Despite possibly having superior teams in terms of overall talent over the past several years, the Syracuse Orange men's basketball team has accomplished something it hasn't done in a decade this season by reaching the Final Four.
If head coach Jim Boeheim and the Orange are going to play for the national championship, though, they must first get through a tough Michigan Wolverines squad. It can be argued that Michigan is playing better basketball right now than anyone in the entire tournament, so it won't be an easy task for the Orange to accomplish.
With that said, Syracuse has all the tools necessary to win; It simply comes down to execution. Here are three areas in which 'Cuse must excel against Michigan in order ensure that it faces either Louisville or Wichita State for all the marbles.
Attack the Basket on Offense
For as many good guards and wing players as Syracuse possesses, the Orange aren't a particularly prolific three-point shooting team. Their mid-range game comes and goes as well, so the only way for Syracuse to consistently score the basketball is to get in the paint, attack the rim and get to the free-throw line if it is unable to finish.
Luckily for the Orange, many of their players are proficient in that regard. C.J. Fair, Brandon Triche, James Southerland and Michael Carter-Williams have all proven capable of scoring down low whether it's off the drive or, in Fair's case, with their back to the basket. Michigan is a very strong team overall, but it relies more on its perimeter players than big men.
The Wolverines do have a game changer on the block, however, in the form of freshman forward Mitch McGary. He has elevated his game in a big way during the NCAA tournament, but he was prone to getting into foul trouble during the regular season. If Syracuse is aggressive on the offensive end and can get him off the floor, then it stands a much better chance of winning.
Close Out on Michigan's Shooters
If there is one negative attached to Syracuse's stifling 2-3 zone defense, it is that open shots are often available to the offensive team. Those shots are usually three-pointers, so Syracuse is often able to get away with it, but one team that simply cannot be given open looks from long range is Michigan.
The Wolverines have three excellent three-point shooters in Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas as they all connected on at least 38 percent of their shots from downtown this season.
Stauskas is particularly dangerous as he converted an impressive 45 percent of the time from three-point land. He absolutely went off against Florida in the Elite Eight by nailing all six of the deep bombs he attempted.
Florida began playing zone in that game in order to stop the Wolverine players from getting to the rim, but Stauskas was given too much room and ripped the cords multiple times from the corner. Boeheim is obviously very cognizant of that, so he has likely told his team to run out and contest every three-point shot Michigan attempts.
Stifle Trey Burke Defensively
As the John R. Wooden Award winner signifying that he is the best player in the nation, Michigan point guard Burke will clearly be Syracuse's main focus this weekend. The explosive Burke has been fantastic all season long on both ends of the floor, but there is no question that he is the straw that stirs the drink offensively for Michigan.
With averages of 18.8 points and 6.8 assists per game this season, Burke has proven that he can beat defenses in many different ways. Very few teams have been able to solve Burke, but Syracuse is a team with personnel that could give him trouble. Triche and Carter-Williams are very big guards, so if they get physical with Burke, then perhaps he won't produce at the level fans have grown accustomed to.
There is only so much Syracuse can do in that regard since the zone defense is more about anticipation than physicality, but a long-limbed guy like Carter-Williams could give Burke fits by getting his hands in passing lanes as well. No matter how the Orange do it, they must make life difficult for Burke.
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