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Posts Tagged ‘Syracuse’

Inside the Numbers: Ready for the rough road ahead

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014


Beilein vs Wisconsin(Mike McGinnis, Getty Images)

Even though “Inside the Numbers” had been claiming for weeks that Michigan was a Big Ten contender, it was not until Michigan’s fifth straight victory to open Big Ten play that the rest of the nation realized the same. Last Saturday, Michigan walked into the Kohl Center—a place where U-M had not won since 1999—and beat the Wisconsin Badgers, 77-70, in one of the most aesthetically-pleasing college basketball games thus far this season.

The Wolverines were in command almost the entire contest. They led Wisconsin—last week’s No.3 team in the Associated Press poll—for all but one minute and 25 seconds and owned a 15-point lead midway through the second half. Wisconsin enhanced the drama by cutting U-M’s lead to one with two minutes left. But, in those final two minutes, UW never had possession of the basketball with the opportunity to reclaim the lead. That is because Nik Stauskas buried the Badgers with this “cold-blooded,” step-back three-pointer.

Stauskas 3 vs Wisconsin

Nik Stauskas took over down the stretch to help Michigan top Wisconsin (Mike McGinnis, Getty Images)

Not only did Michigan earn what advanced metrics considered at the time to be the toughest Big Ten contest a team could win this season, it was a historic victory for the program from Ann Arbor. It was Michigan’s first win against an AP Top 3 team in the seven years John Beilein has served as the Wolverines’ head coach. It also was the first road win against an AP Top 3 team in the 98 years of Michigan basketball.

But Michigan has no time to celebrate. The path to a Big Ten championship will not become any less bumpy, especially in the next few days. What is the Wolverines’ reward for beating Wisconsin in Madison? It is the opportunity to play No.10 Iowa at home tonight and No.3 Michigan State in East Lansing just three days thereafter.

This will be the second time that Michigan has played three straight regular-season games against AP Top 10 schools in program history. The first time the Wolverines endured such a challenge was in December of 1963. Michigan cruised to a 16-point win against No.5 Duke, defeated No.10 NYU by nine points, and lost to No.4 UCLA, 98-80, in the span of seven days that December.

However, this will not be the first time in 51 years that Michigan has faced such a difficult stretch of games. In actuality, the Wolverines have become quite accustomed to playing some of the nation’s best teams in three or more consecutive games, having done so each of the past three seasons. Since the 2010-11 season, the Wolverines have played at least three consecutive contests against opponents ranked in the Top 15 of Ken Pomeroy’s rankings—which are formulated by an advanced algorithm—at least once each season. Those challenges have prepared Michigan for the obstacles it will face not only this week, but in February, too.

During the 2010-11 season, the Maize and Blue were scheduled to play Wisconsin, Kansas, and Ohio State in three consecutive contests from January 5 to January 12, 2011. The Badgers were outside the AP Top 25, but Pomeroy’s algorithm—which is a much better evaluator of a college basketball teams’ ability—ranked them at No.15. There was no such discrepancy with regards to Kansas and Ohio State as both rankings listed the Jayhawks and Buckeyes in the Top 3.

Michigan’s Most Difficult Three-Game Stretch in 2010-11

Date

Opponent

Site

Opp. AP Rank

Opp. Pomeroy Rank

Pomeroy Win Odds

Result

Jan. 5, 2011

Wisconsin

Away

NR

#15

23%

L, 50-66

Jan. 9, 2011

Kansas

Home

#3

#3

43%

L, 60-67 (OT)

Jan. 12, 2011

Ohio St.

Home

#2

#2

32%

L, 64-68

Table 1Pomeroy’s algorithm gave Michigan a 70.2 percent chance to win at least once. Further, the most likely scenario was that U-M would finish escape this brutal run with a 1-2 record, having a 45.4 percent chance of doing so. Yet the Wolverines lost all three games. Michigan fought hard against Kansas and Ohio State at home, pushing each to the brink, but U-M could not muster the few extra points needed to give the students a reason to storm the court at the then-named Crisler Arena. It was a disappointing stretch for the Wolverines—especially since it was the first half of what would be a six-game losing streak—but not completely unexpected for a team ranked outside Pomeroy’s Top 50.

However, it was a learning experience for Michigan and gave U-M a taste of what the Big Ten schedule would be like the next few years. In 2011-12, the Wolverines were a much better team. U-M was 16-5, 6-2 in the Big Ten, and No.33 in Pomeroy’s rankings. But Ohio State, Indiana, and Michigan State were the next three Big Ten teams with which Michigan was getting into the ring. Almost midway through the conference season, the Wolverines were eyeing a Big Ten championship and could not afford to be shut out during their toughest three-game stretch for the second straight year.

