Sunday, February 18, 2018
Sports

Stifling Syracuse vs. Michigan scoring punch

ATLANTA — Syracuse is brimming with confidence, largely because of its suffocating style when the other team has the ball.

Next up, a guy who knows a thing or two about breaking down opposing defenses.

Trey Burke, meet the Orange Crush.

Today's Final Four semifinal between Syracuse and Burke's Michigan team presents a clear contrast in styles — the Orange, a veteran group content to settle into an octopus-like zone, against the brash young Wolverines, who love to run, run, run and have been compared to UM's Fab Five squads of the early 1990s.

Clearly taking to heart the adage that offense wins fans but defense wins championships, Syracuse sounded like a team that fully expects to be playing in the final at the Georgia Dome.

"It's going to take them a while to adjust to the zone," junior guard Brandon Triche said Friday, a day when all four teams practiced in the cavernous, 70,000-seat stadium that is normally home of the NFL's Falcons.

The Michigan players quickly got wind of the comments from Syracuse's media session.

"It sounds like cockiness," said guard Tim Hardaway Jr., son of the former NBA star. "But it's not going to come down to just talent or who has the biggest players. It's going to come down to heart and passion."

Having a player such as Burke doesn't hurt, either.

The Associated Press player of the year led the Wolverines back from a 14-point deficit against Kansas in the Sweet 16. Then in the Elite Eight, the Wolverines beat Florida 79-59; Burke scored 15 and Nik Stauskas led Michigan with 22 points.

But Burke has never faced a defense quite like this.

"We've just got to try to find different ways to attack the zone," the sophomore guard said. "They play a really good 2-3. It's tough. We've got to make sure we knock down uncontested 3s."

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has assembled a bunch with impressive size and surprising quickness. When they all work together it can be tough to get an open jumper and nearly impossible to work the ball inside.

In the NCAA Tournament the Orange (30-9) has surrendered 45.75 points per game, holding Montana (34), top seed Indiana (50) and Marquette (39) to their lowest scores this season.

Syracuse's four opponents have combined to shoot 28.9 percent (61 of 211) from the floor and 15.4 percent from 3-point range (14 of 91).

Michigan (30-7) prefers to get in the open court as much as possible, a style even more advantageous against a team such as Syracuse, which has a size advantage at almost every position.

The Wolverines are averaging 75.5 points a game on the season, even more (78.8) in their four NCAA games.

They are certainly not intimidated by Syracuse.

"If their zone was unbeatable, then they would be 39-0," Hardaway scoffed. "We're just going to go out there, play our game, not worry about what they're going to do, and just play Michigan basketball."

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