For the first time in 20 years, the Michigan basketball program will appear in the Final Four. The opponent is fellow 4-seed Syracuse and opening tip is scheduled for 8:49 eastern time. The game will air on CBS.
Now that you know the who and when, it’s time to dig into this matchup. For the first time in NCAA tournament history, two #4 seeds will square off.
Michigan started their tourney run by skinning the 13-seed SDSU Jackrabbits and blowing past #5 VCU. Michigan then put everyone on notice with a stirring comeback in the Sweet 16 against 1-seed Kansas. Michigan trailed by double-digits late in the game, fought back to force overtime, and eventually upended the Jayhawks. There was no looking back two days later as Michigan roughed up a helpless Florida Gators (3 seed) team, 79-59.
Syracuse has faced a very similar road to the Final Four. They kicked things off by demoralizing the 13-seeded Montana Grizzlies. In the round of 32, the Orange nipped 12-seed Cal by a final of 66-60, which would prove to be their most difficult matchup so far. In the Sweet 16, Jim Boeheim’s vaunted zone defense suffocated the #1 seeded Indiana Hoosiers on their way to an 11-point victory. Syracuse punched their ticket to Atlanta by taking out Big East rival Marquette (3 seed) in the Elite 8, 55-39.
The Wolverines have gone as Trey Burke and Mitch McGary have gone in this tournament. Offensively, Michigan has the type of attack that can overcome Syracuse’s defensive scheme. McGary’s presence on the glass has helped Michigan put up consistently strong rebounding performances throughout their tournament run.
Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas have had moments of impressive offensive contributions throughout the tournament. Having either one of these guys get hot against Syracuse would be a huge lift.
Tim Hardaway, Jr. has had a decent but unspectacular tournament. He hasn’t shot the ball well since the VCU game (7-24 overall and 2-8 from deep). When TH2 is hot, Michigan is a very difficult team to stop.
Defensively, Michigan has played better of late, particularly against VCU and Florida. The first half against Kansas brought back memories of some of the disappointing moments from the 2nd half of the Big 10 season. Michigan has to avoid a defensive letdown of any significant stretch of time to make it to Monday.
Syracuse ranked 20th in the nation in rebounding and turnover margin throughout the year. They win games by frustrating their opponent into mistakes and making up for their less than spectacular offense by creating 2nd chance opportunities.
Syracuse’s offense is led by four players that averaged in double-digits throughout the year. CJ Fair led the way at 14.3 ppg followed by senior Brandon Triche at 13.7. James Southerland poured in 13.5 while sophomore standout Michael Carter-Williams averaged 12.1 per game.
Syracuse is a team of athletic swingmen, which is exactly the kind of team that has given Michigan fits over the past several seasons, this one included. They will attack the interior of Michigan’s defense and try to break Stauskas and Robinson down off the dribble at every opportunity.
Trey Burke v. the Syracuse zone – Watching Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell try to penetrate this zone defense was not pretty. Burke is clearly superior to any other point guard in the nation and should be well equipped to find the soft spots and set up his shooters for open 3’s and McGary for more wide open layups. If Burke gets rattled into some early turnovers, Michigan will be worried.
Mitch McGary v. Syracuse’s swingmen – DaJuan Coleman is the only Orange player who can come close to matching up with McGary’s beef down low. The problem is he only plays 12 minutes per game. Boeheim will be relying on his skinny wing players to disrupt the havoc McGary has been wreaking since the SDSU game. John Beilein has to be licking his chops.
Syracuse’s swingmen v. Hardaway/Robinson/Stauskas – While Syracuse will feature a zone, Michigan will go almost exclusively man-to-man. Hardaway has held his own on the defensive end of the floor this year. Robinson has made some steals but in one-on-one situations has struggled. And Stauskas has been ineffective all year long on ‘d’. If Syracuse can take free run at the rim all game long and finish with efficiency, which is very probable, this should be a battle from the opening tip.
This should be a doozy. Michigan is playing for a chance to raise just their 2nd National Championship banner in school history (1989). Syracuse has executed their game plan flawlessly throughout the tourney. Trey Burke seems to be putting the finishing touches on a magical season.
To me, that’s the difference. If I see one guy who has the ability to prevent his team from losing, it’s Burke. He will not go down without a fight. Expect Michigan to do just enough from the perimeter to pull out a tight one.
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