NCAA Tournament: Michigan vs. Syracuse Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan 61, Syracuse 56-15
Dustin Johnston

MICH 61 1.02 21-53 40% 13-29 45% 8-24 33% 11-20 55% 13 24 17 10 5 3 11
CUSE 56 .93 23-55 42% 20-41 49% 3-14 21% 7-11 64% 10 23 13 10 7 4 19

Last April, Trey Burke stood in front of reporters and announced that he was going to return to Michigan. The announcement came days after reports swirled that Burke was headed to the league after one, albeit very successful, season at Michigan.

When asked why he would return, Burke didn’t hesitate: he thought the Wolverines could win a National Championship.

“I just feel like we have some unfinished business to do,” Burke explained. “With the recruits coming in and the returning players, I feel like we have a great chance at a National Championship.”

Almost a year after that announcement to the day, Trey Burke is going to lead Michigan out of the tunnel into the Georgia Dome to play for a National Championship on Monday night.

It felt optimistic then, possible in December and foolish in February but now Michigan sits just 40 minutes away from the ultimate goal.

For the majority of this season, Burke has carried the Wolverines. Tonight, in the most important moment of the season, it was just the opposite. Michigan’s unflappable and consistent scorer was stopped dead by Syracuse’s 2-3 zone and his teammates – the reasons he came back to school – shouldered the weight to punch Michigan’s ticket to the National Championship Game.


This was a story of two vastly different halves – on one end of the floor. Michigan’s uncharacteristic consistency on the defensive end of the floor was what allowed it to survive a dreadful second half offensive performance against Syracuse’s zone.

1st Half 2nd Half
Possessions 27 33
Michigan PPP 1.33 0.77
Syracuse PPP 0.93 0.95

Michigan carved up Syracuse in the first half to near perfection. The bench provided a massive lift and suddenly everything fell into place. Michigan was able to exploit the zone but also hit timely threes, found opportunities in transition and avoided turnovers. The Wolverines couldn’t have asked for a better start to the game, up by 11 points and clicking on all cylinders at the break.

As great as those 20 minutes were, the second half was as bad. Michigan gave the ball away on nearly a quarter of its possessions, shot 35% on twos, 29% on threes, and looked perplexed by Syracuse’s defensive look. While the Wolverines did get to the free throw line in the second half, many of the fouls were intentional down the stretch and the Wolverines went just 11-of-20 from the charity stripe for the game.

Despite the offensive ineptitude, Michigan shut down Syracuse’s offense. The Orange mustered just .93 points per trip; this was the fourth time in five NCAA tournament games the Wolverines have held an opponent below a point per possession. Michigan had done that just once in its six games leading up to the tournament.

The Wolverine defense excelled at doing everything short of slowing down CJ Fair, who finished with 22 points on 9-of-20 shooting. It was no secret that Syracuse isn’t a great shooting team and required offensive rebounding to support its offense; Michigan rebounded 70% of the Orange’s misses and allowed just nine second chance points. Syracuse went just 3-of-14 from three point range – James Southerland, the one true three point threat, finished with five points on 1-of-5 three point shooting – and managed an effective field goal percentage of 44.5%.

This day was about Michigan’s defense and its bench – two things that have been questioned steadily throughout the season. The same bench that scored just five points total during the first weekend of the tournament contributed over a third of Michigan’s production and outscored its top three scorers. Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to go just 5-of-26 from the field yet Michigan still won a game in the Final Four, that says a lot about how far this team has come.

Next up is the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, the Louisville Cardinals. The Cardinals survived a scare from Wichita State and are five point favorites according to Ken Pomeroy, who ranks their defense first and offense fifth in adjusted points per possession.

Michigan 61, Syracuse 56-29
Dustin Johnston

Player Bullets:

  • Mitch McGary: McGary’s NCAA tournament transformation shows no sign of slowing down as he continues to post monster numbers. Tonight: 10 points (4-8 fg), 12 rebounds (5 off), six assists and two blocks. McGary isn’t just a more consistent player than he was earlier in the season, he’s now a dominant player. Michigan is a different team with him playing like this and he’s the chief reason for the Wolverines unexpected run. McGary hit mid-range jumpers, started a fast break himself, set the tone early with a high light block, finished with dunks at the rim; there was very little he didn’t do. And kudos to Beilein for trusting him with three fouls, only sitting him for two minutes.
  • Jordan Morgan: Behind Michigan’s tournament run, Morgan has had probably the worst three weeks that anyone could imagine – given the situation. Despite his funk and drastically reduced playing time, he’s stuck with it and kept working. That all paid off down the stretch tonight as he took a critical charge, preventing the tying basket, and was rewarded with a breakaway dunk after Michigan’s final possession.
  • Caris LeVert: Caris LeVert hadn’t made a shot since March 3rd and hadn’t hit a three since February 24th. He looked lost offensively throughout most of the NCAA tournament and had rarely seen the floor. LeVert stepped up when his team needed him most in the Final Four, scoring eight points on 3-of-4 (2-3 3pt) shooting while grabbing four rebounds and handing out two assists in 21 minutes. The offensive production was nice but he also defended well and it was impressive seeing him compete for rebounds late in the game.
  • Glenn Robinson III: Robinson quietly had an impactful game, scoring 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting and grabbing six rebounds – five offensive. He did struggle in pockets of Syracuse’s zone (3 turnovers) and guarding CJ Fair but his impact on the offensive glass was critical.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway scored 13 points on 4-of-16 (3-10 3pt) shooting with six rebounds and five assists. His shooting line is ugly but he needs to be a shot taker for his role in Michigan’s zone offense to work. He did grab six rebounds and hand out five assists to just one turnover, all critical production. And then there was his timely late game save. Michigan needs him to hit shots and he didn’t, but Hardaway still managed to bring a lot to the table.
  • Trey Burke: I don’t remember Burke penetrating the top of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone more than a couple times. He really struggled to break into that middle area off of the bounce and was rendered ineffective because of it. He still scored seven points and handed out four assists but he was obviously not comfortable against the ‘Cuse zone. That’s not to say Burke had an awful game – he grinded out 7 points, grabbed five rebounds, handed out four assists, blocked a shot and added three steals – but Michigan will need his offensive firepower against Louisville.
  • Spike Albrecht: Albrecht was unfazed by Syracuse’s length in the first half and buried a pair of triples, one from what can only be described as Trey Burke range. Albrecht only played four minutes on Saturday but his NCAA tournament has been impressive as he’s made his presence felt (and scored) in every game.
  • Nik Stauskas: Stauskas went 0-of-5 from the floor in 18 minutes. His jumpers seemed rushed and forced against the ‘Cuse zone and once the Orange length affected his shot, he stopped hitting it. Luckily LeVert was waiting in the wings to play a big game.
  • Jon Horford:  Horford scored four points on 1-of-2 shooting but only played four minutes as there aren’t many minutes to be had when Mitch McGary is dominating.
  • A2JD

    Just one more happy game recap to go! GO BLUE!!!

  • umhoopsfan

    Thanks to the articles and discussion in this blog, I was able to follow the game quite well. It seemed to me that McGary tired in the second half, and to add to that, the Michigan guards found it almost impossible to pass to him in the high post. I don’t believe McGary dribbled much in the high post area. Evidently, he had been well-coached. The ball screens at the top of the arc flopped every single time in the 2nd half.

    It seems to me that relying on ball screens at the top of the arc in a 2-3 zone, as well executed as that of the ‘Cuse, is a bad strategy. It is a bit like charging into the face of a well entrenched army with your cavalry — think of the Civil War and how unsuccessful that strategy was for the Union. The 2-3 zone basically looks like two levels of entrenchment, the first to guard the perimeter and the second to guard the low post area. I think a better strategy might be to set up ball screens on the wing. Dribbling is harder near the wing, but a great point guard such as Burke can distort the alignment of the 2-3 zone. This may open up more opportunity to cut inside through the center if the zone shifts itself. If the zone does not shift, it is not much different than a regular ball screen. A great point guard such as Burke can probably switch quickly from wing to wing to repeatedly distort the alignment of the 2-3 zone and open up room in the middle as well as create the ability to pass more effectively to the low post area.

  • DLup06

    I would love to see the half by half breakdown of the OReb rate. Eyeballing it, it really seemed like ‘Cuse was working the offensive boards at a pretty good clip in the first half, but M’s D cracked down on the rebounding in the second. I think Syracuse was looking to spread the floor a little better in the second half, which got them more open looks (and their shooting went up accordingly) but they lost the ability to crash the boards. If true, then the D was fascinatingly consistent in very different ways in each half, picking the gaps that the Syracuse offense left unfilled.

    • Off. Rebounding by half
      1st half: Mich 39%, Syr 24%
      2nd half; Mich 33%, Syr 35%

      • DLup06

        Thanks for providing the info. Wow…my eyeball test is way off. Must put in more work to understand basketball better in the future. I’m improving thanks to UMHoops, but it’s a steep learning curve

  • Wayman Britt

    In late February and early March, I never thought this team could play defense the way they did against Cuse. It won them the game.

