Matchups! The NCAA Tournament, more so than any other playoff system, perfectly exemplifies the importance of matchups. Indiana may be one of the top three schools in the country, but that doesn’t guarantee they’re a Final Four team. They were unfortunate to end up with a “mis”-matchup, couldn’t solve the Syracuse 2 – 3 zone, and are now watching from home. Georgetown probably would’ve preferred to face ‘Cuse instead of FGCU, since they defeated the Orangemen twice this season. With that being said, stop printing those “Louisville – 2013 Champs” t-shirts because how the Final Four teams matchup dictates a different ending.
You’ve read the title of this article, so you already know how this ends. So, let’s cut straight to the juicy part and outline why Michigan’s the team to beat.
The story heading into National Semi-final #2 is how the Wolverines plan on breaking Syracuse’s vaunted zone.
The best way to beat a zone is by getting the ball in he high post (hello, Mitch McGary), swinging the ball quickly, and having great shooters surround the perimeter. Michigan have been on fire throughout the tournament, draining more than 8 three-pointers per game. The quarterback of this a-maize-ing offense is National Player of the Year candidate, Trey Burke. He became the first player in over a quarter of a century to amass 20 points and 10 assists in the Sweet 16. He’s an NBA Lottery pick who can shoot well, get his teammates involved, and play solid defense.
Burke is surrounded by great shooters who have each had their own shining moments this season. Tim Hardaway Jr., son of the UTEP 2 Step, is as good a shooter as his father. He can create his own shot, take set shots from Burke setups, and rise above defenders both inside and outside. Glenn Robinson III is the unsung hero of this team. While Burke touches the ball on every possession and Hardaway creates posters of his defenders, Robinson (yes, the son of another former NBA star) quietly scores 11 points per game on 57% shooting. Finally, there’s Nik Stauskas. The three-point specialist from Mississauga, Ontario, showed the entire nation why you can’t give him an inch of shooting space. He was 6 for 6 from behind the arc during Michigan’s Elite 8 victory over Florida.
Michigan is ranked #1 in Offensive Efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy. The Wolverines are averaged 75 points per game during the season and 79 points during the tournament, against much stiffer defenses.
As for Syracuse, they’re the only remaining team to have a sub-.500 record against schools that made the tournament. They also haven’t fared very well against offensively efficient schools, sporting a 3-4 record during the regular season vs. schools ranked in the top 20 in Offensive Efficiency.
The final prognosis is a Michigan victory. Over their last two games, the Wolverines have already defeated 2 of the top 10 defensive teams in the country (Kansas – 5th; Florida – 3rd), dropping an average of 83 points on them.
Moving on to Louisville (do you really think Wichita State will shock the Cardinals?), their style of play is a graduated version of VCU’s. They’re a very aggressive defense (#1 in Defensive Efficiency) who will also push the pace. Does anyone remember what the Wolverines did to the Rams? Michigan obliterated another top 25 defense, scoring 79 points.
There will be a lot of hype around Russ Smith and Peyton Siva facing off against Burke and Hardaway – and rightfully so. Smith and Siva combine for 28.8 points per game, 8.7 assists per game, and 4.3 steals per game. Burke and Hardaway are even better, averaging 32.4 points per game and 9.1 assists per game. On top of being the AP Player of the Year, Burke also sports a Lebron-esque 29.8 PER. The devastating loss of Kevin Ware means Smith will be logging 40 minutes while defending Burke – this all adds up to a recipe for victory for the Wolverines.
The last two weeks have been filled with entertaining upsets, dramatic comebacks, and buzzer-beaters. Going into the tournament, many predicted, well, unpredictability. This has been the same season where there was no clear-cut #1 team. AP’s weekly rankings looked more like a revolving door for top spot. In a season as off-kilter as this one, do you seriously think it will end as Vegas is predicting it to?
Hail to the victors……the Michigan Wolverines!