Setting : Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City is the location for the West Regional semifinal battle between Brad Stevens and his No. 5 seed Butler Bulldogs (30-4) and Jim Boeheim’s No. 1 seed Syracuse Orange (30-4).
Plot : Horizon League faces off with the Big East for a spot in Saturday’s regional final.
Sub-plot : Syracuse will go without center Arinze Onuaku. The senior injured his right leg during the Big East tournament. Butler has not lost a game since December—a streak that covers 22 games.
Flashback : Butler and Syracuse have only met once before, with the Bulldogs coming out on top. Brandon Miller scored 15 and Thomas Jackson added 13 as Butler downed Syracuse 66-65 in the second round of the 2002 NIT. Preston Shumpert scored 36 for the Orange.
This is the Orange’s 27th NCAA Tournament appearance under Boeheim. In the last 10 years, Syracuse has reached The Dance seven times, with Sweet 16 appearances in ‘00, ‘04, and ‘09, and a National Championship in ‘03.
Butler is making its 10th NCAA Tournament appearance and third trip to the Sweet 16.
Foreshadowing : Thirty-four Orange have earned spots in the NBA : Carmelo Anthony, Jonny Flynn, Donte Green, Jason Hart, Etan Thomas and Hakim Warrick currently hold spots in the Association. Three Bulldogs have heard their named called on draft day. Butler still awaits its first NBA guy.
Conflict : Butler scores almost 70 a game while limiting opponents under 60. Syracuse scores over 81. Their opponents get less than 66.
Which team will dictate pace and tempo?
Syracuse holds opponents to 39.8 percent from the field, including 30 percent from behind the arc. Butler limits opposing shooters to 41.5 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from long range.
Can the Bulldogs continue their defensive against the firepower of the Orange?
Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins have led the Orange charge for much of the year. The two have combined for 28 points, almost 12 rebounds, and seven assists per outing.
Rautins’s selfless play has been key to the Orange success. The senior guard finds seams in opposing defenses that most could not. He does not always get credit for assists, but his passes always shift defenses. Add to that his 40 percent accuracy from behind the arc, and Rautins is dangerous.
Johnson makes a variety of plays for the Orange. His most overlooked contribution to the Orange attack could be his work on the offensive glass. Johnson has grabbed an offensive board in all but four contests this year. Two of those games were blowouts. The others were wins for the Orange where opposing defenses made it a priority to limit the junior transfer.
Freshman guard Brandon Triche averages just under eight points and almost three assists. Triche has shown flashes where he can drive strong to the basket and finish.
Rick Jackson grabs seven rebounds and scores almost 10 points a game. Can he continue his production with Onuaku on the bench?
Kris Joseph won the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Three weeks ago, he was a role player that could make the difference. Now, Syracuse needs to count on him. Can Joseph continue to respond?
Playing 21 minutes per game, Scoop Jardine has an assist to turnover ratio of 2.2 :1.
Gordon Hayward leads four Bulldogs in double digits. The silky smooth swing man provides versatility to the lineup. At 6′9″, Hayward can go inside and get work done. He averages almost nine boards a game and can finish in the paint. Hayward has also hit 40 trifectas on the season. Stevens has called on Hayward to run the offense from time to time.
Matt Howard adds 12 points and five rebounds. He is textbook type of player in the paint whose work could be a how-to video used at summer camp.
Shelvin Mack leads the Bulldogs with 64 three pointers. Mack hits 40 percent from long range.
The only senior in the lineup, Willie Veasley, chips in 10 points and four rebounds.
Ronald Nored runs the point at just a touch under 2:1, assist to turnovers.
Zach Hahn needs to have a big night if the Bulldogs want to stick with the Orange. Hahn hits 43.9 percent from long range.
Resolution : Butler is a talented team. They start three sophomores, a junior, and a senior.
Syracuse is as experienced a team as there is left in the tournament. Rautins is in his fifth year. Johnson is playing his fourth. Onuaku won’t be playing, but his senior experience will have an influence.
Butler has the talent to stay in this game. The Orange practically played home games last weekend some two hours away in Buffalo. They will not have a partisan crowd behind them. That should make for a close game in the second half. But Syracuse’s experience will take over in the last 10 minutes.