Playing away from home hasn't been a problem for Butler this season as the team led all of Division I with a mark of 12-1 (.923) and was one of only two teams at that level to suffer just a single road setback, the other being Syracuse (8-1), which lost to Louisville in the regular-season finale at Freedom Hall (78-68).
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With respect to the all-time series between these two teams, this is just the second meeting following a 66-65 overtime win for Syracuse in the Carrier Dome during the second round of the 2002 NIT.
The winner of this clash advances to the regional finals on Saturday where it will meet either Xavier or Kansas State for the right to play at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in the Final Four next weekend.
Murray State gave the Bulldogs a run for their money last weekend in the second round of the tournament, pushing the game to just a two-point decision even as Danero Thomas came up scoreless and the starting five for the Racers combined for a mere 27 points. The Bulldogs put four players in double figures as Ronald Nored accounted for a game-high 15 points and handed out six assists, followed by Gordon Hayward with 12 points and seven rebounds. Shelvin Mack and Willie Veasley chipped in 11 and 10 points, respectively, as the team slipped by with a mere 36 percent shooting from the field and 11-of-19 shooting at the free-throw line. Through 34 games, in which he has played all but one, Hayward is both the leading scorer and rebounder for the Bulldogs with his 15.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest, adding 61 assists to make himself a threat in that department as well. Mack (14.1 ppg), Matt Howard (12.0 ppg) and Veasley (10.2 ppg) are all critical pieces to the offensive puzzle for a Butler squad that spreads the wealth in order to come up with nearly 70 ppg. More importantly, the defense has been top-notch this season by limiting opponents to 59.8 ppg, a number that the squad bettered in facing Murray State last weekend.
Gonzaga was severely overmatched by the Orange last weekend as Syracuse set a team record for three-point field goals in an NCAA Tournament game with a total of 12 in the lopsided decision for the squad. Wes Johnson used his 4- of-6 shooting beyond the arc to achieve his career-best 31 points and added to his dominating effort by also clearing 14 rebounds, making him the sort of inside-outside threat that opponents fear. Also scoring in double figures for the Orange were Andy Rautins with 24 points and Brandon Triche who accounted for 24 and 13 points, respectively, as the former made good on 5-of-9 attempts out on the perimeter as well. While Syracuse was hitting 12-of-25 from three- point range, Gonzaga was struggling with just three conversions in 21 chances from the outside. Johnson, the Big East Player of the Year and a finalist for both the Naismith and Oscar Robertson trophies, is averaging a double-double thus far in the tourney with his 24.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. But perhaps even more startling is the fact that he has made good on 63.6 percent of his three-point tries, the team hitting 22-of-27 chances compared to Vermont and Gonzaga which combined for a mere 8-of-43. The team will need another huge effort by Johnson and Rautins again tonight since it was announced on Wednesday that center Arinze Onuaku will again miss the game due to a right quadriceps injury.
The Bulldogs will be trying to slow the pace of this meeting in order to keep it close, so it will be up to Syracuse to try and dictate the tempo when it serves it in order to come away with the victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Syracuse 71, Butler 64