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Syracuse's loss isn't a shocker

Kansas coach Bill Self doesn't have to feel alone any longer.

He can thank Butler mostly for that.

Because as the Jayhawks and the rest of the country have found out by now, they aren't the only No. 1 seed to see its season end at the hands of a mid-major underdog.

That territory also belongs to the West region's top seed, Syracuse, which turned the Horizon League champs into another giant killer with its 63-59 loss Thursday night at EnergySolutions Arena.

"I'm really at a loss," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said afterward. "When you know you're good enough, that makes it hurt even more."

For a team that had won what was arguably America's best conference this season, it was a surprise to see the fifth-seeded Bulldogs pull off an upset that not many thought was possible.

But after the way Northern Iowa shocked top overall seed Kansas in Oklahoma City last weekend, the warning sign should have been written on the wall for Boeheim and his players.

It wasn't just that the Orange had to travel more than 2,000 miles -- the farthest of any No. 1 seed -- for its Sweet 16 matchup because this year's East region was being held at the Carrier Dome, the team's home gym.

To make matters worse, Syracuse was forced to play without its best inside player, Arinze Onuaku, due to a leg injury that kept the senior big man out of NCAA tournament wins over Vermont and Gonzaga last week.

The circumstances were perfect for an upset. All Butler needed was for Syracuse to give it a chance.

And that's just what the Orange did with 18 turnovers and a sub-par effort from junior forward Rick Jackson, who could only muster four points against a Bulldogs frontline that isn't exactly known for intimidating opposing teams.

"We don't make excuses," Boeheim remarked.

Still, you have to believe that if Syracuse had played with a healthy Onuaku and a little bit closer to home, things might have been different for a team that had national title aspirations despite being picked to finish sixth in the Big East before the season started.

"I don't want to take anything away from ourselves, but Onuaku in the middle of that zone is a difference-maker," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "And when you get Jackson in foul trouble, it's not the same."

Stevens recognized the advantage that the Bulldogs had with Onuaku sidelined, and he made sure that they made the most of it.

So with the Orange having only one legitimate inside presence, Butler delivered the ball down low to Matt Howard and let the junior forward go right at Jackson.

The strategy worked.

With Syracuse down by one and beginning to find its rhythm against a methodical Butler club, Jackson picked up his fourth foul at the 8:08 mark in the second half and was relegated to the bench.

"We felt like we could attack the interior," Stevens said.

Although the Orange didn't immediately feel the effects of Jackson's absence, the damage had already been done over the first 32 minutes of play.

"It would have been different if we would have had to prepare for him," Gordon Hayward said in regard to Onuaku after leading Butler with 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting from the free-throw line.

"We were able to prepare a little differently, and we lucked out with that."

Sometimes, that's what an underdog needs to upset a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

But while the Bulldogs might not have had much luck when it came to their 3-point shooting, finishing 6-for-24 from beyond the arc, they knew early on that they could get into the teeth of Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone and attack the basket from close range.

Butler point guard Shelvin Mack made that apparent in the initial 20 minutes of action, taking Syracuse's backcourt off the dribble and carrying the Bulldogs with 14 first-half points.

"A lot of teams sit back and get attacked by the 2-3 zone," Mack said. "We wanted to attack them and get stops on the defensive end."

Coincidentally enough, though, it came down to the Bulldogs making outside shots.

Yet it wasn't Hayward or Mack who made them.

Instead, it was sophomore Ronald Nored, a 17.1-percent 3-point shooter, and senior Willie Veasley who rescued Butler with clutch threes in the waning minutes of the game.

"That's what happens in close games," fifth-year senior Andy Rautins said, struggling to reflect on his collegiate career coming to a sudden end.

"We beat ourselves."

It might not be what Stevens and Butler want to hear right now as they go on to play in the program's first Elite Eight later this week, but the Orange weren't exactly playing with a full deck of cards.

"They capitalized," Boeheim said. "That's what good teams do."

And Syracuse should have known better.