Syracuse faces Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 on Friday night, in a game between two of the most consistent programs of the last decade in college basketball.
The Bulldogs are playing in their 18th consecutive Big Dance (and a 17th under current head coach Mark Few), while the Orange have made seven of the last eight under Jim Boeheim. This year, both are double-digit seeds, with the Orange as the Midwest Region's No. 10 seed and the Zags as the region's No. 11.
One of these teams is going to the Elite Eight, but it's hard to call either a Cinderella. Both programs have been too consistent for too long to take on any real underdog status. Yet, each has had to overcome struggles to get this far. Gonzaga might well have missed the tournament altogether if it hadn't beaten top-seeded Saint Mary's in the WCC Tournament this month, and Syracuse was one of the final at-large teams to get a ticket.
Gonzaga boasts an equally solid offense and defense. The Bulldogs rank 23rd in the country in adjusted efficiency on both sides of the ball, bolstered on offense by strong post scoring and free throw-making ability. Forwards Kyle Wiltjer and Damontis Sabonis combine for a ridiculous 38 points and 18 rebounds per game. Guards Eric McClellan and Josh Perkins each average double-figure scoring from the backcourt, and guard Kyle Dranginis rounds out a current starting lineup that is 16-3 on the season.
Syracuse's road ahead is clearly paved with defense. The Orange don't even have a top-50 offense, but they have a top-25 defense. Forward Tyler Lydon (54 blocks) is one of the tournament's most formidable interior defenders, and the Orange have held teams to an impressive 30 percent three-point shooting clip for the season. The Zags have a good offense, but points won't come easily against Boeheim's defense.
The Bulldogs are a narrow favorite.
How to watch
Who: No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. No. 10 Syracuse Orange
Where: United Center, Chicago
When: 9:40 p.m. ET
Online: NCAA March Madness Live
Radio: Westwood One
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March Madness: Does 11-seed Gonzaga still qualify as a Cinderella story?
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