The Syracuse zone defense stifled and frustrated a very talented Indiana team. It completely shut down Big East rival Marquette in the Elite Eight. But now the Orange and their zone will face the most daunting task yet—slowing down Trey Burke and his talented Michigan teammates.
And I think Syracuse will come up short this time.
While Michigan will likely struggle when it tries to get to the rim, and tournament star Mitch McGary is going to be swarmed in the paint, the Wolverines have the outside shooters to stretch the Syracuse zone.
The game should go something like this—Burke penetrates to the middle of key and kicks the ball out to a teammate. Said teammate drains a three. Syracuse expands its zone. Burke takes the ball to the rack and either finishes or lays it off to McGary for an easy bucket. Syracuse condenses its zone.
Rinse and repeat.
Okay, okay, so it won't be that simple. But Michigan has the shooters from outside to give Syracuse problems.
Against Florida, Michigan shot a ridiculous 46.2 percent from the field and an even more ridiculous 52.6 percent from three (10-of-19). Nik Stauskas went off, scoring 22 points on 6-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc. Burke added 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
And don't forget about Tim Hardaway Jr., who is shooting 38.7 percent from downtown this season.
In four tournament games, Michigan is shooting 41.9 percent (34-for-81) from three. Bombs away! And it's not as though the Wolverines proficiency on the offensive end is new—according to KenPom.com, Michigan has the nation's most efficient offense this season.
Obviously, Michigan will need to drain its shots—Syracuse is a very good rebounding team and won't give up many second-chance points. And if Michigan falls into the pattern Indiana found itself in—driving the hoop and getting shots rejected rather than kicking the ball back out to its shooters—Michigan is in trouble.
The Syracuse zone has been ferocious, forcing turnovers, scoring on the break and absolutely owning the paint. Nothing will come easy for Michigan; that much is certain. The Orange have the athleticism and length to close out on those three-point shots and at least contest the looks Michigan creates.
Which team wins?
Generally in a matchup between strengths, I side with defense. But in this matchup, I simply believe Michigan is tailor-made to take down the 2-3 zone. It should be a heck of a contest, but in the end, Burke and company will have too much firepower for the Orange.