I am absolutely stoked about tonight’s game between Syracuse and Michigan. Not only does it feature a pair great of teams that have been absolutely on fire in the NCAAs, it also should be a classic offense vs. defense matchup. Here are three things I will have an eye on during the battle tonight:
1. How will Michigan deal with Cuse’s zone?
I think this is the question on everybody’s mind. Syracuse’s zone has flummoxed many a great offensive team this year and has looked virtually impossible to score on in the tourney thus far. The final scores of Syracuse’s last few games attest to that. Montana, a very efficient offensive team, managed only 34 points against the vaunted 2-3 zone in the first round. Then Cuse then held Cal to 60 points in the second round before holding the Indiana Hoosiers, maybe the country’s best offensive team, to a season-low 50 points in the sweet 16. In the elite eight, Marquette had no answer to the zone, managing only 39 points and shooting under 23% from the field. Is Michigan the team that will finally find the key to scoring on Jim Boeheim’s defense? The Wolverines may seem like likely candidates, having scored 70+ in every game so far in the tourney, but I’m not so sure. Indiana couldn’t do it. Will Michigan?
2. Who will win the point guard matchup?
If you like high quality point guard play, this is the game for you. Michigan’s Trey Burke and Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams are both elite college point guards and top NBA prospects. (Both are considered likely top-10 picks in the 2013 NBA Draft if they decide to declare.) Michigan’s Burke is a quintessential passer-scorer who puts up nearly 19 points and 7 assists per game. His state line is phenomenal (he shoots 46% from the field, 38% from the arc, and only turns it over 2.2 times per game) but more special is his clutch play down the stretch of games, which was on full display in the closing seconds of regulation against KU in the sweet 16 when Burke splashed a ridiculously deep three to send the game into OT. Carter-Williams is an equally special 1 (he also wears the number one). Standing at 6-6, Carter-Williams does just about everything well on the basketball court. He uses his length to lead Syracuse’s suffocating defense and is also an able rebounder. On offense he has a remarkable handle, can shoot and drive, is remarkably adept at getting to the charity stipe, and puts up big assists numbers. He hands out 7.4 dimes per game. Carter-Williams was huge against Indiana in the sweet 16, scoring 24 for the Orange. He may need to come up big again for Syracuse to get a chance to play on Monday night.
3. What will the game’s tempo look like?
One of the main things that Syracuse’s zone does is slow offenses down. It forces teams to work extremely hard to get good shots. Michigan’s offense is designed to fly. Utilizing elite level athletes, Michigan has scored more than 80 points 12 times this year and has only been held under 60 four times. Tonight’s game will see Syracuse trying to slow the game and Michigan trying to speed it up. If one of them prevails in winning the tempo battle, that team will have a good chance of winning.