|30-7||12-6||T-4th Big Ten||76||63||49%||39%||71%||Won 4|
|30-9||11-7||5th Big East||71||59||44%||34%||68%||Won 4|
Tip-time (EST): 8:49 p.m. (CBS)
Location: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
All-time series: Syracuse leads 8-5. Syracuse defeated Michigan 53-50 when the two teams last squared off at the Legends Classic (November 2010). The schools have never met in the NCAA tournament.
Coaching history. John Beilein is 0-9 all-time against Jim Boeheim, dating back to his tenure at Le Moyne College — a D-2 school nestled in Central New York, just four miles outside Syracuse. Although Beilein never faced Boeheim during his time at Le Moyne, he racked up a pair of losses to the Hall of Fame coach at Richmond, six more at West Virginia and one at Michigan.
Nik Stauskas sweet spot vs. 2-3 black hole. In conference and tournament games, the freshman Michigan sharpshooter has nailed 23 of his 42 3-point attempts (55%) from the left corner, but just 18 of 65 (28%) from all other zones behind the arc. Bad news for Stauskas: his hotspot coincides with the darkest black hole in the SU defense. Opponents are shooting just 17% from the left corner 3 against Syracuse this season (19% in the NCAA tournament). Florida vacated Stauskas’ sweet spot, leaving the sniper all alone to load and launch in his preferred zone. CJ Fair, SU’s top baseline defender, won’t be so charitable.
You don’t really beat this zone by shooting over the top. Myth-busting time. The way to beat SU’s 2-3 is not from 25-feet. Teams are shooting just 28% from 3-point range against Syracuse this season, the third best mark among Division-1 defenses nationwide. The seven teams who beat Syracuse this season (Georgetown and Louisville each defeated the Orange twice) shot 33% (63-of-190 combined) from 3-point range. Only two teams — Connecticut and Georgetown — shot better than40-percent from the perimeter. The one common thread in beating Syracuse: defense. The Orange shot worse than 40-percent from the floor in seven of the team’s nine losses.
Does Michigan know this? Beilein implemented a new drill for his perimeter players during Michigan’s final walk-through before Saturday’s game. Whichever Wolverine had the ball when the whistle sounded had to jack up a shot, even if he was five feet behind the arc. Not quite the strategy advanced statistics suggest the Maize n Blue should follow. Beilein’s offense is customarily built around shooters, and this is one of his best long-range shooting teams to date (38.5%). But Indiana wielded an even better 3-point shooting team during the season, all for naught against Syracuse. The Hoosiers only sunk three treys in their Sweet 16 loss to the Orange, thanks in equal measure to a flimsy game plan, an undersized backcourt and a freshman point guard who couldn’t get the ball in the right spots. Michigan won’t have to worry about the latter. In all, SU opponents this tournament are a combined 14-of-91 (15%) from long-range, the lowest mark by a Final Four-bound team since the 3-point line was instituted.
Michigan ball security. The Wolverines sport the lowest turnover rate in the country, committing giveaways on just 12.5-percent of their total possessions. Against Virginia Commonwealth’s staunch full-court press, renowned for creating turnovers, Michigan coughed the ball up just 12 times. The combination of Trey Burke’s poise, the availability of multiple ball-handlers and a basic offensive system contingent upon simple passes off dribble-penetration ensures the Wolverines will never beat themselves. They put the onus on their opponent instead.
Syracuse ball thieving. Syracuse is an equal-opportunity takeaway team, and it hasn’t mattered whether or not the opponent takes good care of the basketball. SU has forced a number of relatively mistake-free teams into committing more turnovers than they ordinarily make. Below are the top eight opponents (one repeat opponent) Syracuse played at limiting giveaways. The number in front of the / is how many turnovers the team committed in its game against Syracuse. The second number in back of the / is the team’s turnover average for the season. Only Notre Dame took better care of the ball against the Orange (by two-tenths of a turnover) relative to all other games on its schedule.
Arkansas – 14 / 11.6
Central Connecticut State – 14 / 12.6
Notre Dame – 11 / 11.2
Pittsburgh I – 19 / 11.0
Pittsburgh II – 12 / 11.0
San Diego St – 16 / 12.1
South Florida – 15 / 10.9
St. John’s – 16 / 11.4
Temple – 14 / 10.8
The unsung storyline. Enough about the great Michigan offense versus the great Syracuse defense. Both superpowers will probably meet somewhere in the middle on Saturday, nullifying each other’s signature advantage. Figure Michigan will have its lowest scoring performance of the tournament while the Syracuse defense will allow the most points it has over its last four games. That would put Michigan’s expected scoring output in the 61-70 range. Sounds reasonable.
This game will likely be won or lost by Syracuse’s mediocre offense versus Michigan’s mediocre defense. Overshadowed by an historically great defensive tournament thus far, SU’s half-court offense has been considerably inefficient. The Orange is averaging just 0.91 point per shot in half court possessions, by far the worst clip of any of the four remaining teams. SU is right in line with its seasonal 3-point shooting average since a whooping of Montana in the round of 64. Boeheim’s team has sunk 13 of its 38 attempted treys, and has relied mostly on getting its points from the free throw line or at the rim (by way of Michael Carter-Williams and CJ Fair in particular). Michigan’s defense is soft inside, better on the edge. If Syracuse can get past Michigan’s first line of defense, the Orange should have success scoring points. If not, edge Michigan. SU is not built to win a 3-point shootout.
All eyes are on the Michigan O vs. the Syracuse D, but the score will be settled on the other end of the court.