Sweet 16: Butler-Syracuse Preview and Prediction

Full disclosure right off the top: I did not expect the mighty Butler Bulldogs to make it this far and Syracuse was my Final Four choice out of the West Region. However, now that Butler is in the Sweet 16, and my bracket has been rendered unrecoverable, I am throwing my full rooting support behind Brad Stevens and the Bulldogs.

Remember last year when Michigan State made their unexpected run to the Final Four, which was held in Detroit? I know that Indianapolis is not facing the same economic dire straits that Detroit is, but how wonderful of a story would it be if Butler made the Final Four in their own backyard?

The parallels would be far from exact, but in some ways it would be like college basketball’s version of the movie Hoosiers.

Before there can be any talk of a Butler appearance in the Final Four though, the Bulldogs must overcome a Syracuse team that has looked as impressive as any in the tournament thus far. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Sweet 16: #1 Syracuse v #5 Butler (West Region)

Butler-Syracuse Analysis

Next, let’s analyze this Sweet 16 matchup.

[Note: If you followed our NCAA Tournament coverage here at MSF last year, you know that I published previews similar to this one for each game from the Sweet 16 on. Using statistical analysis from the ESPN Bracket Predictor, which is powered byTeamRankings.com, plus my own knowledge an intuition, I went 12-3 picking the 15 games that concluded the 2009 Tournament. The methodology is essentially the same this year; we'll see if the results are.]

Here is how the numbers break down between Butler and Syracuse:

syracuse-butler-sweet-16-tickets-preview-prediction-spread-tip-time-announcers
syracuse-butler-sweet-16-tickets-preview-prediction-spread-tip-time-announcers syracuse-butler-sweet-16-tickets-preview-prediction-spread-tip-time-announcers

butler-syracuse-tickets-preview-prediction-spread-tip-time-announcersAs you would expect when a #1 seed from a major conference takes on a #5 seed from a mid-major conference, the win odds are stacked heavily in the ‘Cuse’s favor.

Syracuse was the best team all season in one of the country’s toughest conferences and despite an early exit in the Big East Tournament, they deserved to be the #1 seed. Many argued that Butler was underseeded at #5, and this is probably true. Seeing how #2 seeds like Villanova and #3 seeds like New Mexico flamed out, Butler certainly seems more deserving in retrospect.

As for the offensive numbers, Syracuse is a well-oiled machine (#7 and #2 in points per possession and effective FG%, respectively) led by Wesley Johnson and six other players who average between 8 and 12 points. This is a team that can score in a variety of ways and, as Gonzaga found out on Sunday, keeps the pressure on all game. Syracuse is also a very good offensive rebounding team, which Butler is not. The ‘Cuse has a 3-2 advantage in the offensive stats.

Defensively, both teams are excellent. Butler is slightly better in opponents points per possession, but Syracuse plays a vaunted matchup zone defense that can present a tremendous amount of problems for teams that are unfamiliar with it. Luckily for Brad Stevens, he’ll have three days of practice to prepare his team.

One trait Butler has to maintain is its rebounding. The Bulldogs are 20th in the nation in offensive rebound % on defense, and Matt Howard must lead Butler’s effort to keep the Orange off the offensive glass. Butler has a 3-2 advantage in the defensive stats.

When picking this game, the knee-jerk pick is Syracuse. The Orange were a top 5 team all year, they have a Big East pedigree, and they have looked tremendous in disposing of their first two tournament opponents without big man Arinze Onuaku (whose status is unknown right now). However, I caution you before automatically assuming Syracuse’s charge towards Indy will continue simply because they are playing a team from the Horizon League.

Butler is good; really good. And this is not just some rag-tag, upstart, scrappy group of guys. Butler has NBA players. Gordon Hayward is already being projected as a 1st round NBA draft pick if he leaves school after this year. Matt Howard, though undersized for an NBA center, could have a future in the league as a rugged interior defender and rebounder. And you underestimate Shelvin Mack, Willie Veasley, and Ronald Nored at your own risk.

butler-syracuse-tickets-preview-prediction-spread-tip-time-announcersIf you think Butler is simply going to be blown away by Syracuse’s talent, you’re mistaken. Syracuse enters as the favorite, and rightfully so. But if these teams played 10 times, Syracuse would win 7, maybe 6 of them. This is not a case where Butler needs to play perfect basketball and Syracuse needs to completely fade for the Bulldogs to have any chance.

