The talk has been the same all week and will remain that way right up until game time (and probably through the final whistle) – Michigan’s offense against Syracuse’s defense. The Wolverines have scored 1.15 points per possession in the NCAA Tournament while the Orange are only surrendering .72 points per possession in tournament play. Looking at a full season’s worth of data and you find that Michigan’s offense is the best in the country when adjusted for efficiency (1.21 PPP), while Syracuse’s defense is ranked fifth (.85 PPP).
Throughout this week Play For The Garden has broken-down the major aspects of the game. You can read the back court analysis here, front court analysis here and coaches analysis here, but in short these were the conclusions:
Back court – slight edge to Michigan
Front court – slight edge to Syracuse
Coaching – Syracuse
Why Michigan will win:
While everyone is looking at how well their offense has been playing, it is their play on the defensive end that has been most surprising in the NCAA Tournament. All season long defense has been a significant weakness of the Wolverines as this was a team that lost to Penn State, the bottom dwellers of the Big 10, by giving up 80+ points. However, in the tournament they are holding opponents to just 0.93 points per possession and have beaten some pretty darn good scoring teams along the way. Syracuse’s scoring comes in fits and starts, so even if Michigan is having a difficult time against the 2-3 zone, they should be able to limit the Orange’s output to keep it a close, but low scoring affair, and squeak out the victory.
Why Syracuse will win:
As noted above with Michigan’s offense, most will be looking to Syracuse’s defense to win them the game. The Orange played excellent defense against Marquette in that ugly ugly Elite 8 game, and they were able to get by with little offense (only scored 55 points in the win). But that type of performance will not cut it against the Wolverines. Michael Carter-Williams is going to have to be the facilitator that he is and not the shooter that he sometimes wants to be. He has played excellent this tournament and if he continues to make sound decisions and get into the lane, the offense should open up; creating plenty of open looks for James Southerland, Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair. When these guys are on there isn’t much that can slow them down.
Prediction – Michigan (by a slim margin)
Honestly, this game is a coin flip, but I haven’t been writing about this matchup all week to not pick a side. While both of these teams have had the talent all along, they went through some rough patches throughout the season due to their flaws (Michigan’s defense and Syracuse’s offense). But to most people’s surprise both have righted the ship when it mattered most and persevered to reach the Final Four as 4-seeds.
The edge is given to Michigan because they have the best point guard in the country, Trey Burke, a first team All-American and AP Player of the Year. Indiana struggled mightily against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone because of their point guard play. I recall some people favoring VCU to beat Michigan in the round of 32, but I was fairly confident Burke would handle their ‘havoc’ defense with poise. Which is exactly what happened and the Wolverines cruised to an easy victory. And while Burke has a tendency to settle for too many long-range shots, the week off to prepare and study should do him well. Syracuse’s zone is long, wide and fast, and they will challenge every single shot taken. But the Wolverines have excellent ball movement and tall shooters (Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III), to exploit that. And if Mitch McGary continues to play out of his mind, he could be very problematic for the Orange on both ends of the court as their bigs are impactful due to their size, but aren’t very skilled.
The slight edge favoring Michigan also seems appropriate when considering Syracuse’s offense. Too many times throughout the season they have gone through significant dry spells making it difficult for one to rely on as a determining factor entering a game. However, their defense is the real deal and Michigan will clearly be preparing for it all week long. Prep all they want, it will no way compare to the experience that awaits them come game time. That’s why it’s only a slight edge to Michigan, as this has all the makings of being a great game.