Michigan’s Most Difficult Three-Game Stretch in 2011-12

Date

Opponent

Site

Opp. AP Rank

Opp. Pomeroy Rank

Pomeroy Win Odds

Result

Jan. 29, 2012

Ohio St.

Away

#4

#1

6%

L, 49-64

Feb. 1, 2012

Indiana

Home

#20

#10

45%

W, 68-56

Feb. 5, 2012

Michigan St.

Away

#9

#5

15%

L, 54-64

Table 2Despite being a better team in 2011-12 than the previous season, Michigan’s toughest three-game stretch in 2011-12 was more difficult because U-M played two of those three games on the road rather than in Ann Arbor. As a result, Pomeroy believed the Wolverines had only a 56.1 percent chance to record at least one victory. The most likely outcome was that U-M would finish with a 1-2 record, but finishing with a 0-3 record was less than three percentage points away from being just as likely. But, unlike 2010-11, Michigan lived up to its expectations and snatched one win, defeating Indiana by 12 points at home.

This was an improvement from Michigan’s three-game stretch the prior season. The Wolverines learned just how valuable it is to protect home court during Big Ten play. By doing so against the Hoosiers, U-M stayed amidst the Big Ten race. Following this treacherous three-game stretch, Michigan won six of its final seven games and captured its first share of a Big Ten regular season championship since 1986. Without that victory against Indiana, U-M’s Big Ten-championship drought would be at 27 years.

Last season, Michigan fielded its best team in two decades. Coincidentally, Big Ten officials decided that scheduling three straight games against Pomeroy Top 15 opponents was too easy for the Wolverines, so they decided to schedule four straight instead. And to make matters worse, three of those would be played in Big Ten cities not named Ann Arbor. Nonetheless, many expected the Wolverines to maneuver past these roadblocks because U-M endured these rough patches in the schedule the past two years and was one of the nation’s best teams.

Michigan’s Most Difficult Four-Game Stretch in 2012-13

Date

Opponent

Site

Opp. AP Rank

Opp. Pomeroy Rank

Pomeroy Win Odds

Result

Feb. 2, 2013

Indiana

Away

#3

#2

32%

L, 73-81

Feb. 5, 2013

Ohio St.

Home

#10

#11

76%

W, 76-74 (OT)

Feb. 9, 2013

Wisconsin

Away

NR

#14

56%

L, 62-65 (OT)

Feb. 12, 2013

Michigan St.

Away

#8

#14

55%

L, 52-75

Table 3Even though Michigan was going to play three of these four games on the road, Pomeroy’s algorithm still gave U-M a 77 percent chance to win at least two games. And the most likely outcome was that the Wolverines would finish with a 2-2 record. The Wolverines did remember their lesson from 2011-12 and protected their home court, edging Ohio State by two points in overtime.

But what Michigan needed to learn was how to win road contests during these tough stretches. U-M’s best shot was in Madison against Wisconsin when Tim Hardaway, Jr. broke a tie with a three-pointer with about two seconds left. But Wisconsin guard Ben Brust miraculously converted a buzzer-beating, half-court prayer to send the game to overtime where the Badgers would escape with a win. The heartbreaking loss sucked the wind out of U-M’s sails, and the Wolverines ultimately were unable to win any of those three road games. Thus, Michigan finished with a 1-3 record, below Pomeroy’s expectations for U-M.

Those three brutal stretches of games—in three consecutive seasons, no less—would take their toll on every team in NCAA D-1 basketball. The odds of even the best college basketball team escaping all three of those stretches unscathed would be slim to none. But Michigan posted only a 2-8 record during those three stretches combined. None of those wins were outside Ann Arbor. Given the expectations set by Pomeroy, U-M underwhelmed. And there were questions about whether Michigan could beat elite teams away from the Crisler Center.

But, then, everything clicked. Michigan became acclimated to these brutal conditions, and U-M’s experiences from those difficult stretches of games finally began to pay off. Proof? See Michigan’s magical run through the 2013 NCAA Tournament. In the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four, the Wolverines matched up against Kansas, Florida, and Syracuse, respectively, on neutral sites. All three opponents were ranked in Pomeroy’s Top 10. Pomeroy thought that Michigan had only a 7.4 percent chance to beat all three and advance to the national championship game. And, yet, the Wolverines did just that and were seven points shy of winning the program’s second national title.

