These are the only double-digit seeds left in the Tournament and they face each other. Maybe the more surprising thing is that Gonzaga, the 11-seed, is favored by 4 to 5 points in my most places.
Part of that has to do with Gonzaga’s route to the Sweet 16. It may be the toughest route of any of the remaining teams, having taken down a 6- and 3-seed in Seton Hall and Utah. Not only that, but the Bulldogs easily won both Games by 16 and 23 points. This was a Top 25 team before the season that didn’t have the best year, but that’s behind them now.
The 10-seed Syracuse was another bubble team that many thought shouldn’t even be in the Tournament, but its route has been a bit easier. The Orange took down a struggling Dayton in the first Game and then a Middle Tennessee team that came off a perfect Game in the first round. And so, we have the rare matchup of two double-digit seeded teams that won all their Games by double digits.
Earlier in the campaign, these teams did play in the same Tournament, so they have some like opponents. Gonzaga beat Connecticut 73-70 and lost to Texas A&M 62-61. ‘Cuse beat both teams, UConn 79-76, A&M 74-67.
Going against the Syracuse zone, the first thing you need are shooters. All five Gonzaga starters hit threes last Game if that says anything. The next thing you need is a passing big man that can tear apart the zone at the top of the key. The Bulldogs have that in Domantas Sabonis who is seeing his NBA draft stock rise by the day.
Sabonis has been unstoppable in the Tournament, now with 40 points, 26 boards and 7 assists in two Games. He beat up expected NBA lottery pick Jakob Poeltl last Game and is going to be the main guy Syracuse has to focus on in this one. If Sabonis can work the zone, the Zags will have the advantage, especially with the 6-10 Kyle Wiltjer draining threes from outside. Gonzaga’s guard play has been great so far too, with Eric McClellan, Josh Perkins and Kyle Dranginis all playing solid.
That guard play will be key in stopping an inconsistent Syracuse team on the other end. Malachi Richardson was unstoppable in the first round against Dayton, hitting 3s, getting the line with ease and ended up with 21 points. Despite playing two more minutes and winning by 25 points in the second round, Richardson was just 1-of-7 from the field for only Four points. It was only the sixth time all season that Richardson was in single digits and if ‘Cuse want to win this Game, he’ll need more than that.
Of course, the Orange still have 6-7 point guard Michael Gbinije who scored 23 points last Game and had seven boards and Four assists the Game before that. Trevor Cooney is always a guarantee to hit a few 3s, and Tyler Roberson is their best rebounder, but Tyler Lydon may be the x-factor for the Orange. Coming off the bench, he’s been huge the last two Games, scoring 14 points in each and having an incredible six blocks against Middle Tennessee.
Syracuse, as usual, is a lengthy team which helps its zone, but also gives them advantages on the offensive end. For a mid-major, Gonzaga has decent size at every position and has one of the better big men left in the Tournament in Sabonis.
This line seems a bit weird with Gonzaga favored by a few points, but it’s about right considering what the Bulldogs have done to teams so far in the Tournament.
Our Pick – Syracuse +4.5