Written for your enjoyment by: Ray Curren
I thought Gonzaga was a good matchup for Syracuse, but that's not to say the game went as I planned this afternoon. Gonzaga was not a great shooting team this season, despite their success in the West Coast Conference, but I figured the Cuse would be able to get inside against a soft Zags defense.
Instead, with Arinze Onuaku out, Syracuse decided to go outside, hitting 12-of-25 3-pointers in a surprise beating of Gonzaga. Well, the final tally was surprising at least. I've been saying for a while that Wes Johnson has been hurt, and I still believe that he was, but was certainly at 100% today, borderline unguardable (and 14 rebounds to boot), and that makes the Cuse the same way with Andy Rautins and Brandon Triche (an underrated shooter) running around.
If there was a negative today, it was that Rick Jackson was pretty ineffective offensively, only 5 points. But at this time of year, it's just win and advance and Thursday will be a whole other challenge.
Looking at Butler, I haven't liked them all year. Their conference is very weak, and they have a couple of decent wins on their resume (like back-to-back wins over Ohio State and Xavier), and they've played and won a lot of close games this season.
It's a different battle than Gonzaga. Despite their "mid-major" status, Gonzaga played more like a "major". They had a lot of size, and didn't shoot as much from the outside, woeful 3-of-21 today from 3-point range.
Butler will shoot better than that, and the problem Syracuse will have is multiple shooters, although the hot hand currently appears to be Shelvin Mack, who hit seven 3s in their comeback win over a pretty good UTEP team. Overall, Mack is shooting 40% from behind the arc and they had two other dangerous shooters in Willie Veasley and Zach Hahn.
But their most dangerous player is 6-9 forward Gordon Hayward, who can step out and hit the 3 on occasion as well. With Onuaku, he's probably not going anywhere inside. Without him, maybe he will.
However, Syracuse has played and done well against teams that shoot the ball very well from the outside (see: Cornell). And a big key this year has been defensive rebounding, which was OK today without Onuaku.
So, in a nutshell, even without Onuaku, I'm cautiously optimistic. But I'll be ready to sweat it out if need be.
(Totally unrelated: My high school friend found this old Reebok commercial from back in the day, which I think Lamar Mundane fits Andy Rautins pretty well)
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