Now, in the 2013-14 season, the Wolverines have begun to show that it can win contests not just at neutral sites, but also in true road games during these difficult stretches. Michigan proved that with its aforementioned upset win against Wisconsin four days ago. The Wolverines need to continue to show the nation that they can survive these stretches, starting with the one they are amid right now.

Michigan’s Difficult Three-Game Stretch from Jan. 18, 2014 to Jan. 25, 2014

Date

Opponent

Site

Opp. AP Rank

Opp. Pomeroy Rank

Pomeroy Win Odds

Result

Jan. 18

Wisconsin

Away

#3

#4

22%

W, 77-70

Jan. 22

Iowa

Home

#10

#5

57%

TBD

Jan. 25

Michigan St.

Away

#3

#6

31%

TBD

Table 4Before Michigan played Wisconsin in the Kohl Center, Pomeroy gave U-M a 23.1 percent chance that it would be winless during this stretch. Yet U-M already eliminated that possibility. So, with one win in the bank, Michigan already has matched its expectations and needs just one win against Iowa or Michigan State this week to surpass them. The odds that the Maize and Blue do just that: 70.3 percent.

With a 5-0 conference record and more than a seven-tenths chance to defeat at least one of the two Big Ten schools it will be competing with in the Big Ten race, Michigan has set itself up to make a run at a conference championship. However, it is not all cupcakes and ice cream once Michigan finishes this current test. In February, the Wolverines will endure a similarly difficult four-game stretch that likely will determine whether they have a legitimate shot at winning their second Big Ten title in three years.

Michigan’s Difficult Four-Game Stretch from Feb. 8, 2014 to Feb. 23, 2014

Date

Opponent

Site

Opp. AP Rank

Opp. Pomeroy Rank

Pomeroy Win Odds

Result

Feb. 8

Iowa

Away

#10

#5

27%

TBD

Feb. 11

Ohio St.

Away

#17

#16

36%

TBD

Feb. 16

Wisconsin

Home

#9

#7

62%

TBD

Feb. 23

Michigan St.

Home

#3

#6

62%

TBD

Table 5Pomeroy believes that the most likely outcome for Michigan during this second brutal stretch is a 2-2 record, with a 40 percent chance to do so. Pomeroy also thinks that Michigan has a 65 percent chance to grab at least two wins. Therefore, in Michigan’s seven games against the best of the Big Ten this season, Pomeroy’s algorithm gives the Wolverines almost a 50 percent chance to have no worse than a 4-3 record.

That is not a typo. Advanced metrics give Michigan almost a 50-50 shot to finish with at least a 4-3 record against Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio State in 2013-14. If the Wolverines can land on the right side of that coin flip, they likely will finish with no worse than a 14-4 Big Ten record assuming U-M loses a game or two it should win. That will likely result in a earning a share of the Big Ten championship and maybe even the whole thing.

Michigan is a Big Ten contender. Not only is U-M a Big Ten contender, it is a Big Ten contender whose conference season will be decided in two treacherous stretches that would break most teams. But Michigan has learned how to handle these rough sections of the road in the Big Ten, improving each of the past three seasons. The Wolverines now know how to maneuver through them whether they are at home or on the road.

Michigan did it on Saturday in Madison against Wisconsin. Tune into the Big Ten Network tonight at 7 p.m. EST to see if the Wolverines can do it for the second straight game against Iowa at the Crisler Center.

(4) Michigan 61 – (4) Syracuse 56: Unsung heroes step up to lead Wolverines to title game

Sunday, April 7th, 2013


Tim and Trey both struggled, but got contributions from some unsung heroes (Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images)

Final 1st 2nd Total
#10 Michigan (31-7) 36 25 61
#16 Syracuse (30-10) 25 31 56

Syracuse had the mismatch at every position and would exploit Michigan’s smaller guards. Or so they said. Their 2-3 matchup zone would confuse Michigan’s young and inexperienced freshmen. Or so they said. They shut down Indiana in the Sweet 16, a team that beat Michigan twice, so they could easily do the same to Michigan. Or so they said.

Syracuse did all the talking leading up to Saturday’s Final Four matchup, but Michigan had most of the bite on the court, beating the Orange 61-56 to advance to Monday night’s championship game. But it wasn’t the way one would have expected Michigan to win.

