Michigan Wolverines vs. Syracuse Orange (1.5, 131)
Syracuse’s zone defense has caused plenty of problems for opposing offenses during the NCAA Tournament. Trey Burke and Michigan will try to solve that zone when the schools meet in the Final Four in Atlanta on Saturday. Burke against Orange point guard Michael Carter-Williams is a matchup that should have NBA scouts salivating, and the two have put together some of their best performances while guiding their teams in the NCAA Tournament.
Burke carried his team back from a 14-point deficit in the second half and hit an NBA-range 3-pointer to send the game to overtime against Kansas in the Sweet 16 before settling for 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in a surprisingly easy victory over Florida in the Elite 8. The Orange will put Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche at the top of its zone and try to force Burke and the rest of the Wolverines to settle for jump shots. Syracuse held a team that was familiar with that zone - Big East foe Marquette - to 22.6 percent shooting in the Elite Eight victory and has limited three of its four NCAA Tournament opponents to 50 or fewer points, including two to fewer than 40.
TV: 8:49 p.m. ET, CBS
ABOUT SYRACUSE (30-9): The Orange got run off the floor by Louisville in the Big East tournament but have successfully controlled the pace during each of their four NCAA Tournament games. Carter-Williams and Triche have formed a wall at the top of the zone that has allowed James Southerland and C.J. Fair to close out on shooters while big men Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita stay home in the middle. Syracuse allowed the Golden Eagles to make 12 field goals in the Elite Eight and Carter-Williams has racked up nine steals in the last two games. Offensively, Carter-Williams has picked his spots to shoot or distribute. The sophomore went 3-of-6 from 3-point range en route to 24 points against Indiana in the Sweet 16 but focused more on his distribution responsibilities in the 55-39 Elite 8 win over Marquette, handing out six assists while scoring 12 points. Fair was Syracuse’s leading scorer in the regular season and has averaged 13.8 points in the Tournament.
ABOUT MICHIGAN (30-7): The Wolverines are making their first trip to the Final Four since the Fab Five took the college basketball world by storm with back-to-back championship game appearances in 1992 and 1993. The 2012-13 edition of the team bears a small resemblance to the Fab Five, with athletic wing players, strong outside shooting and a big man in Mitch McGary that is willing to do the little things. McGary’s hard screens won’t be as effective against a zone defense that will likely avoid chasing Burke and company off screens, but the Wolverines will still count on McGary’s rebounding to start the break or clean up the misses on the offensive end. Should the game turn into a jump-shooting contest, Michigan guard Nik Stauskas went 6-for-6 from 3-point range against Florida and has connected on 44.9 percent from beyond the arc in a strong freshman campaign. The Wolverines have averaged 78.8 points in the Tournament and can turn to Tim Hardaway Jr. or Glenn Robinson III if Stauskas struggles from the perimeter or Burke can’t get into the lane against the zone.
* Wolverines are 4-0 ATS in their last four NCAA Tournament games.
* Orange are 1-5 ATS in their last six Saturday games.
* Over is 5-1 in Wolverines’ last six games following an ATS win.
* Wolverines are 4-0 ATS in their last four games vs. a team with a winning percentage above .600.
1. Syracuse is in the Final Four for the first time since the Carmelo Anthony-led 2003 team won the National Championship.
2. Michigan is 17-0 against non-conference opponents but coach John Beilein, who spent five years as a coach in the Big East with West Virginia, is 0-9 all-time against Syracuse.
3. The winner will face Louisville or Wichita State in the National Championship game Monday.