Michigan Basketball: NCAA Tournament — Final Four — Michigan vs. Syracuse — Wrap-up
Dream Comes True For a Bunch of Good Kids
In an effort to stir up some trash controversy, the brilliant, cognitive giants at CBS and ESPN have attempted to portray this game as a hose job, with Syracuse being the victim. Do not read on if that is your personal viewpoint, as it is not supported here.
Michigan was well prepared for the notable Syracuse zone. The Wolverines played very well the first half. What the author liked most was, with the possible exception of one Michigan player, Michigan players clearly understood the stark reality that the game would not be an 80-78 affair. It was understood that executing one pass and throwing up prayers time after time was a recipe for disaster. Although fortunately two or three prayers were answered in the first half when some near thirty footers found the net. The Wolverines understood that who got the points did not matter as much as how many points were arrived at. Simply put, the best option became the option on most instances.
If the first half would have continued, and the game progressed without intermission, Michigan’s momentum was, while not severe, clear and effective. Then the break came, as prescribed by the rules since the beginning of basketball. Things got tighter in the second half for the Wolverines as fortunes changed somewhat.
The first half found the offense very rough for Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas. Coach Beilein made a smart, if not downright mandatory, move in pulling Stauskas. Nik was playing hard, but the scenario was just a little too much and the fluster showed.in his control of the situation.
Burke seemed unconcerned and was willing to play the point man whose job it is to read the 2-3 zone and make the appropriate pass or dribble. Enter the surprise of the game, our old buddy, Caris LeVert. This time Caris hit his first shot and played better defense than Nik. His eight points made the victory possible. He played smart and was a very valuable contributor past his points.Once again Spike Albrecht rode to the rescue by hitting a shot that was launched from a different zip code. Spike’s defense was sufficient and he helped with ball handling when Syracuse was forced to press.
Michigan hit several nice passes in the middle to the corner or the angle to the basket to score what cannot be termed easy points but certainly better than the alternative of launching long shots, time after time.
We go now to the media’s new favorite Wolverine, Mitch McGary. McGary is the type of guy who obviously loves to win at marbles, tiddlywinks, basketball, or eye staring contests. This is why he is pretty much pressure free, Mitch simply turns it loose and hunts a way to win. Morgan and Horford gave good moments, and this allowed some rest for McGary. McGary’s range in effective minutes is still around 30 a game. This is due in part because of how he runs the floor, and in part to still not quite being in maximum shape. The praise that talking heads are giving McGary in proclaiming him to be a monster big man prospect is merited. The last ten games have opened up a viewable window as to his potential. The belief here is that McGary would be one of those guys who would benefit greatly by staying in school at least two more years. He would do well to investigate the many big men from schools like Duke and North Carolina who have stayed all four years and then gone on to the next level successfully.The second half can be best described as tentative for the Michigan Wolverines. The bankroll first half lead ended up being the difference maker in the end as the dividends decreasing slowly the rest of the way.
After playing near perfect basketball, turnover wise, in the first half, Michigan started out rough after the break giving up turnovers and valuable offensive opportunities.
Michigan relaxed on defense and let the Cuses’ have several easy points. It is hard to blame a small wing freshman such as Glen Robinson III for giving up isolation points down low to bigger players. He is all that Michigan has available to defend unless Coach Beilein goes to a two big defense down low. This choice for Coach is delicate in that it cancels out only minimally Michigan’s defensive troubles down low and takes away speed and shooting.
Attesting that Michigan played more tentative must be balanced with an obvious observation that Syracuse played much more aggressive in the second half. There really was no choice for the Orange. Michigan, while not having a field day, or creating a tape of how to defeat the2-3 zone, was having its way enough to make the conclusion obvious that something had to change. The somewhat freelance offense for Syracuse really does not change (isolate and attack) and the defense does not change (all zone), so Syracuse played more physical, went to the hoop more often, pressed in a very physical manner, and hit the offensive boards hard. The result was a wave of improvement that methodically cut the deficit down to a one-possession game.Syracuse had ample opportunities to exploit the so-called match-up advantages the Orange players noted before the game. C. J. Fair could have scored more point, if fed the ball, but still only hit 9-20 shots. But in this tough game that was a monster statistic. Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland did not contribute much offensively, excepting Southerland’s big three late in the game that got Syracuse to the edge of victory. It needs to be noted that any three point shot at that point needed to be smothered.
