It's long been said that winning the NCAA championship comes down to point guard play. The Orange's 2003 championship is evidence, because while we all remember Carmelo's 20 points and 10 rebounds and Hakim Warrick's amazing last-second block in the title game, many of us forget about Gerry McNamara's six three-pointers in the first half. Six. He was a freshman. Amazing.
Saturday's second Final Four game features the best point-guard matchup of the tournament, between Bob Cousy Award finalists Michael Carter-Williams of the Orange and Michigan's Trey Burke. The game may very well come down to the winner of that matchup.
In analyzing these two great players, I looked at four categories:
I'll examine each player and give an advantage to one in each of the categories. I know, I can't wait either.
MCW really shines in this category. He is a distributor first and scorer second. His strengths here start with his 6'6" length and terrific athleticism. Maturity that belies his youth allows him to have great court vision and an understanding of where his teammates are.
Not only does he know where his teammates are, he has a desire to create for them, which comes in very handy in both half-court sets and when the Orange get out and run.
In the half-court offense, MCW is terrific at penetrating and kicking the ball out to James Southerland, Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair on the perimeter. He's also great in transition, which leads to those same three athletic teammates getting lots of lay-ups and dunks.
Burke is a very different kind of floor general. At 6'0" and 190 pounds, he is smaller and quicker than Carter-Williams.
He has a very quick handle and great change of both direction and pace dribble. Much like Carter-Williams, the sophomore is mature for his age and a leader of the team.
While Burke is great at creating for his teammates, he has great court vision and rarely forces the issue. He's a great distributor and effective on the pick-and-roll.
Michael Carter-Williams: MCW's athleticism and desire to pass first makes him a better floor general.
MCW has great slashing ability and an effective floater in the lane. While he does need some work on his outside shot, he has the ability to hit them when they count. There's no question, though, that his strength is penetrating and using his length.
Carter-Williams is a pass-first point guard, though, averaging 12.1 points and 7.4 assists per game.
Burke is more of a scorer than a distributor, averaging 18.8 points and 6.8 assists per game.
He's a better three-point shooter than MCW, hitting 38.1 percent of his attempts. Not only can he hit the three, but he can hit both pull-up and step-back jumpers. And if you send him to the line, he hits 80.8 percent of his shots.
The scary thing about Burke is that he is even better out on the break than he is shooting in the half-court offense.
Trey Burke: He is an outstanding offensive player who is not just a scorer. He can also shoot.
He is one of the most disruptive defensive players in the country—in a zone. MCW is the poster-child for the typical Syracuse long player. But it's not just the length that makes the zone and Carter-Williams so dangerous. It's how the Orange attack from their zone.
The most obvious defensive strength of MCW is how difficult he makes it for anyone to shoot over him. The attacking comes into play in his desire and ability to jump passing lanes. That aggressive play led to his being sixth in the country in steals during the regular season, with 2.7 per game.
He's also a great rebounder for a point guard, grabbing 4.9 rebounds per game.
Burke is a pesky, on-ball defender who mostly keeps his position, only nabbing 0.5 steals per game.
Michael Carter-Williams: This one was easy. He's one of the best defensive point guards I can remember in many years.
He needs work on his strength and outside shot. I'm being a bit nit-picky here, but because of his height he does have a high dribble.
His size is a detriment, especially trying to stop Carter-Williams, who has six inches on Burke. He can be backed down, and after watching MCW take the Indiana guards inside, Burke can expect the same treatment.
He also is a bit weak on finishing in traffic.
Michael Carter-Williams: His size will prove to be too much for Burke, who I think will struggle against the aggressive Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche at the top of the 2-3 zone. Jim Boeheim will go to 4-0 in Final Four semifinal games.
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