Mar 14, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange forward James Southerland (43) shoots against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the first half of a quarterfinal game during the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Final Four Breakdown: Syracuse vs. Michigan – Front Court

Leading up to this weekend’s Final Four, Play For The Garden is breaking down the matchup (back court, front court and coaches before looking at the game as a whole) for both Syracuse’s and Louisville’s respective games.

You can read the Syracuse vs. Michigan back court analysis here.

Syracuse Orange:

C.J. Fair (6-foot-8) – 34.8 min/g, 14.3 pts/g, 7.0 reb/g

James Southerland (6-foot-8) – 29.6 min/g, 13.5 pts/g, 5.2 reb/g

Rakeem Christmas (6-foot-9) – 20.8 min/g, 5.1 pts/g, 4.6 reb/g

Baye Keita (6-foot-10) – 16.8 min/g, 3.7 pts/g, 3.8 reb/g

Jerami Grant (6-foot-8) – 14.2 min/g, 3.9 pts/g, 2.8 reb/g

Syracuse’s front court is recognized for its scoring (outside shooting primarily) and excellent defense. The Orange have an almost non-existent low-post presence on offense as Christmas and Keita lack very much skill with the ball; although, Fair does a good job of picking his spots and is excellent on put backs. But for the most part, it is the spot up shooting of Fair and especially Southerland that gives the opposition fits. Fair actually leads the team in 3-point% at 48%, but he has taken 145 less 3s than Southerland (206 to 61 attempts) and James is a very respectable 40% shooter from beyond the arc. Southerland suffers from shooter’s amnesia, never letting previous misses effect his shot selection moving forward. It is a trait that has been very beneficial to the Orange, because when he gets it going he can fill up the scoreboard in a hurry.

On the defensive end, this group, just like the guards up top, is phenomenal. Their comfort level with each other and understanding of the 2-3 zone in conjunction with their size, speed and instincts is one of the best, and it has shown throughout the NCAA Tournament. Christmas starts and usually gets the quick hook even before the first media timeout, making way for Keita, but both do an excellent job of anchoring the low post and are not afraid to use their 10 allotted fouls between them. Syracuse actually has the best block% on defense (19.4% of 2-point shot attempts) in the country. And the forwards do an excellent job of contesting every shot, inside and outside the arc, making the opposition work for every point.

Michigan Wolverines:

Mitch McGary (6-foot-10) – 19.0 min/g, 7.4 pts/g, 6.2 reb/g

Glenn Robinson III (6-foot-6) – 33.5 min/g, 11.0 pts/g, 5.5 reb/g

Jordan Morgan (6-foot-8) – 16.5 min/g, 4.7 pts/g, 4.5 reb/g

Jon Horford (6-foot-10) – 9.1 min/g, 2.8 pts/g, 2.3 reb/g

There have no question been some surprises throughout the NCAA Tournament, but on an individual level, there have been none more meaningful than Mitch McGary. Granted, he has gotten a lot of assistance from the excellent play of his teammates around him, but he has turned it on to another gear in the past two weeks. After averaging less than 20 minutes per game throughout the season he has been logging 30 minutes per game in the NCAA Tournament. And he is a single rebound away in two of their four tournament contests from having a double double in every game. His energy level and improved skill-set has made him a load to compete with on both ends of the court. Also, he pulls down 16.1% of available offensive rebounds, 9th best in the country. And while Glenn Robinson III is a big name and plays 83% of available minutes, his role is rather subdued compared to his teammates on the offensive end. He tends to pick his spots carefully, making him a very efficient scorer when he is putting the ball up.

The Wolverines have come a long way since their Penn St. debacle in late February that saw them surrender 84 points to the Nittany Lions. And while they don’t necessarily do any one thing that well, they are efficient and their size matches up well with Syracuse. It has been the high motor of McGary over the last few games and his willingness to keep competing that has been most effective for the Wolverines in the low post.

The Edge: Syracuse

Mitch McGary has been playing out of his mind and he may very well give the Orange fits, but the way that Syracuse has been playing defense and their ability to quickly collapse as needed, leads me to side with them in this matchup. The 2-3 zone that the Orange employ has a tendency to let up offensive rebounds at a higher than normal rate (they have allowed opponent to capture 34.3% of their misses this season, 279th in the country), and McGary is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country, but it still will be no easy task for him to put it up and score. While on the other end, the shooting capabilities of Fair and Southerland from the outside against what Michigan has on defense is one that Syracuse should feel they have the edge in.

Tags: Basketball C.J. Fair Final Four James Southerland Michigan Wolverines Mitch McGary Primary Syracuse Orange

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