Ahead of Gonzaga's Sweet 16 showdown with that pesky orange team from the north east, we broke down some of Syracuse's film to see what we should expect on Friday night.
Syracuse's 2-3 zone differs from others of its ilk because it requires the forwards to extend further up on the wings than is the norm. It essentially starts as a 4-1 zone, allowing the forwards to instantly cover passes into the wings and trap when the guard rotates over from the top, or hand off the offensive player and drop lower into the post. With this scheme, it comes as no surprise to see that Syracuse only allows opponents to convert 30.4% (11th in the country) of three-point attempts.
Gonzaga will want to run as much offense through the high post as possible, which is nice since we have the personnel to do so. Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis are both excellent passers, and Gonzaga runs some of the nicest high-post action in college ball. With Wiltjer's ability to hit deep from 3, the Zags could extend the "high post" from its traditional locale at the free throw line, all the way to the top of the 3. This is ideal since Wiltjer's height allows him to see over the top of the defense, and creates a better passing angle into the post. Our guards would then be freed up to overload the zone and/or sit/slash from the corners. If the Syracuse guards sit back, Wiltjer will be free to shoot over the top at his pleasure. If/when Syracuse has had enough of Wiltjer killing them and decide to play further up, there will be a lot more space for Domas to go to work in the restricted area.
On the other side of the ball, Syracuse loves to fire up 3-pointers. They have a 3PA/FGA ratio of 43.1% which is 30th in the nation. Despite their proclivity to shoot the long ball, they're simply average at converting these shots as they shoot 36.2% from deep (108th in the country).
With the athletic rangy players they tend to recruit for their defense, Syracuse is pretty good at punishing opposing teams when they beat defenders off the dribble. Since Jim Boeheim loosened the reins on Michael Gbinije, the Orange have become a much more dynamic team on offense.
The Orange run a fair amount of dribble-drive motion offense, spreading the floor and rotating when someone drives to the paint. If the driver consistently gets penetration and forces the defense to have to collapse on him, the off-ball offensive players will have opportunities to shift into open spaces for open shots if the ball gets kicked back out. This system puts a lot of pressure on the defense to keep their man in front of them and communicate effectively on rotations.
The dribble-drive offense provides a lot of temptation to simply devolve into a lot of iso-ball. The onus will be on Gonzaga's defenders to take away the kick out and force Syracuse to make tough shots in isolation.
Gonzaga's keys to victory will be effectively running high-low and weak-side drops with Wiltjer and Sabonis on offense. Slashers like Eric McClellan, Silas Melson, and Kyle Dranginis should have plenty of opportunities to do damage from the corners and in. On defense, the Zags must control Michael Gbinije and communicate on rotations and screens. Fortunately, the Bulldogs have had several days to prepare for this game, and there should be a clear plan on when to help, and where it should come from.
The Zags have the right personnel to take out Syracuse. Now they just have to go out and do it.