LEWISBURG Bucknell freshman Dom Hoffman couldn't help himself when Butler was making back-to-back runs to the NCAA championship game during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. His rooting interest navigated toward the underdog or Cinderella story, depending on one's liking.
Two years later, Hoffman is turning allegiances.
"I've always been one of the guys to root for Butler," Hoffman said, "but not this year."
Bucknell reserve forward Dom Hoffman dunks during practice Wednesday in Lexington, Ky.
Hoffman has a solid reason. He and his Bucknell teammates drew the No. 6 Bulldogs (26-8) in the NCAA tournament.
"It's a great matchup for both teams," Hoffman said. "Two great mid-major programs this year and I'm looking forward to it."
The freshman will not have to wait long to get his first taste of the NCAA tournament atmosphere. Thursday's second round East Region game in Kentucky's Rupp Arena is set to tip at 12:40 p.m. and will air on TruTV. The Patriot League champion Bison (28-5) will enter the game winners of seven consecutive games and nine of their last 10.
Bucknell's previous opening games in the NCAA tournament were always against teams considered from a major conference. It started with Georgetown in 1987 and continued two years later with Syracuse. The program returned to the tournament in 2005 and sitting waiting for it was Kansas. Arkansas was the opening opponent in 2006 and then there was Uconn in 2011.
This offers Bucknell a rare opportunity to face another mid-major in an opening game. Bucknell-Butler sounds more like a Bracketbuster game than opening NCAA tournament contest, but one team will go home after today.
"They are a great program with a lot of success and have a great coach in Brad Stevens," Bucknell junior guard Cameron Ayers said. "I think it's a great matchup for us two similar styles playing. It's two good mid-major teams playing each other so it's going to be a great game."
Freshman Ryan Frazier also said the Bison, who are 2-5 all-time in the NCAA tournament, and Bulldogs were similar teams.
"We take pride in our defense and I know that is something they stress over at Butler, so I think it's going to be a real grind," Frazier said.
The two programs will be meeting for the first time. Butler advanced to the NCAA championship game in 2010 and 2011 when Bucknell last made an NCAA tournament appearance. The Bison ended that season with a 29-point loss to Connecticut.
Two more years experienced and a few lines higher on the seed line, Bucknell, which was a No. 14 seed in 2011, is looking for a better outcome today.
"Butler is a great team and they have beaten some of the best teams in the country this year, but it will be fun," Bucknell senior Bryson Johnson said. "We're looking forward to it."