Though many fans may not have realized it, the recent basketball games against Gardner-Webb and Bowling Green were technically part of their Feast Week tournament, The Legends Classic. "Tournament" is something of a misnomer: the hosts were guaranteed to move on. All four managed to make it through the regional rounds unscathed anyway.
Michigan will face Syracuse tonight at 7:30 in one semifinal. Georgia Tech and UTEP square off on the other side of the bracket at 5:30. The consolation and championship games are tomorrow at 5:30 and 7:30, respectively. All games will air on HDNet.
Four games into the season, it's too early to tell how good Syracuse really is (which is the case for pretty much every team in the nation). Ken Pomeroy ranks them #10 in the nation, but close calls against Detroit and William & Mary may be a sign that they're vulnerable. Despite possessing the tournament's the most talented roster on paper with players like Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine, the Orange aren't unbeatable.
Blowouts over Northern Iowa and Canisius (which you may recognize as one of John Beilein's former schools) won't help Michigan much, but maybe the Detroit and/or William & Mary games can give them a blueprint for how to take down Jim Boeheim's men.
Detroit led Syracuse at the half, and was in the game until the Orange pulled away at the very end. It doesn't seem the Titans did anything particularly well except prevent 'Cuse from shooting well - they finished with a 41.67 eFG% (which was better than the 40.18 eFG% the Titans put up on their own end). Forcing bad shots out of Syracuse was a great gameplan for UDM. The Orange made just 54% of their free throws - so it's also possible that they just aren't a team that's good at shooting the basketball.
The William & Mary game may seem to indicate this is true. A bigger, stronger, faster, and presumably more talented Orange squad shot 40.83% from the field in a three-point win. They were just 12/52 from behind the arc in those two games.
John Beilein has never beaten a Boeheim-led Syracuse squad. However, if Michigan can implement a quality defensive gameplan (make the Orange shoot from outside by defending well in the paint), and hit their open shots, they have a chance to spring the upset. A cautionary note: this is the first game away from Crisler Arena for the vast majority of the Wolverines' roster.
Ex-USC Coach Tim Floyd heads the Miners, and forward Julyan Stone and guard Randy Culpepper have been his go-to guys early in the season. UTEP already has an embarrassing loss on their hands this year, losing to Pacific in the season opener.
UTEP has been middle-of-the-pack so far in most stats, slightly above-average in most. The exception is rebounding percentage on both ends of the court, where they've struggled. The area in which they excel the most? Getting to the free throw line. If Michigan ends up facing them, they'll need to be careful not to get into foul trouble.
Like UTEP, Georgia Tech has an embarrassing loss on their early season resume, getting blown out by Kennesaw State(!) 80-63. Their roster was decimated by losing their best two players, Ganin Lawal and Derrick Favors, to the NBA, but Kennesaw State?
The Yellowjackets struggle to put the ball in the basket, with just a 42.5 eFG% so far this year despite not facing a team in KenPom's top 200. Where they've had more success is on the other end of the court, where they excel at stealing the ball and blocking opponents' shots (despite the losses of Lawal and Favors, two exceptional shot-blockers last season).
Georgia Tech is likely to be Michigan's opponent in the consolation game, and the Wolverines' best chance to salvage a win in Atlantic City.
Michigan will play Syracuse tight for a lot of the game, with each team going on runs here and there, but the Orange mostly maintaining a lead. However, the athleticism of Syracuse will be too much for the Wolverines to handle, as frustrating fastbreaks will give 'Cuse too many easy points, and Michigan's young shooters aren't able to keep pace to win the game.
In the other semi, I get the feeling UTEP will have a fairly comfortable win over a Georgia Tech squad that seems to have a lot of flaws. The Miners might not be able to get to the free throw line as much as they're used to because of GT's shot-blocking prowess, but they'll finish the game at the line.
In the finals, I think an upset may be brewing. Syracuse has won despite a bunch of struggles at times, and I think they'll get a more exhausting game from Michigan than UTEP will from Georgia Tech. In the consolation game, I think the Wolverines will be able to take down GT.