For mid-major fans, the Butler-Bucknell matchup on Thursday in Lexington is one of the most appealing second-round games in the NCAA tournament.
Here, courtesy of ASAP Sports, is a transcript of Bucknell's day-before press conference at Rupp Arena.
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Bucknell student-athlete news conference here at the NCAA second and third around in Lexington, Kentucky. We have three Bucknell student-athletes. We have Bryson Johnson, Joe Willman, and Mike Muscala from Bucknell. First question.
Q. Starting with Mike but for any of the guys, just five, six years ago, people didn't know who or what Bucknell was. Probably people sitting out there saying, what's Bucknell? Can you make the kind of statement that they've made with a win?
MIKE MUSCALA: I think so. We're just focused on this first game here and not try to worry so much about what goes on around us. Social media and everything has been blown up. We're doing what we're doing all year, and that's just working hard in practice, staying prepared, and just leaving it on the floor.
JOE WILLMAN: I agree with Mike. You know, Bucknell sort of made a name for itself back in 2005, 2006 with some big wins. I think we have a great team, you know, we work hard, and if we just play the way we can play, we can kind of get our name back out there again.
BRYSON JOHNSON: Yeah, absolutely and just trying to approach every day the same and just try to take it one possession at a time is kind of our team motto.
We're just kind of worried about us right now, we're not really about what other people think. So just trying to put the best product we can from Bucknell.
Q. How powerful is it when you go into a tournament and you're seniors and you've been together and you don't want it to end?
MIKE MUSCALA: Yeah, it's definitely special. We've been working really hard our four years here. We shared a lot of ups, lot of downs together. We've been through a lot. So, it was special winning the Patriot League Championship at home, and it's been a special journey so far.
It would relate be cool to keep it going. But, you know, these two guys here, Joe and Bryson and Colin Klebon as well, we're all roommates and I love playing with them, so try to keep it going, yeah.
JOE WILLMAN: Yeah. Just playing together, like Mike was saying, for the last four years, you know, we obviously don't want it to end. I think that gives us more motivation and it gets us going a little bit more knowing that it could be our last game, you lose, you go home. So, I think that definitely has some power to, you know, give us some energy and some motivation and kind of get us going a little bit more.
BRYSON JOHNSON: Absolutely. I consider these guys brothers, so definitely want to play with them as long as I can and really cherish these moments. We're just going to go out there and try to do our best and try to extend this as long as we can.
Q. Kind of a follow-up to what was asked, does the tournament to you guys seem a little more open? I mean, there's always been talk about how a small school would win or a lesser known school could win. Does this year seem like it could actually happen when you've got a Gonzaga as a No. 1 seed, you guys and Butler?
BRYSON JOHNSON: There's a lot of great teams that aren't necessarily in the Big 6 conferences. So I don't think it's -- I think all 68 team that were here tried to or expected to win, and that was their motivation at least.
So I don't think anyone that's still playing in the post season goes in expecting to lose. So I think everyone is playing with confidence right now, and it's important that we just take it one game at a time. You look too far ahead and you'll get tripped up along the way.
So that's all we're trying to do, and I'm sure that's what the other schools are trying to do. We're just going to worry about us and hopefully we can take this as long as we can.
Q. Do any of you guys remember or did you watch the upset against Kansas eight years ago and did that have any sort of impact on boosting the program's profile and your intention on going to Bucknell?
JOE WILLMAN: Yeah, I definitely remember it, you know, when coach contacted me and said they were from Bucknell, it definitely rang a bell, because you remember what they did in the tournament and you know that the school definitely has a potential to get back there. So, that was a big part of, you know, Bucknell. But, yeah, definitely had an impact, for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Anyone else?
MIKE MUSCALA: Yeah. I mean, that's one of the big reasons I came to Bucknell. I remember that win over Kansas and I remember as a high school player really wanting to play in the NCAA Tournament, and I thought obviously Bucknell is a great, great school, great university, and I wanted to get a good education but also play at a high level in terms of basketball. I saw that with Bucknell.
BRYSON JOHNSON: Absolutely. I remember watching it with my family. That was kind of my first introduction to Bucknell, and as I got to learn more about the school, seemed like the perfect fit. That's how we all felt. Never regretted it for a minute.
Q. Did you guys know where Bucknell was before then?
BRYSON JOHNSON: I have no idea.
MIKE MUSCALA: No.
