College Basketball Nation: 032510 butler-syracuse

Gordon HaywardJed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesGordon Hayward had 17 points and five rebounds in Butler's upset win over Syracuse.
SALT LAKE CITY -- Even though Gordon Hayward grew up only 20 miles west of Indianapolis, he admits he knew very little about Butler University.

"It was always Indiana University and Purdue," Hayward said. "Both of my parents are Purdue graduates, so I was a really big Purdue fan. But I knew very little about Butler."

After stunning No. 1-seeded Syracuse 63-59 in the West Regional semifinals at EnergySolutions Arena on Thursday night, the No. 5-seeded Bulldogs can become Indiana's -- and possibly America's -- favorite team at next week's Final Four in Indianapolis.

If Butler can win its 24th consecutive game against either No. 2-seeded Kansas State or No. 6-seeded Xavier in the West Regional finals on Saturday, it will become the first team since UCLA in 1972 to play in the Final Four in its home city.

"It would be something pretty special," Hayward said. "I think it just shows how far our program has come."

The Bulldogs still have to win another game to get there, but anything seems possible for them at this point. Butler beating Syracuse wasn't exactly No. 9-seeded Northern Iowa upsetting No. 1-seeded Kansas.

The Bulldogs are very good and have been for quite a while.

And now they have a victory over a No. 1 seed to prove it.

"We're not going to say we have the best athletes in the country, but we've got a system and we have to be crisp to execute it," Butler forward Matt Howard said. "We're not going to beat you one-one-one. We play for each other. There's not one guy on this team who is selfish and that's why we win."

The Bulldogs have played in the NCAA tournament nine times in the last 14 seasons, reaching the Sweet 16 three times in the last eight years. But until Thursday night, they had never advanced past the regional semifinals. Butler is the first team from the Horizon League to reach a regional final.

"I'm going home on Saturday night or Sunday morning, whenever the charter [plane] gets here," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "We're going to Indy. I just hope we still have season left. It's already daunting enough to play Kansas State or Xavier. They're two great teams. [My players] are still a long way away from playing in the Final Four."

The Orange were supposed to be taller, stronger and more athletic than the Bulldogs. Butler wasn't supposed to be able to score against Syracuse's seemingly impenetrable 2-3 zone defense, and the Orange were supposed to be more equipped to handle the pressure of playing on this kind of stage.

"People look at us and think we're not as athletic or talented and they don't see NBA lottery picks," Hayward said. "But it's a five-man game. Teams win games."

From the game's opening moments, it was clear Butler was ready to play. The Bulldogs took a 12-1 lead in the game's first seven minutes, holding Syracuse without a field goal during the first 7:02. Syracuse was the team that had problems handling the basketball against defensive pressure, as the Orange had 12 turnovers in the first half and 18 in the game.

Butler had only seven turnovers, its second-lowest total in a game this season.

"The game was a story of turnovers," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "They didn't make turnovers. They were really good with the basketball. We made 18 turnovers. You can't give away that many possessions. It was probably one of the two or three games all year where we have not been good with the basketball. We just made some unforced errors, just threw the ball out of bounds."

But the Bulldogs made big plays when they needed them, too. After blowing a 10-point lead in the second half, Butler fell behind 54-50 with 5:23 to play. But the Bulldogs scored the game's next 11 points. Senior guard Willie Veasley scored five straight points -- a 3-pointer that made it 58-54 and a tip-in that gave Butler a six-point lead with one minute left.

"You talk about a senior that doesn't get much attention," Stevens said of Veasley. "The people that have been around our program a lot know that Willie has been our rock. He's a big-time winner."

Veasley's 3-pointer bounced high off the rim, but somehow went through the net.

"I was already headed down the court because I figured it was going to go over the top and I missed it," Veasley said. "I looked back, it came back down and went through. That's a H-O-R-S-E shot. I never made anything like that."

The Bulldogs have already defeated Xavier once this season, winning 69-68 after a controversial finish at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indy on Dec. 19. Hayward scored the winning layup in the final seconds, but the clock inadvertently stopped during Butler's final possession. Officials reviewed the play, counted Hayward's shot and then ran off the final 1.3 seconds, taking away Xavier's last chance to win the game.

Kansas State might be a tougher matchup for the Bulldogs because of their size, but their lack of height didn't seem to matter against the Orange on Thursday night.

"We feel like we can play with anybody," Howard said. "To me, that's really all that matters. We know we can go out and play with anyone."

Final: Butler 63, Syracuse 59

March, 25, 2010
SALT LAKE CITY -- Butler did it.

After blowing a 10-point halftime lead, the Bulldogs scored 11 straight points in the final minutes to shock No. 1-seeded Syracuse 63-59 in the West Regional semifinals at EnergySolutions Arena on Thursday night.

