You saw the headline on Syracuse.com yesterday:
Gonzaga believes it's ready for Syracuse: 'We're not a team that you can zone'
And you probably noticed a few Zags fans puffing out their chest quite a bit in the comment section of Wednesday's Q&A with the Slipper Still Fits.
You've probably seen all the experts pick against the Syracuse Orange, talk about why the Gonzaga Bulldogs have the perfect solution for the 2-3 zone and (again) why we have no business being in the Sweet 16 anyway.
Again, that's great. And we're sorry.
But is anyone else confused how we've arrived at this specific juncture?
Once you get in the NCAA Tournament, history doesn't matter. Conferences don't matter. Head-to-head records don't matter. And what you see on paper doesn't either. So Gonzaga having "Cinderella" experience has no impact on what you'll see on the court tonight. Syracuse being a member of the ACC while the Zags hail from the West Coast Conference doesn't either. All that said, it certainly looks like the Bulldogs are embracing their role as the media darling in this matchup... whatever that means.
All the faith and hype and praise seems to have gone to freshman guard Josh Perkins's head a little:
"BYU tried it. Portland tried it. Utah tried it. And it wasn't successful. So we'll see how Syracuse does it. Like I said, man, we're not a team that you can zone. … It's just another defense, another scheme. Our coaches do a great job with game plans. They have a great one tomorrow. You'll see."
/looks up BYU and Portland's rosters and resumes.
Senior star Kyle Wiltjer seemed to couch his confidence a bit. He offered little in terms of what to expect or what they're preparing. He just knows to be prepared for anything.
"They kind of just throw a bunch of stuff at us. We've seen zones before. We don't know how similar it is."
Sophomore Domantas Sabonis (who you should be concerned about) was much more couched in his talk about the zone, as was senior Kyle Dranginis.
"Teams tried against us. But theirs is nothing compared to the Syracuse zone. Theirs is very good. They do a good job taking away 3s, and doing a good job compacting inside, making it hard to get touches."
"They're very aggressive in it. They're not just sitting in the zone waiting for you to make a mistake. They're trying to heat you up, speed you up and get into passing lanes. That's a little different. They have long athletic guys as well. It's going to be a test."
Thankfully for the Zags, their seniors seem to be level-headed enough to avoid the tough talk. I mean, if BYU and Portland are your barometers for what a zone looks like, you'll be in a world of hurt when you step on that floor against Syracuse. Same goes for using practice squad guys. I'm surprised we didn't hear about them using brooms to similar the Orange's length, as other teams have done in the past.
At the end of the day, the talk largely falls on one player in Perkins. And the game plan seems unlikely to pay much mind to him or the rest of the guards anyway. Syracuse will have to slow down at least one of Wiltjer and Sabonis in order to grab a victory. And whether or not Perkins is scared of the zone or not matters very little.
But at the same time, this is when Jim Boeheim the tactitian could arrive and grab that final piece of fodder for the Orange. No, he's never been a big bulletin board guy. However, he's been someone that knows the right buttons to push. This team prides itself on its defense. Perhaps this is the remark -- no matter how innocuous -- that puts the fire in the right Orange player to have a career game.
Or maybe not.
Either way, we'll know for sure if Gonzaga is a "team you can zone" by night's end.