The second matchup tonight in Atlanta might be a pair of teams that nearly no one picked in their brackets to meet, but calling it an “improbable” matchup would be a bit disingenuous. Both Syracuse and Michigan were ranked as #2 in the country at a point in this topsy-turvy season (Michigan reaching #1 briefly). Both teams were within a game of winning their respective conferences, easily the two best conferences in the country, and both have as much or more pro-level talent than some of the higher seeded foes they’ve left on the roadside like Kansas and Indiana.
In short, this is a really, really good game.
So who comes out ahead tonight? Can Michigan’s athletic sharp-shooters melt the Syracuse vaunted zone, or will Boehiem continue to baffle the field and slay yet another Big Ten giant en route to his fourth national championship game?
Let’s take a look at tonight’s matchup and break down the game.
Michigan Wolverines -1.5 vs. Syracuse Orange
This game is as close to a pick ‘em as you can get, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the margin of the game end up much wider than the spread either way. It really comes down to one simple question – can Michigan knock down shots against the zone? If they can, they’ll win. If they don’t, they could get run out the gym ala Indiana.
My hunch is that they DO shoot well and win tonight. Michigan may be young, but they showed no ill-effects of youth so far in this tournament. Their floor general, sophomore Trey Burke, has been the second best player in the tournament (Russ Smith, MOP), and has undoubtedly the best seven minute stretch of the tourney in the end of regulation on overtime against Kansas. He has been hitting big shots and making good decisions with the basketball which has allowed players like Nick Stauskas and Tim Hardaway to thrive.
Michigan also has a few TALL shooters in Hardaway and Robinson who fit the 2-3 matchup zone much more naturally than the personnel of say, Indiana. The thing that crippled the Hoosiers was the lack of a big second guard defensively (they slaughtered poor Jordy Hulls on the defensive end all night long) and an effective player in the high post (that isn’t Zeller’s wheelhouse). I think both Glenn Robinson III and Hardaway, Jr. can do some damage in that role.
To top it off, has there been a bigger breakout star than Michigan’s big freshman Mitch McGary? His ability to get second shots and clean up around the rim has been enormous. That’s the final weakness of a 2-3 matchup zone – weakside rebounding. Michigan matches up well in every important area tonight, as well as every area in which a zone defense, even an athletic hyrid-matchup zone like Syracuse’s is vulberable.
Just like Syracuse was a bad matchup for Marquette, Michigan is a real bad matchup for the ‘Cuse. Michael Carter Williams has been splendid, and is coming off a career-high in the regional final with 24 points. I like him to play well again tonight, and don’t be surprised if Michigan has to use one of the wing player to guard him and switch Trey Burke over to Triche (or even zone the zoners…).
But at the end of the day, I don’t think Syracuse has the same firepower as Michigan. If the Wolverines make shots, and I think they will judging by how well they shot in cavernous Cowboy Stadium, the Georgia Dome shouldn’t faze them one bit, they should win the game.
Give me the Wolverines to meet Louisville in an exciting Final matchup.
Free Pick: Michigan Wolverines -1.5