Thursday night we are going to see two of the best coached basketball teams in America do battle, and I anticipate one of the most efficiently executed games of the entire tournament.

Butler-Syracuse Prediction: So who will win? I’d love to say Butler, and my heart will be pulling for the Bulldogs, but I have to go with Syracuse (although I do not think they will cover the 7 point spread). Syracuse is simply playing outstanding through the first two games of the tournament and their talent is deeper than Butler’s.

The matchup of Wesley Johnson and Gordon Hayward will be fun to watch, but ultimately I think the experience and sharp shooting of Andy Rautins (and his MC Hammer shorts) plus the zone of Syracuse will prove to be too much for Butler to overcome.

Now I just hope I’m wrong.

Syracuse 73 | Butler 68

**********

* – Gordon Hayward photo credit: Michael Conroy / AP via NBC Sports

* – Andy Rautins photo credit: Beadle Maniacs



About Jerod Morris

I love words. I write for Copyblogger and founded MSF, The Assembly Call, & Primility. I practice yoga, eat well, & strive for balance. I love life. Namaste. Say hi on Twitter, Facebook, & G+.

Comments

  1. Going as far as saying Syracuse would win 6 out of 10 clearly shows your bias.

    I think its more in the 8-2 range.

    Butler IS a good team. Syracuse is a GREAT team.

    Syracuse by 13. 80-67

    • Todd, thanks for visiting the site and for commenting. I noticed the link from Syracuse.com today and it's always exciting to have new fan bases come here that we don't usually see.

      With all due respect, I believe your comment shows just as much bias as any bias that may be contained in my post. I am no Butler flag waver (that would be AJ, who I'm sure will chime in with a comment here); in fact, I've been criticized for not covering them more. I also picked them to lose to UTEP in the first round.

      The folly in my prediction is that Butler has played well enough and proven itself consistently enough to not need to be compared on different planes than a team like Syracuse. The Orange are an outstanding team, a Final Four pick of mine, and I do think that they will beat Butler this weekend. But considering Butler has won 20+ games in a row, is a 4-6 seed in the tournament every year, and has NBA talent on its roster, this is not what Butler-Syracuse might have been 5-6 years ago. This is a matchup between two outstanding teams that would probably split if they played a home-and-home.

      I appreciate your faith in your team, but understand your own biases as well. We'll how it plays out this weekend, but I think it's about time people nationwide do what I have clearly been late in doing, and that is respecting Butler as one of the better teams in the country, not just a good team from a small conference. But, as with all things in sports, the proof will bear itself out on the court. I can't wait to see how this game plays out.

      Enjoy the Sweet 16 Todd. Thanks again for visiting.

      • No way butler wins 4 out of ten, I mean who have they played who is a legitimate team this season, even their tournament wins are against UTEP and Murray State, two teams who are not from power conferences and not ridden with athletes, hall of fame coaches, and lottery picks of any kind. I do think butler can pull the upset but i would say syracuse would win 19 out of twenty against butler, and i think 15 of those aren't even within ten point games. The Horizon league? really? Wright st., Youngstown St. and Valporaiso are not the same caliber of wins as West Virginia, Georgetown, on the road and Villanova, UNC (as poor as there season was), California. IMO Butler is not even close to as talented as Gonzaga and that game was not within twenty five until the final minutes. Butler has the nations longest winning streak, but hell, ten bigeast, big ten, pac 10, sec, big 12 teams would be undefeated with their schedule

        • AJ Kaufman says:

          Ridiculous. Butler played the hardest non conference slate in the land: Gtown, OSU, Xavier, Clemson, Minnesota, Northwestern, Siena, etc. Did Cuse play ANYONE non conference (away from home)?

          The Horizon is a good conference — one of the best mid majors, though not as good as the (vastly overrated) Big East: 6 of 8 teams gone, sir.

          UTEP has 2 pros on their team.

          Butler would beat Gonzaga. They were consistently higher than the Zags all season in the RPI, top 25 and mid major top 25. Get your facts together.

          • AJ before you start throwing out names you better check YOUR facts.

            Butler lost to Gtown, lost to Minnesota, lost to Clemson, They beat OSU when they were playing without their star.

            Where is the good wins you were talking about? Siena? Anyone else?

            You arent seriously attempting to compare schedules with Syracuse are you? The Orange is 7-1 vs top 25. Butler is 1-3. Butler is a good team, lets just stick to throwing out supporting facts.

