The twisted narrative of Saturday’s showcase semifinal has assigned improper credit to the winner and misplaced blame to the loser.
In the interest of accuracy, let’s untangle the confusion. Myth-busting, here we go…
Michigan’s offense did not settle the second of two nip-and-tuck Final Four games. Syracuse’s did, and not to its benefit.
The Wolverines did not dissect SU’s zone. John Beilein’s ingenious game plan was not, well, ingenious, or even uncommon. The Wolverines, too, lived and died from the perimeter (and high post), as so many Syracuse opponents had done before. The notable difference? Michigan was a rare survivor among a graveyard of past casualties.
Michigan did not unfurl any occult scheme for disarming the 2-3. And Michigan was no better equipped to beat Syracuse than, say, Indiana, which tried and failed nine days earlier. Would you have guessed that the Hoosiers outscored the Wolverines in the second half during their season-worst performance against the Orange in the Sweet 16?
There’s little validity behind the glowing reports of Michigan’s surgical dissection of the 2-3 zone. Truth is, Michigan’s defense — better yet, Syracuse’s anemic offense — is why the Wolverines are prowling on to a heavyweight showdown with Louisville in the championship game.
Syracuse limited Michigan to its lowest scoring total of the tournament and its fourth lowest output of the entire season. Michigan’s next worst offensive performance this tournament was a full ten points better — a casual win over South Dakota State in the round of 64. What’s more, the Orange was just the fourth team all season to hold the Wolverines under 40-percent shooting from the floor. Only Ohio State and Michigan State restricted the vaunted Michigan attack to a lower shooting percentage than the 39.6-percent clip the Maize n Blue registered against Syracuse.
No, great offense did not trump great defense on Saturday. A mediocre defense outperformed a mediocre offense in the unsung, key match-up of the game.
The Wolverines begged and pleaded the Orange to break even, dared its feeble offense to make a game-changing play. No response.
James Southerland hadn’t hit a shot until the game’s final minute. Michael Carter-Williams finished with more turnovers (5) than points (2) and assists (2) combined. The second-year point guard fouled out having hit just one field goal.
Three Syracuse starters — Southerland, Carter-Williams and Rakeem Christmas — managed just 12 points between them. And speaking of 3s, SU sunk only three in the game, a fitting capstone to a season-long struggle from behind the arc.
Michigan didn’t sew up the game with its high-powered offense. Missteps down the stretch opened the door for a Syracuse comeback bid instead. The Wolverines missed four of their last six free throws, including a pair of front-ends in the final 30 seconds to keep the Orange within one possession. Discounting a throwaway dunk as time expired, UM either missed a shot, committed a turnover or flubbed a 1-and-1 on 21 of the team’s final 26 possessions. If not for a late-game offensive breakdown, Michigan would’ve coasted by double figures.
Forget Michigan’s streaky offense. The nightcap of the Final Four was won by the Wolverines defense, or more accurately lost by a porous SU offense devoid of an inside scorer and reliable outside shooters.