Q. Could you comment about Butler and what you think the keys to the game will be, but also did y'all watch the game last night between another small Pennsylvania school, Robert Morris against UK?
MIKE MUSCALA: Yeah, me and Bryson were roommates. We were watching that game last night. So, yeah, we saw that. And then in terms of Butler, they're a very disciplined team. They're a very good defensive team. They have some guys who can really shoot it, guys who can do a good job on the offensive glass and good post players.
It's going to be a battle, I think. We have to come out and be focused defensively. We've been doing a pretty good job of that all year and on offense just go out and play our game. We have some good shooters. We have good penetrators. We have good post-up guys.
I think if we go out and just play our game on offense, stay poised, take care of the ball and then on defense just do what we did -- what we've been doing all year, playing good help team defense and I think it will be a battle.
THE MODERATOR: Any more questions?
Q. Tell me real quick all three, if you don't mind, what other schools offered you, and if it's too many to list, never mind, what did you pick Bucknell over? Bryson, how do you think they hooked up with you where you're from?
BRYSON JOHNSON: Yeah. I got offered by some schools in the Ivy League and other schools in the Patriot League, life Lafayette, Colgate, Cornell, but I chose Bucknell because obviously I had a good relationship with the coaching staff, but when I came down on my visit, the people and the administration, faculty are just amazing people and just felt like a very, very family-oriented atmosphere.
And that's what I really liked about Bucknell, and they saw me at a tournament in Kentucky at my AU team when I was actually Louisville, so I guess that's kind of cool.
So I was at a tournament in Kentucky, and after that tournament Coach Fisher, our assistant coach, called my house. He was the first one that got in contact with, and I came on my visit at Bucknell. I've never been to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, never knew where Bucknell was. I've heard of it obviously from the tournament, but -- so came on my visit and I loved it, and so that's how I ended up here from Nova Scotia.
JOE WILLMAN: Yeah. I was recruited by some schools in the American East and narrowed it down to Boston University, Vermont, and also Holy Cross, another Patriot League school.
Yeah, Bucknell seemed like the best fit to me, being from New Jersey, it's about a three-hour drive and my family likes to get to a lot of the games, so it made sense in that regard.
And also like Bryson was saying, once I stepped on campus, everything from the students, the physical campus itself, the administration, the faculty, everything just seemed like the right fit and it just seemed better than the other schools from my perspective for me personally, and it's been a great fit so far.
MIKE MUSCALA: I'm from Minnesota, so I looks from north Dakota, South Dakota and Santa Clara, California. Similar feelings like they shared, I came out and visited in August, going into my senior year, unofficial visit, and just seemed like the right spot for mean. That's why I committed.
Q. Two years ago when you went to the tournament, you guys said were you a little overwhelmed with it, even the little things like the police escort for your bus and so forth. How is it different this year after two post-season appearances and how are you better prepared this time around?
MIKE MUSCALA: Yeah. We had that police escort again this morning and it didn't seem so shocking, at least for me. Yeah, I think, you know, we've been through making the tournament, obviously our sophomore year and playing NIT last year, so we've gone through the ups and downs and had that feeling of heartbreak, especially last year lose to go Lehigh. That definitely motivated us a lot this whole off-season.
Heading into this game, we're just going to do a better job of focusing on the game itself, and I think we've prepared really well, coaches have done a great job preparing us all year for this game. So, we're excited.
THE MODERATOR: We have time for one more question.
Q. Going back again to that UConn game, little shell-shocked in that game and Coach has made -- you were a good defensive team then but you've made some changes. Talk a little bit about the changes and how it better prepares you now for this level of competition.
JOE WILLMAN: Like you said, we seemed to be a little bit shell-shocked in the UConn game. We were a little bit too happy to be there and we didn't focus enough on competing in the game. We kind of -- they kind of blew us out.
I think that we're more prepared now. A lot of us were on that team where we played UConn, so we experienced that and we just focus on defense every single day. That's the focal point of our team. Lot of team defense, we rely on each other. We're a really close team outside the court, which helps us on the court communicating and playing good team defense. We played big teams before, we've got some pretty big wins. We're not as in awe and not as shocked to be here now, so I think we're definitely more prepared and we're ready to go.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you. This is Dave Paulsen, the coach of Bucknell. We can just open up the questions. I don't know if you have an opening statement, Coach.