          • AJ Kaufman says:

            People were saying they did not play anyone. I am showing who they did play. They beat Xavier and OSU. Both of those teams are in the sweet 16, sir.

            BTW, I made an error: Butler was on ESPN 14 times this year (plus 2 on CBS), not 11, so any Syracuse fan who has not seen Butler play is quite ignorant.

      • Hey Jerod,

        Great analysis!

        So something in your mind had them losing in round 1. What was it? How did their performance in the 1st two rounds change that?
        I personally dont think Butler matches up well with Syracuse. Syracuses game is transition, Butlers D is good at stopping transition but it also means that they are NOT getting defensive boards because they retreat quickly on D.

        Given that…I think Syracuse has a better ability with their size and large ZONE to stop Butler from scoring many more times than Butler will stop Syracuse from scoring. Otherwise, Butler will have to give up transition buckets to get more guys on the boards. Getting boards will still be tough with R Jackson and All American Wes Johnson not to mention Kris Joseph. Thats where i think Syracuse wins the game. Syracuse shoots 51% (Best in the nation). If Butlers D focuses on stopping the transition, then Syracuse will score 90 pts because when they do miss they will more than likely get the board. I think that will put a lot of pressure on Butler to score everytime down the court.

        It wont be an easy win, I just think Syracuse has more horse especially now that Wes's hand is 100%.

  2. I think that Butler should have been a #3 or #4 seed, no way a #5. They are a very worthy opponent.

    Keep in mind, however, that Syracuse has been underestimated and underrated for most this season. They were not a top 5 team all year, as you stated. They started the year unranked in either poll, and did not move permanently into the top 5 until January 13th.

    The Orange were 6-0 this season against top 10 teams, and 7-1 against top 25. Forget the fact they are playing Buter… based on what the Orange have done this year, they are about 80-90% likely to beat a top 10 team. Butler is obviously very talented AND playing very well at this point of the year, as their run in the tournament would suggest. However, an unbiased look at the statistics will tell you that Butler, who is ranked #11 in the AP, would have a tough time in this game.

    • Good point regarding where Syracuse started out. In my own mind I was only thinking back until about January, but you're right…I was wrong as it was written. Syracuse was lightly regarded coming into the season because no one realized just how good Wesley Johnson is.

      And I am saying that Butler will have a tough time winning this game. I'm picking Syracuse and I said that Syracuse would win 6 or 7 times if these teams played 10 games. I just think people are underestimating the Bulldogs. They are more than capable of playing a top team toe to toe, and I fear that some people think Butler will put up the kind of fight that Gonzaga did. I underestimated them heading into the tournament, but am not going to do it any more.

      Syracuse and should win and probably will, just don't be surprised if it's a dog fight that goes down to the wire.

  3. Furthermore, the Orangemen were outstanding in 2010 in non-home games. Until they lost their last game at Louisville they were undefeated on the road and on neutral courts. So a home and home scenario really doesn't impact Syracuse's chances of winning. In fact, they were better on the road than they were at home.

    Now the probable continued loss of Arinze Onuaku does hurt the Orange this weekend. And regardless of which two teams are playing in the tournament, I am always hesitant to give any team the advantage. Any team playing well can beat any other team playing well. To me, I feel as if this game is a 50/50 . So going with my gut, instead of the facts laid before me, I would state this is a close game. That's not because of Syracuse/Butler. That's because its the NCAA tournament. The statistics and body of work of both teams, would indicate Syracuse is a heavy favorite (that's not a biased opinion; that's looking at what they've done).

  4. WntBfun4u says:

    AHAHAHAHAHAHA That is a funny article. Butler? You kidding me? Butler? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    • This is exactly the kind of opinion that is far too prevalent nationwide. Butler is good. I really hope they play up to their capability against the Syracuse so that the rest of the nation can realize what AJ has been professing here at MSF all season long.

    • AJ Kaufman says:

      typical syracuse fan

      30-4 …who cares? this guy probably would say the same about st marys, who took out villanova

    • ur an ass. And Butler kicks ass. we'll see u in indianapolis for the final four. WOOF!

  5. Syracuse isn't winning games because of its superior physical talent. There are no top 50 recruits on this team. They are winning because they play outstanding team basketball. Wesley Johnson has developed into an outstanding player, and Andy Rautins is a great college basketball player. Syracuse players know how to play their game.

