The later game at the Final Four, and the one getting most of the pre-game hype, features two #4 seeds facing off for the first time since the tournament expanded to the current format. Syracuse and Michigan are both teams from power conferences that have had great seasons, but only one will move on to face the winner of the Louisville-Wichita State game (click here for my analysis of that game).
This shapes up to be an intriguing matchup between two teams with plenty of similarities but also some striking differences. The major difference isn’t in the skill level or the pedigree of the players but in the makeup of the rosters. Syracuse’s guards tend to be bigger and longer to make the famed Orange zone most effective. Michigan, on the other hand, has quick scorers who can light up the scoreboard.
Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. have handled the Havoc of VCU and demolished the Florida press in their last game, but they haven’t seen this zone yet. The effectiveness of the Orange zone can be seen on almost every possession, and it translates to some pretty impressive numbers too. They’ve only 45.8 points per game in the tournament and head Montana, Indiana, and Marquette to season-lows in scoring. Cuse has held their opponents to just 29% from the field and has shown the ability to stretch to cover three-pointers as well holding opponents to 14-91 for 15%.
Syracuse will need their defense to shut down the high-scoring offense of Michigan that averaged over 75 points a game this year and has been over 70 in every game in the tournament. Michigan’s offense has been bolstered in their tournament run by the emergence of Mitch McGary as a scoring threat and the three-point assault of Nik Stauskas.
Both teams have multiple weapons on offense and any number of players could end up being the difference. One to watch for sure is the Orange’s James Southerland. Southerland is the best long-range shooter for the ‘Cuse and had his best shooting game against Marquette in the last round. He’s the Orange player who will need to score if the Wolverines start dropping treys. Another emerging Syracuse player to watch is Michael Carter-Williams who has played extremely well throughout the tournament and could have a huge game since the Wolverines guards could struggle to defend his length and quickness.
Michigan can win this game if they can turn it into a high-scoring affair and if Stauskas can stroke the three like he did against Florida. Vegas has the Wolverines as two-point favorites, but I think the Orange are on enough of a roll to get past Michigan and get a rematch with Lousville for the National Title on Monday night.
It will be a great game to watch, but I see the ‘Cuse zone containing the Wolverines and James Southerland providing the offense to keep it close. Ultimately, I think a play or two coming down the stretch make the difference. Give me the Orange in a close one.