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Final Four preview: Syracuse vs. Michigan

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Keys for a Syracuse victory

1 Inside stuff » A common theme when the Orange lost seven of their last 12 games in the regular season was ineffective work from 6-foot-9 Rakeem Christmas and 6-10 Baye Moussa Keita. In the tournament, they have combined to average 8.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game while holding their ground on defense. Syracuse limited Indiana's Cody Zeller to 3-for-11 shooting, blocking five of his shots. Michigan 6-10 freshman Mitch McGary, who has averaged 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds and hit 73.3 percent of his shots in the tournament, presents a formidable challenge.

2 Defensive rebounding » Playing a zone, Syracuse is often out of position to box out and is vulnerable to offensive rebounds. In the East Region final, Marquette collected 20 offensive boards but turned them into only 15 points. The Orange can't afford to yield as many opportunities against a Michigan squad that has a much better offense than Marquette. Owning the boards (41-24) was key for Michigan in its surprisingly decisive round of 32 victory over VCU. Mitch McGary rebounds 16.1 percent of his team's misses, the 12th-best mark in the nation.

Keys for a Michigan victory

Final Four
Syracuse vs. Michigan
When » Saturday, 8:49 p.m.
Where » Georgia Dome, Atlanta
TV » CBS

1 Run » Using coach John Beilein's patterned offense, the Wolverines don't necessarily favor uptempo, but their players are excellent in transition. Point guard Trey Burke is quick and can handle and distribute. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III run the floor and finish. Nik Stauskas is a deadly 3-point shooter, and Mitch McGary is an excellent rebounder and outlet passer. The best way to combat the Syracuse 2-3 zone is to beat it down the floor for fast-break and secondary break opportunities. The Wolverines have all the elements to score quickly and need to employ them.

2 Penetration » Making 3-pointers is easier said than done, especially against the long, quick defense of Syracuse. But perimeter shots are there for the taking. Syracuse opponents take 40.2 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, fifth most in the nation, but hit only 28.2 percent. The best way to get open shots is to get the ball in the lane and kick it out, according to ESPN's Seth Greenberg. "The guys that get to the middle of that zone have to be playmakers," Greenberg said. "They're gonna have to have guys shot-ready. They're gonna have to get some penetration."

Key matchup

Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse) vs. Trey Burke (Michigan)

Against Indiana, the 6-foot-6 Carter-Williams and 6-4 Brandon Triche overwhelmed 6-foot guards Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell, who combined for zero points and six turnovers. Burke (18.8 ppg, 6.8 apg), the Associated Press national player of the year, is also 6-foot but will be much more difficult to handle and for Carter-Williams (12.1 ppg, 7.4 apg) to operate against. These are not only two of the top playmakers in the nation but two of the best on-ball defenders.

By the numbers

6 Losses for Michigan coach John Beilein without a win against Syracuse when he was at West Virginia (2002-07). At Michigan, Beilein is 0-1 against the Orange.

14.4 Turnover percentage for Michigan, which is the lowest figure in the nation, thanks in large part to the ball-handling ability of point guard Trey Burke.

5 Consecutive decades Syracuse has reached the Final Four. The Orange played in the semifinals in 1975, in the finals in 1987 and 1996 and won the title in 2003.

15.4 Percent 3-point accuracy of the four teams Syracuse has faced in the NCAA tournament. Teams are shooting 28.9 percent overall against the Orange.

Road to the Final Four

Syracuse

Defeated Montana in second round 81-34

Defeat California in third round 66-60

Defeated Indiana in regional semifinal 61-50

Defeated Marquette in regional final 55-39

Michigan

Defeated South Dakota State in second round 71-56

Defeated VCU in third round 78-53

Defeated Kansas in regional semifinal 87-85 (OT)

Defeated Florida in regional final 79-59

The Examiner predicts ...

With national player of the year Trey Burke at the point and three versatile 6-foot-6 starters in the lineup, Michigan has the quickness and length not to be intimidated by the athleticism of the Orange. Earlier in the tournament, the Wolverines handled the vaunted pressure defense of VCU in a 78-53 romp. The Syracuse defense is an entirely different challenge, but the elements that allowed Michigan to handle VCU will translate against the Orange.

Michigan 61, Syracuse 53

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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