In the most anticipated matchup of this weekend’s Final Four festivities, two of college basketball’s most prestigious programs meet up in what should be a battle for the ages. Trey Burke and the Michigan Wolverines matchup against Michael Carter-Williams and the Syracuse Orange at the Super Dome in the ATL.
Both teams came into the season extremely hot as Syracuse knocked off No. 1 Louisville on their way to a 18-1 start and a No. 3 ranking, cooling off before entering March Madness. On their road to the Final Four, ‘Cuse has used its stifling 2-3 zone to hold opponents to under 46 points per game (vs. Montana, Cal, Indiana and Marquette) throughout tournament play. For Syracuse, it marks their first trip to the Final Four since winning the 2003 National Championship behind 21 points from ‘Melo and 18 points on six three-pointers from Gerry McNamara.
The Wolverines have traveled on a similar path to Atlanta, winning 20 of their first 21 and claiming the No. 1 spot along the way for the program’s first time since C-Webb and Jalen started rocking baggy shorts and black socks. John Beilein‘s squad has put together an extremely impressive run, showing their resilience in a comeback win over a highly favored Kansas Jayhawks and riding their momentum into a dominating win over Florida. While Syracuse’s run has been fueled behind their pestering defense, the crew from Ann Arbor has relied on their high powered offense to carry them.
In preparation for this weekend’s big matchup, we take a look at what ‘Cuse and the U of M bring to the table as they attempt to punch their ticket for a shot at the national title.
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The Syracuse Orange (30-9, 71.3 points per game)
Tournament Record: 56-35
Final Fours: 4
MCW is a dynamic point guard who has seen his NBA stock skyrocket throughout Syracuse’s postseason run. His 6-6, 175-pound frame has disrupted opponent’s offensive strategies throughout the tournament thus far and poses matchup problems against smaller and less athletic guards. Carter-Williams does it all and is at his best when getting into the lane as he has the ability to finish in traffic and drop dimes. Described as “one of the best all-around players that [Boeheim's] ever coached,” MCW has the ability to fill up the stat sheet in all categories, witnessed by his 12-point, eight-rebound, six-assist output against Marquette. While his 24 points versus Indiana were certainly impressive, when Syracuse’s floor general has his handprints on all aspects of the Orange’s attack, Jim Boeheim‘s team is in good hands. As if trying to win a national championship and increasing his NBA stock wasn’t enough motivation, playing for his family, whose house recently burned down, gives MCW a lot more reason to ball out this coming weekend then the next guy.
The Syracuse program has always hung its hat on the defensive end throughout the Jim Boeheim era. The 2-3 zone will forever be the Orange’s identity and this year’s squad has made their living off of forcing their opponents into low shooting percentages and creating fast-break opportunities for themselves off of their overpowering defensive pressure. With Carter-Williams and his length wreaking havoc alongside physical wings Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair, the Orange posses an intimidating presence on the defensive end. Must I reiterate that this same 2-3 zone has only allowed 45.75 points per game in the tournament thus far? After holding Marquette to only 39 points in the Elite Eight, its safe to say that ‘Cuse’s defensive strategy has a knack for taking opponents out of their comfort zone.
The Michigan Wolverines (30-7, 75.2 points per game)
Tournament Record: 43-22
Final Fours: 6
Their Offensive Machine
Michigan comes into Atlanta with four out of five starters averaging double figures with Trey Burke leading the attack at 19.2 points and 6.8 assists per game. With Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.6 points per game) and Glenn Robinson III (11.0) balling like Monstars that stole their father’s talent, and Nik Stauskas (6-for-6 from three vs Florida) catching fire from three-point land like Charizard, the Wolverines’ might be the hottest team out of the four remaining. After defeating Kansas behind 23 points from Trey Burke, Michigan put up 47 points in the first half against Florida, which was the Gators most points allowed in a half all season. The Wolverines are battle-tested and ready to put their high octane offense on display in Atlanta this weekend.
The Emergence of Mitch McGary
If you were wondering why Mitch McGary is the only starter that hasn’t averaged double-figures throughout the season, it’s because he was just inserted into the starting lineup in the round of 64. However, McGary has looked like a young David Lee on the hardwood during Michigan’s postseason run and made up for his regular season absence by posting averages of 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game on an astounding 73.3 percent shooting. All I can ask is why the Hell wasn’t this nimble, 6-10, 250-pound future NBA stud not starting in the first place?
In what I believe will be an extremely close contest of polar opposites, Michigan’s high powered offense will successfully locate the seams in Syracuse’s zone, granting them a date with the winner of Louisville/Wichita State in the National Championship game. While the Orange’s zone has posed problems for all of its opponents throughout the tournament, Michigan’s ability to go inside-out with McGary and Burke, along with the hot shooting of Stauskas and scoring depth that Hardaway and Robinson provide will prove to be too much in the end for Jim Boeheim’s club.
Who will win this game?
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