Heading into Friday night’s Sweet Sixteen matchup against Gonzaga, it’s not much of a secret that a key to the game will be stopping the big, talented frontline of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis. But when you really look at the stats, you start to notice that the need for the Orange forwards to step up is nothing new. Throughout the year, the trend has been that as Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon go, so go the Orange.
You might actually think that the team rises and falls on the backs of players like Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney, and Malachi Richardson, and to a degree that’s not wrong. But in wins this season, Gbinije has averaged 17.9 points, Richardson 13.2, and Cooney 13.0. In losses? Those numbers barely take a dip, down to 17.5 for Gbinije, 13.0 for Richardson, and 12.3 for Cooney.
The biggest dip for any of the trio, and perhaps the biggest difference between wins and losses from a guard standpoint may be Gbinije’s three point percentage. In wins, Silent G shoots 45.1% from deep, and in losses, that number goes down to 35.5%. But Richardson and Cooney? They’re far more consistent in wins and losses, believe it or not. Cooney hits 36.2% from deep in wins, compared to 33% in losses. Richardson’s numbers are nearly identical to that, hitting 36.4% in victories and 33% in losses.
Obviously, there are more factors that go into winning and losing, but from the team’s top three scorers, there’s very little – if any – difference in production whether the Orange win or lose.
Where you start to note a much bigger difference, however, is in production from the two Tylers. In the team’s 21 victories this year, Roberson averages 9.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, shooting 54.1% from the field. In the 13 losses? Those numbers dip down to 8.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 50% shooting. Lydon, meanwhile, scores 11.7 points and grabs 7.3 boards while shooting 46.3% from beyond the arc in victories, but his numbers drop significantly in losses – averaging 8.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, and shooting just 30% from long range in those 13 games.
The biggest concern there is obviously the rebounding numbers, particularly as the Orange take on a Gonzaga team that ranks 19th in the country in total rebounds, including fourth in defensive rebounding. Simply put, the Zags don’t give up many second chance opportunities, which is going to be crucial tomorrow night since the Orange tend to do a lot of damage on second and third opportunities.
The size advantage tomorrow certainly goes to Gonzaga, with Sabonis and Wiltjer each coming in at around 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds. Sabonis, you’ve aware by now, is a double-double machine, averaging 17.5 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. Wiltjer, meanwhile, scores 20.4 points and pulls down 6.4 rebounds per game (and also shoots 43.2% from beyond the arc – and that’s with him being by far the most prolific long range shooter on the roster, too).
The good news for Syracuse is that Roberson and Lydon have been playing like men possessed on the glass through two rounds, though obviously they haven’t faced a challenge quite like the one Gonzaga offers up tomorrow night. But while Sabonis and Wiltjer offer superior bulk to the Syracuse forwards, there is one distinct edge for the Orange: athleticism.
Sabonis, to put it mildly, is an underwhelming athlete. Wiltjer is a mediocre athlete at best, meaning that while they can body up and potentially overpower Syracuse’s forwards, Roberson and Lydon are vastly more athletic and should be able to use their length, quickness, and explosiveness to their advantage. Roberson in particular should be able to use his superior athleticism to beat Gonzaga players to the ball, which is something he’s going to need to do – while staying out of foul trouble – if the Orange want to knock off Mark Few’s club.
Lydon, on the other hand, is potentially a matchup nightmare for the Zags. With his ability to stretch the floor, whoever winds up guarding him will have to follow him out to the three point line, and if he’s being defended by either Sabonis or, more likely Wiltjer, he’ll have the edge in quickness and should be able to put the ball on the floor and get to the hoop. Lydon has been playing much more aggressively on offense during the early stages of the tournament, and he has a chance to really have a strong offensive game. Gonzaga has big bodies and they’re solid defensively, yes, but they don’t block many shots and their big men lack the lateral quickness to contain Syracuse’s superior athletes on the perimeter.
At this point, we basically know what were going to get from the trio of Gbinje, Cooney, and Richardson. Where the Orange need production against Gonzaga is at the forward position. If Roberson and Lydon can have strong games, the Orange will find themselves in very good position to keep their dancing shoes on for at least one more round.