A loss to Lehigh denied Bucknell a return trip to the Big Dance. "Our guys were definitely down in the dumps," coach Dave Paulsen said.


His stomach full and his daughters safe in bed, Dave Paulsen drove to the office late Sunday, having no idea what awaited his Bucknell Bison in the National Invitation Tournament's first round Wednesday at McKale Center.

Not in a foreboding way.

Paulsen just hadn't seen one second of Arizona Wildcats basketball this season - on film, television or out of the corner of his eye.

"Different time zone, different media packages," he said.

The coach pumped himself full of caffeine and called upon the few tidbits of knowledge he had about UA coach Sean Miller.

Paulsen owns a couple coaching DVDs featuring Miller - one about his "pack-line" defense, and another, he seemed to remember, about his ball-screen motion offense.

The videos would have to suffice, at least until Bucknell assistants finished downloading and cutting up UA footage from a subscription service.

"We have a long flight," said Paulsen, who remembers seeing Arizona in its NCAA tournament run last year, "and plenty of time to watch it."

After winning the Patriot League but losing the tournament final to Lehigh on Wednesday, the 24-9 Bison figured they would play their first-ever NIT game this week against East Coast near-misses Drexel, La Salle or Seton Hall.

Instead, the team was scrambling to fly charter to Tucson today.

Paulsen joked that his players "might have known something I didn't" about going West earlier Sunday, when they tanned in unusually warm central Pennsylvania weather.

"Our guys are excited," he said. "It's going to be a great opportunity to play a storied program, tradition-laden - against people we don't see."

Bucknell is led by 6-foot-11-inch center Mike Muscala, who averages a team-best 16.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. The junior had 30 points and 14 boards in the loss to Lehigh.

Sophomore guard Cameron Ayers and junior forward Joe Willman, who, like Muscala, have started every game this year, each average 10.8 points.

The Bison, who register a No. 90 RPI, played then-No. 1 Syracuse, NCAA tournament team Vanderbilt and the Big Ten's Minnesota this year.

"I would hope we wouldn't be in awe of (Arizona)," said Paulsen, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., and later coached the Ephs to a Division III national title before taking over Bucknell in 2008.

Instead, Paulsen was more concerned about his team getting over its last game.

Bucknell fell to Lehigh 82-77 in the Patriot League final at home - the conference allows each higher-ranked team to host, meaning the event goes eight days - as the Bison missed a return trip to the NCAA tournament.

The Bison trailed by seven with 45 seconds to go, but rallied, eventually having a shot blocked down by one with eight seconds left.

"Our guys were definitely down in the dumps," Paulsen said.

After a shootaround Thursday and an off-day Friday, Saturday "was a bad practice," the coach said.

"I guess it's to be expected," Paulsen said. "We didn't have a lot of spring in our steps.

"We got on them about what an honor it is to play in a tournament like the NIT, and how many teams would cut off their right arm for the chance. (Sunday's) practice was better."

Paulsen said his team is looking forward to "a big-time atmosphere against a high-quality team," even if the Bison weren't yet household names in Lewisburg, Pa.

When the team met at a restaurant for dinner Sunday to watch the selection show, the coach said he could "tell the excitement at the table."

He hopes it carries over.

"Hopefully," he said, "we play our best basketball of the year."

NIT foes

Bucknell Bison (24-9)

• From: Lewisburg, Pa.

• Enrollment: 3,583

• Why they're in the NIT: Lost Patriot League Tournament final to Lehigh, 82-77, after going 12-2 in conference play.

• Best game: Lost to No. 1 Syracuse, 80-61, on Dec. 20

• Coach: Dave Paulsen (332-177 in 18 years, 70-57 in four years at Bucknell).

• In NIT: First-ever appearance.

• Name game: In 1923, Dr. William Bartol suggested Bison, a nod to the school's location in the Buffalo Valley.

• Fun fact: The school's football stadium, Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium, was named after the Bucknell alum who was one of the five original inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Before he was a pro pitcher, Mathewson was a fullback, punter and dropkick field goal kicker for the Bison.

If Arizona wins, it will play either:

Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (27-6)

• From: Tulsa, Okla.

• Enrollment: 3,212

• Why they're in the NIT: After going 17-1 in the Summit League's regular season, the top-seeded Golden Eagles lost to Western Illinois in the conference tournament semifinals.

• Best game: Beat Xavier, 64-42, on Dec. 18.

• Coach: Sean Sutton (250-161 in 13 years at ORU)

• In NIT: Oral Roberts is 2-7 all-time in NIT play, and has not won an NIT game since 1975.

• Name game: The school was named after Oral Roberts, a Pentecostal evangelist who died in 2009.

• Fun fact: Ned Flanders, the goody-two-shoes neighbor on "The Simpsons," said on the cartoon series that he attended Oral Roberts University.

Nevada Wolf Pack (26-6)

• From: Reno, Nev.

• Enrollment: 14,185

• Why it's in the NIT: After winning the WAC regular-season crown, Nevada was stunned by Louisiana Tech (18-15) in the conference tournament semifinals.

• Best game: Beat Washington 76-73 on Dec. 2.

• Coach: David Carter (60-38 in three years)

• In NIT: Nevada is 3-4 in four years of the NIT, playing in the event last season.

• Name game: The school's players were known as the "Sagebrushers" and "Sage Hens" before a writer described Nevada's players as "Wolves" during the 1921-22 season. Six years later, the name morphed into "Wolf Pack" - one of two in the NCAA, though N.C. State spells it "Wolfpack."

• Fun fact: Ryan Radtke, the onetime play-by-play man for the Tucson Sidewinders, is the voice of Nevada's football and men's basketball teams.