The Bulldogs advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. Butler, which has the country's longest winning streak at 23 games and hasn't lost since Dec. 22, plays the winner of Thursday night's game between No. 2-seeded Kansas State and No. 6-seeded Xavier in Saturday's West Regional finals.

With a victory on Saturday, Butler would play in the Final Four in its home city of Indianapolis next weekend.

After trailing 35-25 at the half, the Orange came out firing in the second half. Syracuse went ahead 54-50 on Kris Joseph's dunk with 5:23 to play. But then Butler guard Ronald Nored sank a 3-pointer to make it 54-53. After Matt Howard made a layup to give the Bulldogs a 55-54 lead with 2:41 left, Willie Veasley scored five straight points -- on a 3-pointer and tip-in -- to make it 60-54.

Syracuse becomes the second No. 1 seed to be eliminated from the NCAA tournament, joining Midwest Regional No. 1 seed Kansas, which lost to No. 9-seeded Northern Iowa 69-67 in the second round.

Gordon Hayward led the Bulldogs with 17 points on 4-for-7 shooting. Shelvin Mack added 14 points with five assists, and Veasley scored 13 points with two steals.

Wes Johnson led the Orange with 17 points and nine rebounds, and Andy Rautins had 15 points. The Orange were ultimately undone by 18 turnovers, including 12 in the first half.

Butler's victory over the Orange probably won't come as that big of a shock. The Bulldogs have become an NCAA tournament staple, making the field nine times in the past 14 years. They've made the Sweet 16 three times in the past four seasons and now they're one victory away from one heck of a homecoming next weekend.

SALT LAKE CITY -- Butler handled No. 1-seeded Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense just fine in the first half of Thursday night's West Regional semifinals at EnergySolutions Arena.

It was the Orange who couldn't solve the No. 5-seeded Bulldogs' defense.

Buoyed by Syracuse's 12 turnovers in the first 20 minutes, Butler took a 35-25 lead over Syracuse at the half. It is the Orange's largest halftime deficit of the season -- they trailed by five points at the half in a 99-85 win at Providence on Feb. 23 -- and it's only the fourth time they have trailed at the half all season.

Butler, which has the country's longest winning streak at 22 consecutive games and hasn't lost since Dec. 22, is seeking its first trip to the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight.

Syracuse didn't take care of the basketball, and Butler's Ronald Nored hounded Andy Rautins from the opening tip, disrupting the Orange offense.

Butler shot 40 percent against Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone in the first half, making 12 of 30 shots. The Bulldogs were only 3-for-13 on 3-pointers, but they took nine more shots and had only two turnovers in the half.

Sophomore guard Shelvin Mack led the Bulldogs with 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting. Butler took a 10-point lead at the half even after stars Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard were relatively quiet. Hayward scored only five points on 1-for-2 shooting, and Howard had five points on 1-for-6 shooting.

Junior Wes Johnson led Syracuse with six points and seven rebounds.
SALT LAKE CITY -- Butler coach Brad Stevens says his team has faced more zone defense during the past two seasons than the previous eight seasons combined.

But Stevens admits the Bulldogs haven’t seen a zone defense as effective as Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 scheme.

[+] EnlargeBrad Stevens
Kyle Terada/US PresswireButler coach Brad Stevens knows that Syracuse's defense poses a difficult challenge for the Bulldogs. "I will say we probably haven't played against a zone this good. In fact, I don't think there's any doubt about that."
“I think our guys have some familiarity with it,” Stevens said. “I will say we probably haven’t played against a zone this good. In fact, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”

The No. 5-seeded Bulldogs will have to navigate their way through the 2-3 zone to upset the No. 1-seeded Orange in Thursday night’s West Regional semifinal at EnergySolutions Arena.

Even without senior forward Arinze Onuaku, who is sidelined with a right leg injury, Syracuse’s defense has never been better. In its first two NCAA victories, Syracuse held No. 16-seeded Vermont and No. 8-seeded Gonzaga to a combined 38 percent shooting and 18 percent shooting on 3-pointers. Syracuse held the Catamounts and Bulldogs to only 96 points on 140 plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said his team’s defense is effective because opponents don’t see it very often.

“The reason there aren’t good zones is because nobody plays zones,” Boeheim said. “We practice our zone. We work on it. Teams that play man-to-man don’t practice their zone. They practice it once a week and they think they can now play zone, and they’re surprised when it doesn’t work. Well, no defense would be good if you didn’t practice it. We practice it. We work on it. But any defense can be beat. The best defensive teams in the country get beat all the time.”

The Bulldogs, who have the country’s longest winning streak at 22 straight games and haven’t lost since Dec. 22, might be disciplined and accurate enough to shoot over Syracuse’s zone.

