With the Final Four looming, I’m driving myself crazy thinking about the game, and will continue to do so even more on the 18 hour drive to Atlanta tomorrow. So after a lot of thought, I think Syracuse beating Michigan will come down to five key components.
- CJ Fair will need to continue to be CJ Fair- While everyone is praising Michael Carter-Williams and Baye Keita (and rightfully so), CJ Fair is still the most consistent player on this Syracuse team. He creates a mismatch for anyone in the country that tries to guard him, and if he can continue to rebound and be a factor offensively, it will open up space for everyone else while putting pressure on the Michigan defense.
- The zone will have to extend to the Michigan shooters- Michigan’s guards can shoot. There have been numerous occasions of them hitting threes that are extremely deep (most recently Trey Burke against Kansas), and the Syracuse defense can’t give them open looks from deep. The zone is going to extend out farther than normal, and will have to harass these guards and to not give them any good looks. This Syracuse zone is as good as it has ever been, and they should be able to get in the faces of Michigan’s shooters.
- Keep Mitch McGary out of the center of the zone- This is another thing that Syracuse has done tremendously this off season. If the Orange can funnel the ball to McGary in a position where he is not comfortable, it could lead to some Wolverine turnovers, and some Syracuse transition points. While shooters are a good way to fight against the zone, a big man that can pass in the middle of it are even more important in my opinion, and this is going to be key to shutting the Michigan offense down.
- Continue to rebound- Syracuse has been a pretty good rebounding team all season long. While Michigan doesn’t average as many rebounds a game as Syracuse, they also shoot the ball at a higher percentage, so there are less opportunities for rebounds for the Wolverines. Syracuse can’t give up offensive rebounds, and if Michigan can get a lot of second chance points, this will cause more of the zone to collapse on the boards, leading to more kick outs for three.
- Protect the ball- I’m looking at you, Michael Carter-Williams. He has done a tremendous job at protecting the ball this tournament, which has directly led to his incredible play throughout this tournament. He has to continue doing a great job distributing the ball without turning it over, and this will result in him putting out the same numbers that he has been putting out. Barring an absolutely horrid shooting night from the team, the offense will go as MCW goes.
These points are nothing new to anyone reading this article. These are all things that Syracuse has done well throughout the NCAA Tournament, so I guess my point is that the Orange need to continue doing what they have been doing. If Syracuse can do these things, they will be right there to advance to the National Championship game when the final horn sounds.