COACH PAULSEN: You know, we're just excited to be here. I figured you had a chance to hear our three senior captains. What a privilege it is for me to coach guys like that that really embody the best in Division 1 athletics. All three guys made the Dean's List first semester. They really represent the best of Bucknell academically as well as athletically.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Coach, just what do you see as the keys to advancing through this first game?
COACH PAULSEN: Well, I think Butler is - 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.
So, you know, I don't think we're going to be able to surprise Butler. I know they're going to be focused. I've been really impressed with them watching tape. 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 going to have to master physicality and really be focused on the defensive end and obviously play with a high level of poise on offense.
Q. There's been so much talk in recent years about parity and how smaller schools really have a chance to compete. Does it feel like this year it has really happened that, you know, this might be a year that a smaller school can really make a run, and is part of it the tournament has been somewhat demystified for smaller schools?
COACH PAULSEN: I think - you know, certainly in the past, obviously Butler, you know, I know that they are now going to be in the Big East here in a week or two, or whatever it's going to be, come out of the Horizon League, playing in the national championship game two consecutive years. VCU, George Mason. So I think it's been a trend that's gone on for a long time.
I think when you have senior lay defense teams from the quote/unquote smaller conferences, they can compete against, you know, the freshmen-oriented teams from the Power 6 conferences.
So I think there's always that opportunity and obviously the tournament, you're on neutral courts. A school like our type of school, we don't have the opportunity to play the high major programs in our own arena, it's always on the road.
The ability to play on a neutral court, I think is positive as well.
Q. I was just wondering, how do you prepare for the tournament spotlight? Do you get any new suits or anything for all the TV time that you'll be getting?
COACH PAULSEN: Well, no. And I understand Brad Stevens -- from what I know of Brad might be even more superstitious than me, which would really be shocking. But I have two suits and I alternate them, and if we lose, the tie goes out the window, so no.
You know, you don't really have time -- really, in all seriousness, with our guys and as coaches, we're going to do what we do. Our motto has been all year long, one possession, play each possession to the best of your ability, and when that possession is done, you got to put it behind and go to the next possession. You can't get too far ahead of yourselves. We're trying to do everything the exact same way.
Obviously it's a bigger stage, a different atmosphere, but, you know, we're preparing for this game with Butler the exact same way we prepared for our game with the Lafayette in the Patriot League Championship. I think that will help our guys hopefully just go out and play to the best of their ability tomorrow afternoon.
Q. Dave, talk a little bit about how the appearance against UConn two years ago and the NIT last year, how that has prepared the team for this year?
COACH PAULSEN: Well, I think I heard you talking with our guys. I think all of us, one, we were just excited to get to the NCAA Tournament two years ago, and obviously we're excited to be in the NCAA Tournament now, but we're just thrilled to be there and kind of giddy at the time and a little in awe of the experience.
In addition, you know, we had the Player of the Year in the league that year, but he was a sophomore and now that Player of the Year in the league is a senior. There's a part of it of having gone through it before that will help us. There's also a part of it that -- a level of maturity.
I think last year's experience, taking the heartbreak of losing in the championship game to Lehigh and being able to bounce back and win at Arizona in the NIT really gave our guys vindication that they can play with another. We also knows we can lose to anyone. The maturity and having played in so many big games hopefully put us in good stead tomorrow afternoon.
Q. Coach, you've been quoted as saying much of what y'all do and strive to do is patterned after Butler and you did call them "the gold standard," but could you elaborate on that? Is there anything as far as actual the way you play that you try to pattern off of them?
The second question I want to ask you is, you obviously have a lot of pride in your seniors, but would be curious to know what it would be like to coach a one and done?
COACH PAULSEN: First, regarding Butler, I hold Brad Stevens and the Butler program in the highest regard you could hold a coach and a program. Because for the longest time, they have probably epitomized maximizing ability. They have always been a team that doesn't beat itself; that takes care of the details, the fundamentals, and the little things.
If I wasn't having to prepare to play against Butler, this would be an unbelievable experience because it's like a clinic. I've gone through 7, 8 game tapes of Butler. It's the best coaching clinic you can have. Their attention to detail, their execution defensively and offensively is textbook.
That's what we try to be, a team that doesn't beat itself, doesn't give us transition baskets, doesn't give up offensive rebounds, doesn't turn the ball over, makes free throws. If do you those things and you have good enough players, which our seniors have proven to be, then you're going to have a chance.
I guess at some point if I'm presented with a one and done dilemma, I'll figure that out at that point. I don't foresee that happening at Bucknell in the very near future.