|WHAT||Michigan vs Syracuse|
|WHEN||8:50 PM Eastern, Saturday|
Four factors. Ranks are in parentheses and out of 347.
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||49.1 (139)||18.9 (119)||39.0 (8)||37.6 (136)|
|Defense||42.5 (4)||23.6(19)||34.3 (278)||35.4 (156)|
Syracuse is mediocre at everything on offense save rebounding. They crush the boards in large part because they are huge, starting three guys in the 6'8"-6'9" range and bringing up to three more off the bench depending on the health of freshman DaJuan Coleman. Their guards are 6'4", minimum; point guard Michael Carter-Williams is 6'6".
The size plays into their defensive strengths. Despite not having a single dominant shotblocker like Jeff Withey, Syracuse is #1 in block percentage. Their zone confounds opponents into shooting a ton of bad threes: 40% of opponent shots are from behind the line. That's in the bottom 20 nationally. Normally that's a bad thing, but not when opponents are shooting 28% on them. Syracuse induces bad threes QED: in their Elite Eight matchup against Marquette they got a team that was 304th in threes launched because they were 323rd in making them. Almost half of Marquettes shots were threes; they made 3 of 25. They did not clear 40 points.
For what it's worth, Pomeroy ran the numbers and suggests that even in the random realm of three-point shooting Syracuse's 2-3 zone has a real, negative impact on opponents, but one that may be masked by Syracuse's typically… er… unchallenging nonconference schedule and the Big East's usual shooter deficit. The Orangemen were just 8th (of 16) in defensive 3P% in Big East play.
The zone's drawback is the usual: rebounding. Despite running out a fee-fi-fo-fum lineup, the Orangemen allow opponents to rebound more than a third of their misses.
Syracuse's offense starts with their guards. Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche are the highest-usage players on the team, though 6'8" wing James Southerland gets off more shots. Neither guard is particularly efficient, largely because of shooting issues. Collectively they've launched 280 threes that they hit at 29%. Both also have TO rates over 20.
MCW makes opponent point guards go bug-eyed at the size matchup
PG #1 Michael Carter-Williams makes up for those deficiencies with a massive assist rate (he assists on 41% of Syracuse makes), a lot of free throws, and a steal rate that's near the top ten. He's just not a shooter, though: on the 70% of his shots that aren't at the rim he hits under 30%. If you want a comparable, Darius Morris is a close one. Both are huge, poor-shooting point guards who use their length to exploit passing angles smaller guards can't.
Defensively, Carter-Williams is a load. He doesn't have to D-up opposing point guards one-on-one too often because of the zone, so whatever deficiency in quickness his size provides is covered. Meanwhile, that length makes it difficult for guard-sized guards to shoot over him. He affects passing angles much like a huge team would disrupt passing lanes in the 1-3-1. You probably know this, but six-foot-ish Indiana guards Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls combined for zero points in the Hoosiers's S16 loss to the Orange.
Brandon Triche is a couple inches shorter than Carter-Williams and a vaguely better shooter. He's still 35% on two point jumpers and 29% on threes. Triche is the only Syracuse player other than MCW who racks up an appreciable number of assists. Wing CJ Fair has a fair number of unassisted baskets, but other than that basically all of Syracuse's shots are generated by their starting guards.
Triche may or may not be affected with a sore back on Saturday. The "recurring, nagging" injury has been bothering him since February and may have something to do with his weak shooting numbers.
Speaking of CJ Fair, he is much more of a post-oriented offensive player than his fellow 6'8" wing-type guy. Despite hitting 48% from three he's only taken 60 attempts from that distance all year, and that's not a playing time thing: guy is on the court 35 minutes a game. He takes a huge number of twos, which he converts at 47%. Unusually for… well, anyone, a majority of his shots are two point jumpers. He's pretty good on them, and unusually crappy at the rim. Michigan should be able to check him with GRIII without getting pounded inside.
Once-suspended James Southerland is Syracuse's most efficient offensive player by some distance. He's their only serious three-point threat, hitting 40% on over 200 attempts. He's also the only Orangeman other than the centers to crack 50% on attempted twos.
