed appeared on the screen because most experts predicted the Bison to be picked as a No. 12 or No. 13 seed. Tension broke each time the Patriot League champion Bison were bypassed for one of those games only to be increased each time a new bracket was about to be revealed when the Selection Show returned from a commercial break.

“I was slightly surprised (by the seed),” said Paulsen, whose team has won seven games in a row. “The bracketogolist were saying twelve or thirteen. I thought we deserved a twelve. We’re thrilled with the eleven. I think it’s a nice reflection on the body of work. We had the second-most wins of any team in the country, so that’s pretty good.”

The uneasiness all came to a rest finally when Bucknell’s name was paired with one of the most recent tournament darlings from the past several seasons. Butler, which earned an at-large bid, lost in back-to-back NCAA championship games in 2010 and 2011.

The Bulldogs, coached by Brad Stevens, will be making their 11th NCAA tournament appearance.

“We do a lot of things in a similar manner to Butler,” Paulsen said. “They have been the gold standard in terms of the mid-major. They maximize their talent and play solid and smart. I hold Brad Stevens in the absolute highest regard. It will be a great matchup.”