After Kansas lost to Northern Iowa in the first day of second-round play, attention rightly shifted Syracuse's way. And the Orange capitalized on the attention, stomping a good Gonzaga team 87-65 to advance to the Sweet 16.
The Orange dominated the first two rounds without Arinze Onuaku, getting a career-high 31 points and 14 rebounds from forward Wes Johnson along with 24 points from senior guard Andy Rautins on Sunday.
Onuaku may come back for the Sweet 16 matchup against Butler, and should drastically improve this Syracuse team in their quest for the National Championship should he join the lineup.
Butler, Syracuse's opponent in the next round, had a more testy matchup against upstart and very capable Murray State, but clamped down in the end of the game to the tune of a 7-2 run and 54-52 victory.
Murray State, like UTEP, was supposed to exploit Butler with their immense athleticism. In fact, "We got beat on the glass 39-22," Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens said. "They shot 9-for-14 from three, and we shot 36 percent from the field. I'm still trying to figure out how the heck we won."
Butler found a way to win, though good teams do. Butler's will to win has justified all of the hype they got preseason, and makes this Sweet 16 matchup one to watch.
This Thursday matchup in Salt Lake City matches up like-for-like, experience-for-experience, balance-with-balance, hype-with-hype, and talent-with-talent. While Syracuse is more athletic than Butler, this rendition of the NCAA tournament has shown us that superior athleticism isn't going to win games alone.
Butler's not an underdog anymore, and shouldn't be perceived as one. Expect Syracuse and Butler to engage in a graceful, beautiful dogfight of a game. This one will be a close game between two of the best teams in the tournament.
Maybe I'm totally wrong; maybe Syracuse will dominate the Bulldogs, or vice versa. Nonetheless, I will be looking for some things going into the game, as this slideshow will mention.