Syracuse V. Michigan: The Tale Of The Tape
Michigan and Syracuse -- 8:49 p.m. WWNY 7News -- does have the feel of a heavyweight championship fight. That could be due to the other semifinal game, major underdog Wichita State battling top overall seed Louisville. But the atmosphere surrounding the Wolverines and Orange has everyone's attention, mostly because of how dominant the two teams have been throughout the tournament.
Just look at the tale of the tape: Through four tourney games, Michigan's offense is generating nearly 79 points a game, good for the second most behind Louisville's 80 points per game average. And it's how the Wolverines are scoring that is the truly scary part. As a team, Michigan (30-7), which commits the least amount of turnovers of any team in the country, is shooting nearly 50% from the field - with corner jump shots and three pointers from Trey Burke and company raining down on opposing defenses. An offense that hits shots and doesn't turn the ball over, something that could be an answer to the riddle that has been Syracuse's 2-3 zone.
But just the same, that zone could be the counterpunch to Michigan's potent offense. Syracuse is holding opponents to 37% shooting from the field and an anemic 15% from three point range. Even more startling, through four tourney games, teams are averaging just 0.72 points per possession against the Orange. Both Indiana and Marquette combined to tally just 89 points total against the Orange last weekend. The zone is almost like a series of jabs to the opponents' body - dizzying and confusing and painful. Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche on top of the zone are helping Syracuse collect 11 steals a game. Syracuse's big men, like Baye Keita (1.8) and Rakeem Christmas (1.3), are helping the Orange swat away over 6 blocks per game.
Of course, Michigan's Nick Stauskas (45%) is one of the best three point shooters in the nation, and is one of the many Wolverines who could force Syracuse to extend its zone. That could free up space for Mitch McGary for open looks at the basket. One team swings for the face, the other punches at the open mid-section.
And really, this pre-title bout that is focused on two teams' strengths, one with a freighting offense the other with a suffocating defense, may actually come down to two prize-fighter players. Point guard v. point guard. Burke is considered a can't-miss NBA prospect. Carter-Williams is still thought by many, despite ups and downs during the season, to be a lottery pick in June's draft.
If Burke, who is averaging 15.5 points and 7.8 assists per tournament game, is able to get comfortable against Syracuse, it could be a long night for the Orange. And just the same, if Carter-Williams gets comfortable on defense and uses his size advantage on offense, Michigan may be the ones hitting the canvas first. But unlike those other hyped fights of the past, this time there will not be a rematch. The winner advances, earning the right to play for the NCAA championship Monday. The loser's season comes to an end. Forty minutes of battle for two of college basketball's heavyweight contenders.