    Anyhow, it should be a great game. And I did enjoy your analysis… it was well written, even if I do disagree with your final conclusion.

    • Thanks ReindeerFive. Another great point regarding Syracuse's lack of top-50 talent. It's a testament to Boeheim's excellence as a coach. Between he and Brad Stevens we should be treated to a well played and well coached game this weekend.

  6. i apologize they have beaten turnerless Ohio ST. and Xavier, both capable teams in their own rights, but Ohio st, was weak early on and have come on late as a contender. nonetheless both games were won at home, early in the season, if syracuse plays remotely close to the way they did yesterday, and butler plays the way they did against murray st. then the game will not even be close I would say another 20 pt win for the cuse,
    but thats why they play em right?, No sense in handing out championships based on who looks better on paper, just ask bill self and the jayhawks about that

    • Haha…great point about Bill Self and Kansas. You just never know.

      But one thing we are learning is that there are really good teams in the non-power conferences. No, the Ivy League and Horizon isn't as talented top to bottom as the Big Ten, but that doesn't mean that Butler or Cornell wouldn't compete if they were in a more prestigious league. The best teams in the mid-major conferences are REALLY good basketball teams. They are usually senior-laden teams who may not have the transcendent talents, but who are well coached and have chemistry and experience. That can go a long way, especially in a tournament setting.

  7. Enjoyed the well written article and percentage analysis. Like to see opinions from non NY state writers. I'm a biased Cuse fan and can say that I have not seen Butler play this year. But I think games like this (when 2 teams haven't seen each other and have no commen opponents) come down to match ups. The teams that beat SU this year (Louisvile x2, Pitt, & Georgetown) all hit 3's those games. That being said, Butler needs to play tough aggressive defense also (as those 3 teams do).

    When Syracuse played at Providence, Providence killed it on shooting 3's, but Cuse won the game 99-85. Cuse has 7 guys (if Onuaku plays) that can score 20 any night, with 3's and inside game. Along with a great defense that most teams don't play against in the regular season. But if Butler can hit 3's & stop Cuse on defense, they can definitely win this game. Again good article and looking forward to Thursday's game, should be a good one!

    • Thanks DMac. Any relation to GMac? (Because if so, one of my best friends is obsessed with Gerry McNamara…we'd need to talk!)

      Always love to have non-Midwesterners visit us, which is one of the reasons why I try to get these articles up early in the week during the tournament. It's fun to see the perspectives from different regions. I have to say, Syracuse fans (at least the small cross section seen here) seem about as reasoned and respectful as any non-Midwestern fan base we've had the pleasure of hosting at MSF.

      It's a shame either of these two teams will have to go home after this game. Can't wait to see how it plays out.

      • Haha, no relation I know of (although if you ask my grandmother, she swears we're related, we have the same name, look the same and both love to shoot 3's). And as for the other comment from another reader about not seeing Butler play. I am the 1st to admit I'm total ny biased, I apologize. But that's why I try to read other articles from non-ny sites. Can Butler hit 3's, what kind of defense do they play, in your face full court press, straight up man, zone, etc. There is only so much info you can get from just a stat sheet. Oh and there are many more irrational and disrespectful Cuse fans than these posts reflect.. Surprised the posts here don't show that yet (since syr.com posted your link).

  8. AJ Kaufman says:

    Cuse is a very good team, better than UK or Duke (probably the best team left) but Butler is what they are: very, very good (and experienced). It will be tough, but this game is akin to BU's sweet 16 matchup with Florida when the Gators were a 1 seed in 2007. Butler was tied with 2 mins left, a few calls didn't go their way, UF won by 4 or 5. I see this game similarly. Orange fans cannot comment if they've never seen Butler play, and if they have not — considering the Bulldogs were on ESPN 11 times this year and national TV twice last week, that is weak but expected from east coasters who think the world ends west of the Appalachians.

    Butler has 22 wins in a row, the most road wins in the nation, has beaten two teams still alive in the tourney (OSU & Xavier), a future NBA player and two others who will play pro ball somewhere, as well as a coach who is stellar at planning & adjustments. They were the only team in the nation to go undefeated in conference play, which is darn near impossible these days.

  9. Butler's winning streak is impressive, but its not enough to convince me that they have a chance against Syracuse (who, unlike other Big East teams, are properly seeded). During Butler's streak they beat one team of note: Xavier. I discount their win versus Ohio State because that was the Buckeye's first game without Evan Turner after his injury. Xavier is also a Sweet 16 team, but they're no Syracuse.

