Two teams that expected themselves to go this far in the NCAA tournament bring two very different flavors of basketball style to the Final Four, with Michigan being a team that relies on its potent and fun to watch offense, while Syracuse use defense that sucks the life out of their opponents and game.
In terms of what’s more attractive to see? Jim Boheim’s team won’t get the winning vote. That 2-3 zone defense has been pretty much flawless in the tournament, keeping a team like Indiana on only 50 points and Marquette to an embarrassing 39 in the previous round. During the tournament, they’ve been holding opponents to only 28.9% from the field and 15.3% from beyond the arc.
While the zone is usually considered to be a passive defense, the guys Syracuse assembled to play their own brand are making a mockery of those “passive” claims, keeping teams at 45.8 points in the tournament, using length and size on all five positions to disrupt inside outside passing, while not really allowing teams to get open 3’s zone defenses have been known to hand out.
For Michigan, everything begins with Trey Burke, the consensus pick for national player of the year, averaging 15.5 points and 7.8 assists in the tournament. Mitch McGary has been the better scorer in the tournament with 17.5 points per game to go with his 11.5 rebounds, but as the win over Kansas showed everybody, this team is simply waiting for Burke to pick them up and carry them through by the teeth.
And while Florida’s defense was quite heralded before they ran into the offensive talent of the Wolverines, everyone knows Syracuse present a very different challenge. And yet, if that defense is so perfect, shouldn’t they be 39-0 at this point? There are ways to unsettle even an aggressive zone defense just as this, and Michigan have the individual talent to do it.
Prediction – I’ve been picking against Syracuse, and losing, all throughout the tournament, basing these picks on what I saw in the regular season, when the Orange weren’t very impressive. But their NCAA tournament execution defensively leaves little room for doubt that this is the best defensive unit in the nation. Enough to halt Michigan? They’ll be slowed down, but just like Syracuse, they’ve found their identity in the tournament, and look like a team that will find a way to put the ball in the basket, and find themselves in the tournament final.