How good is the ACC this year? Consider this: If Syracuse beats Gonzaga on Friday the worst place they could technically finish in the NCAA Tournament is eighth. That would be two spots higher than their 10th-place finish in the ACC this season.
Not sold yet? By now you’ve heard that the ACC sent a record six teams to the Sweet 16. What many people may forget is that Louisville, which finished No. 16 in the AP Poll and fourth in the conference, was not allowed to participate due to a self-imposed postseason ban. Long story short; the ACC is dangerous. West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga will have its hands full with Syracuse in this Sweet 16 matchup.
No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs (28-7) vs. No. 10 Syracuse Orange (21-13)
When: 9:40 p.m. ET (Friday
Where: United Center (Chicago)
Line: Gonzaga -4.5
Keys for Gonzaga
The most dynamic frontcourt in all of college basketball hails from Spokane, Wash. Domantas Sabonis is your stereotypical power forward. He can attack the glass and make gritty plays inside. Kyle Wiltjer is a stretch forward who has shot better 43 percent from three-point range on nearly 200 attempts. Needless to say, this duo isn’t the easiest to match up against. Gonzaga’s best players will need to continue to shine, and the Bulldogs’ defense will have to match the intensity that was on display in the first two rounds. If Gonzaga can contain Syracuse star Michael Gbinije like it did Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead (4-for-24 shooting, 0-for-10 on 3s) the Bulldogs will win this basketball game.
Keys for Syracuse
Syracuse cannot afford to be too content with back-to-back blowout wins by an average of 22 points. Neither Dayton nor Middle Tennessee has players even close to the caliber of Gonzaga’s frontcourt tandem. Jim Boeheim’s infamous 2-3 zone will have to be dominant, especially in the low post, in order to keep Gonzaga’s scorers in check. The x-factor for Syracuse on offense will be senior sharpshooter Trevor Cooney. Those NBA-range threes he has become known for must be falling in order for Syracuse to keep pace with the Bulldogs.
Mark Few and Gonzaga appear to be on a mission in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. While both teams come into this matchup off of consecutive routs in the first two rounds, Gonzaga’s level of competition was significantly higher. The Bulldogs are playing their best basketball when it matters most, and the combination of Sabonis and Wiltjer will be too much for the Orange to handle. Unless Syracuse can make this the sloppiest game of the Tournament thus far and pull off a tight victory, Gonzaga should be moving on to the Elite Eight.