  10. Murchada says:

    4 out 10… really? What is that based on… not any of the stats you have above… Butler is the typical mid-major who gets a lot of love by playing the big boys close and losing… OSU did not have Turner so that win is questionable… that being said Butler can beat SU if 'cuse shoots below their season average and Butler is able to create some turnovers… if Butler and the Zags played it would be close to pick em' in vegas (where they really know what is going on) and cuse was up 32 before calling off the dogs with about 12 minutes left… put it this way – if Butler played in the BE, B10, ACC etc… they would be a club fighting to get off the bubble… that does not mean they can't beat cuse because its one game and they are decent (and no AO)… but 4 out of 10 is silly…..

  11. If Syracuse does not mentally treat Butler like they(Butler) are the second coming of the old Boston Celtics – then they (Syracuse) will likely LOSE. Why? One word. Just one.

    Kansas ("…they say is the name of the star!").

  12. If SU plays like they did against Gonzaga, I think it'll be another blowout, but I don't think Gonzaga came to play. I expect Butler to be much tougher, and SU to not shoot as well as last Sunday.

    However, the matchups do favor SU. Wes is very hard to guard and the Orange have multiple players that can score 20 a night. The downside is Onuaku being out (I doubt he's coming back this year), and will Rautins shoot well two games in a row? Cause we 'Cuse fans know this isn't always the case.

    I expect a close game with Butler battling to keep it within 10 so they have a chance at the end, but around an 8 point win for the Orange. This Orange team doesn't fold like some of the past Boeheim squads have when challenged.

    Really looking forward to this game.

  13. This is absolute tomfoolery. There is as much a distinct difference in talent levels as there is in overall team chemistry. Syracuse looks like UNLV did in the late 80's. Butler was in a coin-flip situation with 13-seeded Murray State. Syracuse will name the score – and it isn't because Butler isn't good, it's because Syracuse is great.

    • Syracuse is a very good team…but they are not the late-80s, early-90s Runnin' Rebs. That was a different era of college basketball and those teams ran roughshod over their competition. Only a Duke team filled with McDonald's All Americans could beat them and prevent an undefeated season. As I said, Syracuse is the better team, I just think 'Cuse fans underestimate Butler at their own peril. This should be a competitive basketball game.

    • AJ Kaufman says:

      Cuse and their immature coach were exposed last night. They were unprepared, sloppy and weak. Step up and admit you were very wrong.

  14. By the way, AJ, I so do miss the Knight-led Hoosiers. Because, first and foremost, midwestern basketball is like watching paint dry. Get some goddamned athletes in there! Would it be a sin, even in the bible belt, to run a fast break?

    • Josh, as a lifelong Hoosier fan, I agree wholeheartedly. With Knight, it wasn't so much fast breaks, but the constant motion of their offensive sets. It gave games a more kinetic, energetic, flowing feel, as opposed to the bogged down, one-on-one, stand-around-and-wait-to-shoot-a-three offense that we see so often these days.

      • AJ Kaufman says:

        These are racist statements. What if I said the opposite about the ‘athletic’ play of Syracuse or Kentucky?

  15. RealTomT says:

    Jerod – I am a lifetime SU fan (and alum) and I have to agree with almost everything that you wrote. Butler is a great team and it would be a MASSIVE mistake for SU to take this game lightly. At this point in the tourney, I think that any team is capable of beating any other team (even Cornell)…but Butler is an established team (with a ton of tournament experience) with a number of really athletic and talented players. Of course you know who I will be rooting for but I (and I think that many SU fans) have a lot of respect for Butler's program and aren't taking this game/team lightly.

  16. angelo p says:

    it should be a good one,however most would agree that syracuse played in a better conference, was tremendous on the road and appears to be playing well without arinze.i would be hard pressed to bet against them vs butler but at this time of the year anything goes, look what happened to kansas,and watch to see how well cornell plays a kentucky team that better not take them lightly the big red played syracuseand kansas and gave them all they wanted. all that being said……..go new york teams

  17. oldbill_indy says:

    Eat crow you Syracuse fans! Old fashion team basketball is Butler basketball/

  18. AJ Kaufman says:

    Cuse fans, be men, and admit you were wrong. The only thing more troubling that Cuse’s gameplan (Boeheim could learn a thing from Calipari) is the arrogance of their fans, disrespecting Butler.

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