His hoop-math profile is pretty weird. Only 13% of his shots are at the rim—this is tiny, Spike Albrecht is at 27%—but they appear to be 90% dunks because he hits 90% of them. His jumpers are frequent and meh. Transition? Guys closing out and getting Game Blouses dunks on their face? I don't know man. Syracuse guys say he "can't dribble and his bball IQ isn't the highest," so it appears that the only time Southerland gets to the rim is in transition or when provided an alley oop or whatever from one of the guards.
The recipe here is for hrrrd closeouts. If the guy wants to step inside the three point line and put up a jumper, Michigan will take that.
Syracuse splits their five spot about down the middle between Rakeem Christmas, a 6'9" leaper with a huge wingspan, and Baye Keita, a 6'10" leaper with a huge wingspan. Both block a ton of shots and rebound decently. Christmas is an elite shotblocker; Keita very good. Keita is a very good offensive rebounder; Christmas is okay. Both have an offensive game almost entirely restricted to putbacks and here-is-a-free-dunk-from-your-point-guard. Christmas will put up a jumper slightly more than once a game, Keita even more rarely than that. They shoot decently when they get something off, which is not often. Both are 60% FT shooters.
I suggest boxing Christmas out.
Syracuse brings two guys off the bench for their other four spots. At least they used to before the tournament. Now that it's crunch time, Syracuse is rolling its non-center starters out 35+ minutes a game each. Carter-Williams and Triche have been on the bench for a combined 17 minutes in the three vaguely competitive games 'Cuse has played in the tourney.
Here are the guys you'll see for maybe four minutes:
- Guard Trevor Cooney mostly shoots threes at a 26% clip. Yeah… okay guy. He'll come in to D-up in the zone when Boeheim wants to snatch a little rest for his starters. Chance of trillion: high.
- Wing-type-guy Jerami Grant is pretty nondescript statistically, mostly an inefficient two-point shooter with mediocre rebounding numbers. He does block a lot of shots.
- Center DaJaun Coleman is available, but except for the Montana laugher he hasn't played more than a handful of minutes since January. He's a high-rebound, high-usage, low-efficiency guy if he does end up seeing the court. Again, the only way that'll happen is if Christmas and Keita get in extreme foul trouble.
If any bench player other than Keita plays a significant role, Michigan is feeling good about that.
Syracuse didn't do much in the nonconference schedule other than knock off future seven seed SDSU in the season opener. That was on an aircraft carrier; SDSU was 1 of 18 from three. Since that was outdoors that may not be a particularly meaningful game.
U-S-A! U-S-awwww we have to cancel this probably
Syracuse's other KP100 nonconference wins came against Princeton, Detroit, and Arkansas (at home, by nine). They lost to Temple at MSG. Their nonconference record against future tourney teams, then: 1-1, with a win over a #7 and a loss to a #9.
In Big East play they were kind of meh. They went 11-7; they finished fifth in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Their prime scalp is a two point win at Louisville, which yeah okay nice win. They also won home games against Villanova, Cincinnati, and Notre Dame.
Their losses were numerous but at least they were all understandable. The worst loss was probably at Connecticut or a 22 point bombing Georgetown put on them at the end of the regular season. The Orange then made a run to the Big East final, downing Pitt and the Georgetown team that had just hammered them before getting thumped by Louisville in the final. Syracuse actually led that game 48-43 with 11 minutes left before the Cardinals finished the game on a 35-13 run. Yeah, 35 points in 11 minutes. But that's another game preview.
In the tourney Syracuse took it to the proverbial Next Level, demolishing Montana by a women's scoreline, easing by Cal in a game that was nowhere near a close as the final score makes it appear ('Cuse led by 13 with 2 minutes left), confusing Indiana into one billion Cody Zeller blocked shots, and strangling Marquette by 16. No one has put up more than 60 on Cuse in the tournament and that was Cal inflating their point total in a futile attempt to extend the game: they had 45 points 38 minutes in.
