Big League Clu previews the second game of the Final Four, featuring the Michigan Wolverines and the Syracuse Orange.
Game two everyone! This matchup features two storied programs that have, well, taken some time off between their last Final Four appearances. So, without giving too much away, I say we just get right into the second game taking place in Atlanta shall we? It takes place Saturday at 8:49 PM and it features my hometown team, the Syracuse Orange, facing off against the Michigan Wolverines.
#4 Michigan Wolverines (South Region Champions)
Last Final Four Appearance: 1993
Conference: Big 10 Conference
Thats right, it has been 20 years since Michigan has gone to the Final Four; since their “Fab Five” days. Now, this team plays a much different style than those guys did, but the one similarity is that they both have a trio of stars that can shoot the ball. Back then, it was Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard. Now, it is the fearsome foursome of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Glen Robinson III and Nik Stauskas. Here’s the thing about this group: they’re young and all four of them can shoot! Just ask Florida and Kansas, who saw first hand how potent this Michigan team can be. They are a very offensive minded team, and it will make for a very interesting match up against the Syracuse 2-3 zone.
20 Year Hiatus? Welcome Back!
John Beilein has done a fantastic job of turning this program around (just dont ask Indiana coach Tom Crean, as he has been known to have a few words with the Wolverines coach). At one point, Michigan State was revered as the only top basketball program in the state of Michigan. Now, Beilein has helped Michigan claw their way out of the basement and started the foundation for a very strong and fearsome program. They should stay that way for a few more years, at least! However, Beilein does have a bit of a chip on his shoulder. As a head coach, he is 0-9 against the Orange. Granted, Michigan has never faced Syracuse in the NCAA tournament, but will the 10th time be the charm for Beilein?
Can Michigan Win?
Of course they can. Syracuse’s 2-3 zone has been great during the tournament, but it is not unbeatable. Like I had mentioned before, this team is full of shooters. They feed off of one another. If one player gets it going, then they all do and that becomes the challenge for Syracuse. But if the Wolverines cannot make their shots, it will be awfully tough for them to go inside the paint against this team, which could lead to a very long night for Michigan.
#4 Syracuse Orange (East Region Champions)
Last Final Four Appearance: 2003
Conference: Big East Conference
As a hometown fan of the Orange, I can honestly say that even though they destroyed my East region bracket (I had Indiana winning it), I am elated to see Syracuse in the Final Four for the first time in ten years. They learned how to play basketball again! It has been a long season, especially since the Orange lost four of their last five regular season games. They looked like they were in a downward spiral that they couldn’t get out of and, of course, ALL of the expert analysts picked them to lose in the first round of the tourney to #13 seed Montana. Well, thankfully THAT didn’t happen! Especially since they walloped Montana by 47, beat top seeded Indiana and #3 seeded Marquette to get to Atlanta and have won seven out of their last eight in total.
You can see the difference in the way the Orange are playing on offense. They are making big time shots and playing excellent defense, as that 2-3 zone has really come together. Seniors Brandon Triche and James Southerland have stepped up and made some very big shots and the Orange are getting contributions from all players on the court. Sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams especially comes to mind. He has been absolutely clutch and has done it with defense and ball handling. Forward C.J. Fair, meanwhile, has been the dagger in ‘Cuse’s arsenal. Syracuse is a very lengthy team, meaning that this 2-3 zone has become even more difficult to score on. That’s saying something, considering that Syracuse enters the Final Four having allowed a mere 0.72 points per possession in the NCAA tournament. If their defense continues to play at the level at which they are playing, it does not matter how many outside scoring threats you have, because they cannot stop this Syracuse 2-3 zone. Just ask Indiana, or even go back to last year’s Wisconsin team. They made 15 threes against the Orange and still lost!
Another One for the Record Books?
As Syracuse closes the books on the Big East Conference (in its current format), they are led by the legendary Jim Boeheim, who has become the fourth coach in NCAA tournament history to take his team to the final four once every decade (’87,’96,’03,’13). The Orange haven’t been to the title game since 2003, when they won the national championship with a pair of Freshman named Carmelo Anthony, who, as everyone knows, is a superstar on the New York Knicks and legendary guard Gerry McNamarra, who is now an assistant coach for Orange. Can this talented group of players win it all for Syracuse? It would be nice to see the Orange leaving the Big East hoisting a national championship trophy as they get ready to embark on a new chapter in Syracuse basketball: entering the ACC.
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