    To win this tournament you need different guys to step up and to be able to play different styles of the game, two things UM does very well.

  • Mattski

    Somebody noticed this in a thread at mgoblog, and I found it pretty amazing:





    • jemblue

      Shaka Smart too. He’s beaten four straight coaches with Final Four experience and three with national championship rings.

      • Mattski

        Yes, that could be four–and a possible fifth–Hall of Fame coaches outdueled in a single tournment. Phenomenal.

    • Fab 5 Legends

      overrated McDonald all americans on those teams…we got something to prove…were just as good if not better with team players we have…and beilein is amazing coach

  • Dr_ZC

    Well, I have been a critic of the coaching staff and JB during the B1G season, for failing to respond to game time situations. What I ave seen with this Michigan run seems to be exactly the opposite, and JB doing a masterful job on every aspect. Playing McGary and Morgan as a tandem of 2 bigs for the high low and for defense. Subbing Stauskas with Levert for defensive stops. Giving Spike more minutes to spell Burke or even play them both in pressure situations. Trusting McGary with the starting job, and many other details that were there in the beginning of the season, got lost during the grueling B1G season, only to come back at the right time.

    The extra pass is there. Screens for Stauskas, avoiding to dribble the air out of the ball, etc. The team is clicking at the right time. We have the star players and we get contributions from the least expected subs. Nick, lose the yellow shoes, your time is up.

    • Fab 5 Legends

      agree….amazing coaching with a young team…that peaked at the right time…I thought late January was our high point…wrong….late march baby

  • Fab 5 Legends

    damn it feels good to be a Wolverine fan in March…great contribution by the bench…every game some1 new is stepping up…I love…caris and spike with huge plays….morgan and horford with big plays….trey and nik were off…but oh well…we have timmy and mitch lead the team….and silent yet effective gr3….
    this is our year…Go Blue! I expect a big game from trey burke for the W…

  • Fab 5 Legends

    Chris Webber or Mitch McGary…question of #4…???

  • Fab 5 Legends

    Fab 5 or Youngest team in the country… Michigan 2013????

  • JeremyS

    Michigan played an outstanding 1st half, dominating the zone; playing their best basketball of the year. But in the 2nd half, Michigan went into killing time mode with about 12 minutes to go. I don’t think they looked perplexed, they wanted to run the entire shot clock. Personally, I thought that was a terrible strategy. The reason for all the turnovers was all of the outside passing and all of the dribbling to try to kill clock. This allowed for double and triple teams. The biggest account of this was when there was an inside pass to McGary and he had a 2 on 1 within 5 feet of the basket. And what does he do? He kicks it out all the way to the half court line. He should have just scored. Terrible strategy, especially when your offense was basically unstoppable.

    • I didn’t especially like it either but it’s hard to argue when, ultimately, it worked. If UM hits their free throws down the stretch the game is never close.

    • Adam St Patrick

      Michigan scored 4 FGs in the final 14:58. Morgan’s last-second dunk was the fifth FG in that stretch. So I don’t see the offense as being unstoppable, and I don’t think the drought was Michigan killing clock. Let’s give Syracuse credit. That was an amazing, amazing defense. Syracuse got McGary out with 3 with 12 or so to go, and Michigan never recovered again any sense of offensive flow. Their ability to recover was astounding. A few times McGary did his job hitting Morgan or Robinson down low but the time those players had to catch and shoot was so incredibly small. By the end of the game Michigan could hardly inbound the ball they were so uncomfortable.

      So credit where it’s due: to Boeheim and ‘Cuse. Michigan played good D too though, and that’s why it won.

  • JeremyS

    To properly celebrate this amazing occasion I’m going to a bar in downtown Ann Arbor to watch tomorrow’s game. Anyone have any good suggestions on where to go? I haven’t been downtown in 15 years since college.

    • Fab 5 Legends

      the brown jug?…that entire strip should be full tomorrow night…wish I was there

    • Adam

      Get there really early if you are going.. I went last night and every bar was packed with a huge line 3 hours before the game.. Jug, Charleys, Blue Lep, Arena, pretty much everything

  • Tim Kuppler

    Check out this comparison of the winning culture being built at U of M to Rutgers:

  • Fab 5 Legends

    im thinking jalen, juwon, ray an jimmy along with other Michigan alums will be there…will CHRIS WEBBER show up??? or even watch the game???

    • I would bet Webber will watch the game at least. There was a clip on YouTube where he was doing color on an NBA game and hummed The Victors when they did a promo for the NCAA Tournament broadcast.

  • Alex

    I was wondering what our PPP where for the possessions where McGary facilitated from the high post. Anyone know? I’m guessing it was pretty high…