Will Zags stay hot vs. Orange?

Will Zags stay hot vs. Orange?

Of all the years for Gonzaga to produce a potential Elite Eight run, this is the one Mark Few’s program chose?

Hey, it makes as much sense as any other development in the latest version of March Madness. Just weeks removed from being on the outside looking in with respect to NCAA prospects, the Bulldogs are now 5-point favorites entering tonight’s Sweet 16 vs. Syracuse.

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Gonzaga (28-7) needed a WCC tourney title just to crack the field of 68. Talk about a stark contrast to seasons past, when the Spokane faithful pondered possible opening-round opponents well in advance.

Despite 18 consecutive Big Dance bids, however, the Zags boast but a pair of Elite Eight appearances. Number three is clearly within reach – if they can fend off an equally surprising school.

The Orange (21-13) lost five of six down the stretch, only to obliterate Dayton and Middle Tennessee State in the first two rounds in St. Louis. Jim Boeheim’s crew has permitted an average of 50.5 points and 30.8 percent shooting thus far. While the legendary head coach’s 2-3 zone receives considerable ink, few people recognize the extent of Syracuse’s dominance on the glass. The Midwest Region’s No. 10 seed outrebounded the Flyers and Blue Raiders by a combined total of 85-63.

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Then again, the Bulldogs had an 82-58 advantage in boards vs. Seton Hall and Utah. Sophomore Domantas Sabonis also averages 17.5 points to go along with his 11.7 rebounds. Syracuse junior Tyler Roberson will likely draw the assignment of dealing with him.

This marks the fourth time since 1979 that double-digit seeds have met in the Sweet 16. Long-distance specialist Kyle Wiltjer should give Syracuse’s defense everything it can handle, but the Zags – at least initially – are in for a shock to the system. Can they recover in time to see the weekend in the Windy City?

FRIDAY NCAA FREE PICK: SYRACUSE +5

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