Coach Beilein made numerous substitutions the second half and especially in the end game offense/defense scenarios near game’s end. This was mandated by McGary’s third and fourth fouls. It has been stated on this site numerous times this season that Michigan, being a team that chooses not to foul, needs to choose times when a foul must happen to avoid giving up inside points without opposition. McGary brought that theory into reality last night with a tough foul that prevented an easy dunk by Syracuse. That point of the game was more important than many would acknowledge. It sent a message and put Syracuse on the foul line.
Michigan was pitiful at the foul line, going 11-20, but Syracuse will never win any long-term free throw accolades. The Cuses’ hit 7-11, just enough misses for Michigan to pull out a win.The second reason Coach Beilein was forced to substitute late was the inability of McGary to hit foul shots. The view here is that it was not pressure that caused McGary’s poor results, he is just a poor foul shooter, and his technique needs great improvement. He is constantly long on his efforts. Some of that is adrenalin, but much of the villain is technique. He needs to practice a soft and slow knee bend that can result in more of a push shot than a straightforward motion. On the other hand, the other two centers, Morgan and Horford, will not be confused with Bill Sharman, but at least the guys could muster enough skill to hit three of five shots.
The last two or three minutes saw both teams trying to find a way to win while taking the chance of letting the other team get a gift. Michigan, like at Indiana, missed critical foul shots that gave Syracuse a chance. Syracuse, on the other hand, did not effectively run an offense well enough the last few minutes to take advantage of Michigan’s poor foul shooting. This is perhaps due to Syracuse losing two key players, Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche, to fouls. The increased physical play extracted a toll.
It is not an easy thing to step to the line with a national title game on the line, but like at Indiana, shots must be made to prevent giving the other team a chance. Remember the adage thrown out here many times that free throws are like bunts.Michigan did give up some easy points yesterday, but the Wolverines also made some big stops and caused enough turnovers to run some in the first half. No stop was bigger than at the end of the game. After Horford made one of two foul shots to give Michigan a tenuous three-point lead (much better than a two-point lead), Syracuse had plenty of time to take a three-pointer, but maybe not enough to take a quick two-pointer, foul, and get a good shot for the win, Trevor Cooney drove the lane for an easy shot, but the shot was batted away somehow, and Hardaway Junior goes out of bounds to knock the ball back inbounds to Caris LeVert, who immediately found Jordan Morgan, who took the ball down court for a dunk, his only basket of the game. The view here is that with such a short amount of time remaining, it was a good move for Hardaway to take the chance, even though a golden rule is never throw a ball back under the opponent’s basket. The worst result would be a short shot that would take up two or three more seconds (assuming Michigan to be smart enough not to foul). This was a better scenario than letting Syracuse have one last set play with six or so seconds remaining.
Michigan followers need to discount the East Coast “outrage” and rejoice in the improbable march the young Michigan team has undertaken to the national title game. Beating Kansas, Florida, and Syracuse consecutively, is an accomplishment few can match in any year and does not beg forgiveness. The team is far from wart-free, but has developed more toughness, more poise, a little better defensive effort, and is most concerned about finding a way to win. The coaches have done a great job of keeping the team focused and the players have executed the game plans well.
Perhaps most importantly the players have a genuine sense of mission and confidence; they expect to win. How the team has conducted itself on and off the floor has been noteworthy considering the youth and inexperience factor.
Monday will be different, very different. Michigan will play a team that prefers to go up and down the court. Louisville was the prohibitive favorite to win the entire tournament. The Cardinals will press and go straight at Michigan’s defensive weaknesses with fast players and an offense much more difficult to defend than Syracuse.Louisville will throw the press to rattle Michigan and attempt to create turnovers. Louisville will also change up the defensive look from press-man to zone. The full court press is a little more aggressive than VCU’s and does not allow the opponent to reverse the ball as easily as VCU. The Louisville press throws quick double teams on the ball once inbounds and smacks ball handlers pretty well. To defeat the press, Michigan may wish to follow a strategy Wichita State declined. Who noticed how the Shockers let the ball lay out of bounds and did not pick it up for four or five seconds before inbounding? This may have slowed the game down and moved the clock, but this strategy also let Louisville set up the press. Michigan may want to get the ball in immediately after a made basket.
Michigan just needs to play the normal Wolverine game, Coach Beilein will have one day of preparation ant then he will send the youngsters out for the best opportunity of their young lives. No fear and play smartly is the beginning formula.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
Go Blue — Wear Maize!