Nick Baumgarner is a Michigan beat writer for the MLive Media Group in Michigan. I was able to get in touch with Nick for some insight on the Wolverines. Be sure to follow him on Twitter here, and check out MLive for all the latest Michigan Wolverine news.
ITLH: Michigan is coming off of a dominant performance over Florida in a game that was never even close. Nik Stauskas had a career game, and looked very comfortable throughout the afternoon. How surprising was it to see him shoot the ball so well, and do you expect to see this Saturday against the Syracuse?
Nick Baumgardner: It really wasn’t that surprising, as he’s had games like that before (to a degree). Early in the season, he couldn’t miss. He was shooting upwards of 60 percent from 3-point land during non-conference play, but struggled a bit in-season once teams started to get a book on how to defend him. He’s Michigan’s best shooter, and when he gets hot, it can get insane. The key for him is staying mentally in the game. He loses focus on defense, at times, and sometimes it rattles him throughout. But if he’s locked in from the corner, he’ll shoot over anyone — Syracuse included.
ITLH: The Big Ten doesn’t seem to play a lot of zone defense throughout the year. What are Michigan’s experience with a 2-3 zone, and how well equipped do you think they are to deal with it?
Nick Baumgardner: The only team Michigan played that went exclusively 2-3 was Eastern Michigan in December. EMU is coached by Rob Murphy, a former Syracuse assistant. But you can’t compare EMU to Syracuse — that’s a bit ridiculous. The easy answer here is that Michigan hasn’t faced a team that exclusively runs a 2-3 zone. Just hasn’t. Beilein has coached against it for years, as he’s pretty close with Boeheim and knows his system inside and out. I do think, on paper, Michigan has everything it needs to beat a zone — it has length on the perimeter (Indiana didn’t) and it has four guys who can shoot if left open. Trey Burke is always the key, if he can somehow break the zone, Michigan will get open looks. If not, it has to hang in there against a very difficult defense.
ITLH: Trey Burke is phenomenal. As we saw in the Kansas game, he can take a game over at anytime and will his team to victory. What makes him so difficult to guard, and what about him will give Syracuse trouble?
Nick Baumgardner: The way he controls the pace of the game is something no other lead guard in America does. With guys like Russ Smith, it’s 1,000 miles and hour all the time. Other Pgs prefer to slow it down — but Burke is almost ALWAYS in control of the game’s tempo. He sees the floor, he probes in the lane and he almost never turns the ball over. He’s a less athletic Chris Paul, quite frankly. And, he hits shots — as you saw against Kansas.
ITLH: Michigan makes great decisions on their shot selection, and have a great field goal percentage in the NCAA Tournament. What is the main reason for their offensive success, and what will Syracuse have to do to stop it?
Nick Baumgardner: Talent, honestly. Michigan has a boatload of talent on the perimeter in Burke, Hardaway, Stausksas and Robinson. All four of those guys can knock down open 3-pointers, and all four can take defenders off the dribble and get to the basket. Syracuse will have to pack that zone in and make this a halfcourt game. If it’s a track meet, I think Michigan has its way.
ITLH: Lets hear your prediction. Vegas has Michigan as a slight favorite heading in to the game this weekend, with the Wolverines being anywhere from a 1.5 to a 2.5 point favorite. WhoYaGot?!
Nick Baumgardner: Tough call, really tough call. I like both of these teams a lot, and both are playing their best basketball right now. Vegas has Michigan by about a point, I’ll take that action — I think Michigan wins the game, but barely, 68-66.