BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A quick glance at the two second-round games on tap here Sunday:
Syracuse vs. Gonzaga
Key to the game: How Gonzaga handles the Syracuse zone will be critical. The Zags are an excellent shooting team, connecting at nearly 50 percent from the floor. They shot well against Florida State, one of the top defensive teams in the country, in the first round. But FSU isn’t Syracuse. Beating the zone requires patience and a willingness to make the extra pass every single possession.
“The only way you’re going to beat that thing, the teams that have done that, have stepped up and made shots,’’ coach Mark Few said. “We won’t go away from that. I think all of our guys will be key tomorrow.’’
Player(s) to watch: Robert Sacre and Elias Harris. How the big men play for Gonzaga will be critical. Without Arinze Onuaku, Syracuse will roll out a considerably smaller lineup, which should give the Zags an advantage. The two big men could wear out or foul out Rick Jackson, forcing little-used freshman DaShonte Riley into serious minutes. But even more, the two bigs will need to be effective inside to crack the Syracuse zone. Their ability to double-up on Florida State – each had 13 – opened the game up for the Bulldogs.
Who has the edge: This could be a lot closer than people think but I believe the Orange, even as squeezed as they are without Onuaku, will win this one. They are capable of getting up and down when they need to, but can always call on their zone defense as a neutralizer. Besides, who from Gonzaga is going to handle Wes Johnson?
Missouri vs. West Virginia
Key to the game: Whenever Missouri takes the court, its pressure is always the key. The Tigers scored 20 points off turnovers against Clemson and 22 on fast breaks. Because Missouri is so good at not making mistakes itself -- it boasts the second-best turnover margin in the country -- limiting errors is critical. West Virginia can’t get baited into playing at the Tigers’ frenetic pace and absolutely has to keep the game in the halfcourt.
“We’re going to need everybody to help,’’ WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “They use their bench, so we’re going to have to use our bench. We understand that. But the other thing, in all honesty, timeouts in this tournament are about an hour and a half, so you have a lot of time to catch your breath.’’
Player to watch: Joe Mazzulla. He doesn’t start at point for the Mountaineers, but for the past three games he has logged more minutes than Truck Bryant. He’s a steadying presence and West Virginia will need every bit of his calm against the Tigers’ pressure. In a high-intensity Big East tournament title game, he played flawlessly, dishing out seven assists in 29 minutes. He didn’t commit a single turnover. He’ll need all of that and more against the Tigers.
Who has the edge: Tough call here but I’ll lean toward Mizzou (slightly). The Tigers played with perfectly contained freneticism against Clemson and could really be disruptive against a West Virginia team that doesn’t have great ballhandlers to begin with.