As hard as it would have been to believe just a week or so ago, Syracuse is in the Sweet 16 and faces Gonzaga tonight for a chance to go to the Elite Eight. Many critics and fans have attempted to diminish Syracuse’s road to the Sweet 16, but it has to be said that the Orange face a tough test in their third tournament game.
Gonzaga may be an eleven seed, but they are one of the hottest teams in the nation. They knew that they most likely needed to win their conference tournament to get to the big dance and they did just that, beating St. Mary’s in the West Coast Conference Championship. Since then, they knocked off the Big East Champions in Seton Hall and the three seeded Utah.
What will make this game difficult for the Orange is that Gonzaga’s greatest strength is arguably Syracuse’s biggest weakness. The Zags have two big men who can take over a game. Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer combine to average almost 38 points per game. To put that in perspective, Tyler Lydon, Tyler Roberson and DaJuan Coleman only average just over 24 points per game.
Wiltjer, who stands at 6-10 also brings a completely different dynamic. He can shoot from the outside. He knocks down over 40% of his attempts from beyond the arc and over 60% of his shots at the rim. Even against the famous 2-3 zone, he is a complete match-up nightmare. Syracuse has done a tremendous job defending the perimeter the past two games and they will have to do that again, while not leaving the paint exposed.
Sabonis, a 6-10 sophomore, also has the skill set to provide a significant test for Boeheim’s defense. He is long and powerful and a fantastic finisher at the rim, making over 70% of his shots at the rim.
Syracuse will need DaJuan Coleman, Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon to play defense at their highest level on Friday. Of course, the Orange will need their guards to hit shots if they want to advance to the Elite Eight, but the match-ups that will most likely determine this game are in the front court.