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While their Elite 8 games weren't all that fun to watch, each of these teams proved their dominance over their respective regions with convincing wins. On the heels of a come from behind overtime win over Kansas, Michigan destroyed Florida from the start with a 13-0 run at the beginning of the game. The Wolverines are firing on all cylinders and will be a scary team to face. Syracuse may be equally scary with how well their defense is playing after they shutdown Indiana to 50 points and Marquette to 39, as they swept through the East region. It's going to be quite the showdown in the Atlanta.
Michigan's offense is playing as well as anyone's has all season as they've averaged 78.8 points in their four tournament games. With games against Kansas and Florida, two of the best rated defenses in the country, that's really impressive. Syracuse did the same thing to their opponents except on the defensive end allowing just 45.8 points per game in the tourney. One of those wins included Indiana who had one of the best and most consistent offenses all season. So, what's going to happen when these two powers meet? The bettors are leaning on the offensive side as the Wolverines come in as -2.5 point favorites.
The funny thing about Michigan's run is that it isn't even Trey Burke that's been the main talking point. It's been Mitch McGary who wasn't even a starter during the regular season. McGary is now averaging a double-double and 30 minutes per game. His dominance in the paint has been a huge reason for the Wolverines success. As for Burke, he hasn't been all that great shooting 35 percent from the field in four games (after he shot 46% during the regular season). Against the Orange zone, that will have to change because that's how Michigan will beat it. Point guards that can pull up and shoot a mid-range jumper is what can hurt the zone. Neither Indiana nor Marquette has that kind of a player at the point. Burke fits the bill, but will also need help from his teammates.
Of course, it's also going to help if Nik Stauskas is on fire again. He went 6-for-6 from outside against Florida which changed the entire game and how the Gators had to play defense. If Stauskas and Tim Hardaway Jr. are hitting their shots, it will be that much easier to open up the zone. That's not a given for either player, as Hardaway only went 3-for-13 and Stauskas was struggling before that Florida game. If those two can't hit open shots, their offense will have problems.
You can never really fully prepare for the Syracuse zone and then once you're on the court, it's completely different. Their length and intensity has bench too much to handle for their previous opponents, even against Marquette, a team they already faced once this year.
If Michigan is hitting their shots, penetrating the zone and McGary is finding room to operate, the Syracuse offense will need to step up. They haven't scored that much in their previous games mainly because they've had fewer possessions in their games. When opponents hold the ball for the entire shot clock, they don't get as many chances as Michigan to score.
One thing the Orange will have to do is keep the ball safe. They've had a problem with that all season, but they only had six turnovers against Marquette which helped a lot in their win. Michael Carter-Williams is a handful to stop. When he's driving, he's at his best as he can either go for the layup or pass it out James Southerland and Brandon Triche for an open trey. But also, he isn't Aaron Craft, you have to guard his shot because he has been shooting well lately. Florida tried to use Erik Murphy's size to their advantage against Michigan, but it backfired and he couldn't hit a shot. Syracuse might do the same with James Southerland as he will likely get Glenn Robinson III or Nik Stauskas on him to start. Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita will play important roles as they will have to deal with McGary down low. Their main task will be not allowing McGary to get any open shots.
This should be a very fun game to watch and hopefully will be closer than what we've seen so far. The Syracuse zone will get a real test with Burke and company, but Michigan will also have to stay strong on the defensive end as Syracuse is no slouch offensively.
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