If you can manage to get someone other than a Syracuse center in foul trouble, that would be great. If Michigan sees a lot of Trevor Cooney, things get a lot easier for them. The Orangemen are incredibly thin. They essentially cannot replace lost offensive production from any of their starters not named Rakeem Christmas. I'm not really sure Michigan putting them in foul trouble is possible, though: Michigan doesn't draw any fouls and only Southerland averages more than 3 fouls per 40.
It's hard to focus your attention on any particular player in a zone, meanwhile. Best bet might be trying to draw a charge on one of the guards if they pick up an early foul.
Beast up, Mitch. Michigan isn't going to turn it over much and Syracuse is vulnerable on the offensive boards. Mitch McGary is one of the country's best offensive rebound vacuums, and that's not just based on his recent run. He's top ten in OREB rate over the course of the season.
Meanwhile he's pumping in those putbacks at an incredible rate, finishing easily with both hands. A double double beckons if McGary can stay on the court, and he likely will since he won't be picking up a ton of fouls against 'Cuse's low-usage bigs and the play against Syracuse is to keep them away from the rim and see what happens.
Bombs away. Syracuse forces a lot of threes. Michigan's inclined to take them, albeit not quite as much as the usual Beilein team. Where and when Michigan gets the copious threes they'll be putting up is important. If they're coming off Burke stopping at the free throw line and facilitating this is ideal. Kenpom points out that once you focus on Syracuse's Big East schedule their intimidating three-point defense tends to drop away. Even in this year of crubberating defense the Orange were only 8th in 3P% D in Big East play. IE: average.
Michigan has long shooters and a OREB beast; they're playing a D that turns you over a lot and blocks you a ton but gives up a ton of offensive rebounds. When in doubt they should pretend they are Minnesota. Have a shot? Take it. If you miss there's a 40% chance it's going back up anyway.
You: stay away from the rim. If Michigan keeps Syracuse away from the rim, the Orangemen will either be having an out of body experience on jumpers or be idling a good distance under a PPP. The gameplan should be similar that against VCU, except with less respect paid to threes: sag off guys, try to stay in front of them, don't go for low-probability blocked shots. Let them put it up, and let's have a shooting contest.
Southerland is the only exception. Michigan needs to identify him at all times and live in his jock. He is Just A Shooter.
As per usual, go get it in transition. Michigan's been climbing up the tempo charts and is now almost average. Most relevantly for Michigan, Syracuse turns the ball over quite a bit for a top outfit. They're especially vulnerable to steals.
Burke's trademark pickpocket might spot them a 2 or 4 point lead; Mitch might have an opportunity to get some of those perimeter steals against lazy passes, especially since if he misses the opposing big isn't likely to take two dribbles and cram it down Michigan's throat.
Like games against Kansas and Florida, the best way to avoid a clamp-down defensive outfit is to not let it get set up.
Trey Burke: maintain efficiency. If you're looking for a better sample size for that whole "Syracuse destroys small guards" meme, Peyton Siva's consistently miserable outings are worrying. The 6'0" Louisville PG doesn't have great numbers, but that may be because he's had to play Syracuse three times this year. In those matchups he's a stunning 1/20 from three and 3/6 from two. Siva shot 35% from three in games not against Syracuse this year.
Similarly diminutive Russ Smith had better luck, FWIW, with 25, 18, and 10 points at acceptable efficiency rates. What with the Big East being light on Burke-level guards this year we have little data other than those Louisville games and the Indiana demolition.
It goes without saying that Michigan's path to victory gets pretty hazy if Burke is turning in Siva numbers.
Win the high post. Michigan has three avenues into the high post area that is the traditionally-declared weakness of the 2-3 zone: pass to Hardaway, pass to McGary, or screen Trey in there. Hardaway's main weapon is a FT line jumper that he can vary. McGary can take the elbow jumper or drive if the big comes up. The question there is can he maintain an acceptably low TO rate when put in a difficult, decision-demanding situation?
Meanwhile, Burke is an excellent option anywhere on the court but getting him to the spot is tough. He might have to press a bit and risk some turnovers.
In any case, a key metric to look for is GRIII dunks in the half court as he plunges down the baseline.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by one.