Butler made six 3-pointers or more in 25 of its 33 games and shot 40 percent or better on 3-pointers in 10 games.

“Just like any other time, if you have a layup, you try to get a layup,” Stevens said. “I think every time we take the floor, we’re just trying to figure out what’s going to work best for us with our personnel versus the defense we’re playing. We’ll try to take advantage of whatever opportunity presents itself, not go in with a specific game plan of 60 percent of your shots have to be 3s. We’ll take advantage of what’s there, while at the same time trying to get what we deem to be a great shot for Butler.”

Butler’s weapon of choice in the NCAA tournament has been the 3-pointers. In its 77-59 victory over UTEP in the first round, Butler took 50 shots and 31 of them were 3-pointers. In a 54-52 win over Murray State in the second round, the Bulldogs had 50 shots and 20 of them were 3-pointers. In fact, 51 percent of Butler’s field goals and 45.8 percent of their points have come from shots beyond the arc in two NCAA games.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Butler has scored only six points on 13 plays against zone defense in their two NCAA games. The Bulldogs were 0-for-4 on 3-pointers when facing zone defense.

“I think obviously if you can hit some 3-point shots, you’ll definitely open things up,” Butler sophomore Gordon Hayward said. “They’ll have to extend. If you can also get the ball to Matt [Howard] inside, get him some looks, we can go inside out.”

Hayward is one of four Butler players who have made at least 40 3-pointers this season.

But the Bulldogs haven’t faced a zone defense as potent as Syracuse’s. The Orange start five players who are taller than 6-foot-2.

“We do what we do all year when it comes to our zone,” Orange guard Scoop Jardine said. “We just try to get out to a shooter. Knowing our personnel is the most important thing. If we are active and we are moving, I don’t care what team we play.”
Three things to watch is a quick preview of the NCAA tournament's second weekend. It is exactly what it says it is.

Thursday games in Salt Lake City: No. 5 Butler vs. No. 8 Syracuse, 7:07 p.m. ET and No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 2 Kansas State, 9:37 p.m. ET

[+] EnlargeJordan Crawford
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNext up for Xavier? Kansas State, on Thursday night.
Thing One: Jacob Pullen vs. Jordan Crawford. If you thought last week's matchup was a challenging one for Kansas State's guards, welcome to the Sweet 16. This week, the Wildcats will face one of the hottest players in all of college basketball, Crawford. (If they manage to contain Crawford and beat Xavier, Kansas State will likely be awarded with the honor of trying to guard Andy Rautins and Wes Johnson, which, yikes. But let's focus on the Sweet 16 for a second.) Crawford averaged 27 points in his first two tournament games against Minnesota and Pittsburgh. At Indiana, Crawford was a paragon of potential without much polish; in his second year since transferring, he's turned that potential into a complete offensive game. He's nearly impossible to stop. Then again, we would have said the same thing about BYU's Jimmer Fredette, who spent much of the season having his way with opposing guards only to be contained by Pullen in the second round. Pullen pulled double-duty in Kansas State's win, defending Fredette on one end and contributing an efficient 34 points on the other. Pullen v. Crawford. It sounds like a Supreme Court case. Instead, it's one of the best guard match ups you'll see all tournament. Don't miss it.

Thing Two: Hey, man, slow down. If Butler has any hope of beating No. 1-seed Syracuse in Thursday's early game, they have to slow the ball down. Like, big-time. The Bulldogs don't much care for a fast-paced game anyway -- they average 64.8 possessions a game, good for 275th in Division I -- and this proclivity for sloth could mitigate some of the Bulldogs' other disadvantages. The last thing Butler will want to see is Syracuse's long zone getting into passing lanes, creating turnovers, and getting easy buckets. Or, almost as bad, getting lots of long rebounds and run-outs into the secondary break. Rautins loves the secondary break. The goal for Brad Stevens' team is simple: Get the ball into the middle of the zone. Don't turn it over. Get genuinely open looks from outside. Make them. And, for the love of Hinkle Fieldhouse, slow down.

Thing Three: Fortunately, this sort of slow pace will be a little bit more advantageous for Butler with Arinze Onuaku still out of Syracuse's lineup. Butler's task is hard enough. With Onuaku out of the middle of the lane, that slow-it-down-and-get-it-inside strategy looks a little bit more viable; with Onuaku in the game, Syracuse is more than happy to play a bruising half-court style, and as good as Matt Howard is, it's hard to imagine him staying step-for-step with a healthy Arinze for 40 minutes.

But that's at all! Here's one bonus bold prediction from the West: Jordan Crawford has an off-night, going 6-for-24ish from the field, and Kansas State takes a surprisingly easy win on their way to the Elite Eight. What? I'm totally counting that as bold.