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Defining elite: Gonzaga throttled by Syracuse as season comes to an end

There's a simple, simple way to explain what just took place in Buffalo, New York: Syracuse is just a much better team.  Running through what could possibly happen today, this was #2 on my list and the thing I was hoping most to avoid.  #1, because I'm a Gonzaga fan, was for the Zags to win in a tight contest.  This was a dismantling and it was obvious Jim Boeheim had in intentions of letting the upset happen.  Once he got his team in their groove and firing on all cylinders, he kept his foot squarely on the throat of the Bulldogs and never let up.  The Orange's two star players, Andy Rautins and Wes Johnson played about as good as I've seen them play all season and that is exactly what should happen in March.  In contrast, only one-third of Gonzaga's star trio showed up and that math just doesn't fly when the other team has the 1 besides their name on the bracket. 

The game was shaping up beautifully halfway through the first half (awkward sentence).  I thought Mark Few gameplanned beautifully by getting the ball inside to his bigs to take advantage of the thin Syracuse front court.  Elias Harris was firing from the get go on offense and had double digit points before we could blink.  For a few months, I really forgot how dominant he could be on offense so that was extremely good to see if you are ready to look to next season.  Rob Sacre was active early as well but then everything changed when Rick Jackson picked up his third foul.  I can't explain what happened but right after that foul, Rob Sacre picked up his second and the Zags absolutely fell apart with him on the bench.  

When Rob hit the bench, the Orange went on a 9-0 run and you could see everyone's eyes take the "deer in the headlights" look.  Elias Harris being the focal point down low was forgotten about the Zags started turning the ball over in droves and settling for the three point shot.  It was a mental lapse that Gonzaga got away with at times during the year but Syracuse smelled blood and absolutely tore the Bulldogs apart from there. 

more thoughts after the jump...

Like I indicated at the beginning of this recap, I think this outcome is something we all had to be ready for.  If you were blindsided by this result, you missed a lot of the 2009-10 season.  Gonzaga's inexperience and lack of strong leadership were their Achilles heel all season long and that is what doomed them today.  This game was begging for someone like Matt Bouldin or Steven Gray to step up and match what Wes and Andy were doing but it just never got rolling.  Matt was as stoic as ever on offense and Gray showed a few glimpses early of hitting shots but never got comfortable with navigating in the zone defense.  He had a few misguided drives into the lane where he hit the free throw line and was swallowed up by 'Cuse.  As for Matt, I can't explain what I saw today because it felt like he wasn't on the court.  He took three shots from beyond the arc in the first half which is a recipe for absolute disaster.  It's hard to see Matt end his career at Gonzaga this way but if I told you I was surprised, I would be lying.

The recipe for the upset is pretty clearly defined.  You've got to be relentless on D, smart on offense, paced by your leaders, and sustain throughout the game and catch plenty of breaks.  We have seen that a lot in this year's March Madness.  After the first nine minutes, I thought this team was ready to pull it off but they just didn't sustain.  They weren't relentless on D, they weren't pace by their stars, and they didn't sustain past the first part of the game.  Syracuse on the other hand, proved their were elite and look to be poised to make a serious run at a national title.

Since the game got so out of hand so quickly, I've already gotten past my anger and have begun looking towards next season.  Elias Harris was sensational early and was the only one playing with fire.  He's a leader and I can't wait to see him blossom.  His front court mate Robert Sacre was solid as well with 17 points on 8-12 shooting.  Rob had to play 34 minutes and that obviously took a toll on him.  I am perplexed by Will Foster not playing his usual role of eating up minutes and giving Rob a breather.  As a group, those two were by far the only thing to really be excited about today.  I'm anxious for Steven Gray to be the featured play next year but today wasn't the best example of why I'm pumped.

The loss will sting for some time.  You're probably going to get crap from friends, colleagues, etc but there is still plenty to be proud of this year.  Mark Few led a "rebuilding" team to a 27-7 record, Rob Sacre developed, Elias Harris showed that he is a star, and the rest of the young players showed they have plenty of talent to mold.  It will be interesting to see how and if Mark Few chooses to attack the remaining 2010 recruiting class or whether he holds off.  I'd love to add one more scorer to add into the mix on the outside as I think Sam Dower is going to be a huge boost to the front court.  Don't sleep on Samuel.

We'll be back soon with more thoughts, season recaps, and all that sadness that comes with no more basketball in Spokane.  As for now feel free to vent, cry, or do whatever you need to do, in this thread.