A look at the Sweet 16

Lydon3GT
Lydon is prepared to make a big leap this season

Syracuse will play Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 on Friday at 9:40 p.m. at the United Center in Chicago, entering the game as a 4.5 point underdogs, according to Sports Betting Dime.

The case for Syracuse: The Orange has had one of the ‘easiest’ runs to the Sweet 16 in school history, toppling seventh-seeded Dayton, 70-51, before demolishing No. 15 Middle Tennessee 75-50 on Sunday. You can only win the games you play, and SU had nothing to do with the Blue Raiders upsetting Michigan State, a team picked by many to win the NCAA Championship.

The Orange’s resurgence comes after a pair of games where the vaunted 2-3 zone gave its opponents fits. The Flyers shot just 32.1 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from downtown. Similarly, MTSU was 29.7 percent from the field and 8-24 from beyond the arc.

SU has gotten a surge of production from two key players: Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon. Roberson, known for his on-again-off-again performances, was plugged in during the opening weekend, collecting 18 rebounds against Dayton before notching a 14 point, nine rebound performance against Middle Tennessee. Meanwhile, Lydon put up 14 points and seven rebounds in each of the two games, and chipped in six blocks against the Blue Raiders.

The case for Gonzaga: The Bulldogs’ front court tandem of Domantas Sabonis and Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer is as good a 1-2 punch in the NCAA. Wiltjer leads the team in scoring at 20.4 points per game, and is the team’s best outside shooter at 43.2 percent from distance. Sabonis, son of former Portland Trailblazers star Arvydas, has vaulted himself up in NBA mock drafts after averaging 20.0 points and 13.0 rebounds through two NCAA games.

But perhaps the Bulldogs’ most important player has been guard Eric McClellan. In Gonzaga’s opening round win over Seton Hall, McClellan only scored nine points, but played a key role in shutting down the Pirates’ best player, Isaiah Whitehead (10 points on 4-24 shooting). Then in the Zags’ rout of Utah, he poured in 22 points on 9-12 shooting.

Since the postseason started, McClellan has been on a tear, averaging 18.4 points since the start of the WCC Tournament. But McClellan only averages 10.9 points per game, and has been wildly inconsistent throughout the season. He, like Roberson, will need to stay plugged in.

The bottom line: The key matchup will be SU’s zone against the Bulldogs’ front line. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim can manipulate the zone to take away certain aspects of opposing teams’ offenses, and he’ll likely force the Zags’ guards to beat the Orange.

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