Syracuse starting forward Rick Jackson getting into foul trouble was the best thing to happen to Syracuse on Sunday afternoon.
With two hands tied behind their backs (the team's other starting forward Arinze Onuaku was inactive with a leg injury), the Orange took a bat to Gonzaga’s pumpkin chariot, and put up 87 points on the Cinderella-turned-NCAA-regular.
"This is as well as we've played all year," said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. "It was a tremendous performance."
When the rest of the NCAA field goes to watch game tape, they’ll find a team that is practically unbeatable. And right now the player shining the brightest is forward Wes Johnson.
Johnson made no excuses when his play suffered at the end of the season after injuring his hand against Providence on Feb. 2. The coaches in the Big East, however, thought enough of his talent to ignore the drop in statistics, and named him Player of the Year. Johnson is headed for more hardware if he keeps up his current NCAA Tournament numbers (24.5 points per game, 10.0 rebounds, 60.7% shooting), and based on the look of his jump shot in Buffalo, there are not many college defenders capable of stopping him.
Butler (30-4) is the next opponent on Syracuse’s journey to the Final Four, and the third ‘dog’ the Orange has faced in its last four games (Georgetown and Gonzaga also have canine mascots). The Bulldogs have won 22 straight games, and have victories over fellow Sweet 16 teams Ohio State (without superstar Evan Turner) and Xavier on their resume.
"It's a tough turn around for us. We have to go a long ways," said Boeheim. "Butler is one of the best teams I've seen all year. I've had them in the top 10 of my [coaches] poll from the very beginning of the year."
The Bulldogs rely on stingy defense (limiting opponents to just 59.8 points per game), and successfully limited the quick guards of Murray State in the second round of the NCAA tournament, allowing just 52 points. No team has reached 70 points since the Hoyas on December 8.
But the Orange offense is unlike anything the Bulldogs have seen. Teams need to score points to top the Orange (20 times this season Syracuse has topped 80 points).
Butler on the other hand has scored 80 or more points just three times.