The Wolverines’ top three scorers, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Nik Stauskas, were held to a combined 20 points on 5-of-29 shooting. Normally, that kind of production from the big three would have doomed Michigan’s chances, especially in a game of this magnitude, but as has been the case throughout this tournament run, a team effort won out.

In the first half, the unlikely contributions came from the other freshmen, Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht, who each hit a pair of big threes to help Michigan pull out to an 11-point halftime lead. The pair finished the game with a combined 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting.

Spike Albrecht hit two big threes in the first half (Charlie Neibergall, AP)

Mitch McGary put together his third double-double in the last four games, finishing with 10 points and 12 rebounds, and also fueled the Wolverines with a team-high six assists and two blocks.

Burke was held to single digits for the second time in the tournament after scoring at least 15 in every single Big Ten game, but played the role of reliable playmaker against the harassing Syracuse guards. He didn’t try to do too much as he did in some of Michigan’s losses this season, instead making the extra pass to find the open man. He also made big plays on the defensive end, coming up with three steals, none bigger than a steal that resulted in a fast break assist to McGary for a dunk.

Hardaway made just four of his 16 shots from the field, including 3-of-10 from three-point range, but the shots he did make were timely. He scored Michigan’s first basket of the second half, a three that stopped a Syracuse run, and hit another three midway through the second half after the Orange had cut the Michigan lead to four. He also made two big free throws down the stretch, helping Michigan hold onto its lead.

From the start of the game, Michigan seemed ready to take on the zone unlike anything it had seen all season. The Wolverine offense was patient and took care of the ball. Thanks to the big shots hit by LeVert and Albrecht, combined with some good passing by McGary from the high post and a good offensive rebounding performance, Michigan controlled most of the first half. Michigan carried a 11-point lead into the locker room.

At the beginning of the second, Syracuse started slowly chipping away at the lead, cutting it to six by the under-12 timeout and three by the under-eight timeout. Michigan scored five straight to go back ahead by eight, but the Orange weren’t out of it yet. Two straight dunks cut it to four, and after the teams traded free throws, Syracuse forwards James Southerland hit a three to pull within one at 57-56.

Burke was sent to the free throw line where he made one of two, and with 19 seconds left Jordan Morgan stepped in front of Syracuse guard Brandon Triche to draw a charge. The foul took Triche out of the game, and Jon Horford went to the line where he made one of two. With 15 seconds remaining, Syracuse had one last chance, down by three, but Hardaway rebounded the missed shot and found Morgan for a breakaway dunk to seal the win.

Michigan shot 39.6 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three-point range. While those numbers are lower than the Wolverines’ season and tournament averages, they’re much better than Montana, California, Indiana, and Marquette managed against the Orange in the first two weeks of the tournament.

The Wolverines will remain in Atlanta to face top-seeded Louisville on Monday night for the national championship. The Cardinals beat Wichita State 72-68 in the early game on Saturday.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 5-7 0-1 0-0 5 1 6 0 10 0 3 0 0 35
10 Tim Hardaway Jr.* 4-16 3-10 2-2 2 4 6 3 13 5 1 0 0 39
03 Trey Burke* 1-8 1-4 4-6 1 4 5 2 7 4 1 3 1 38
04 Mitch McGary* 4-8 0-0 2-6 5 7 12 4 10 6 3 0 2 36
11 Nik Stauskas* 0-5 0-4 0-0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 18
23 Caris LeVert 3-4 2-3 0-0 0 4 4 1 8 2 1 0 0 21
15 Jon Horford 1-2 0-0 2-3 0 1 1 1 4 0 0 0 0 4
02 Spike Albrecht 2-2 2-2 0-1 0 1 1 0 3 0 0 0 0 5
52 Jordan Morgan 1-1 0-0 1-2 0 0 0 0 3 0 1 0 0 5
Totals 21-53 8-24 11-20 13 24 37 11 61 17 10 5 3 200
Syracuse 23-55 3-14 7-11 10 23 33 19 56 13 10 7 4 200

Michigan vs Syracuse preview

Friday, April 5th, 2013


#10 Michigan (4) vs #16 Syracuse (4) | FINAL FOUR
Saturday, April 6 | 8:49pm ET | CBS
30-7 (12-6) Record 30-9 (11-7)
Slippery Rock 100-62
IUPUI 91-54
Cleveland State 77-47
Pittsburgh 67-62
Kansas State 71-57
NC State 79-72
Bradley 74-66
W. Michigan 73-41
Arkansas 80-67
Binghamton 67-39
West Virginia 81-66
E. Michigan 93-54
C. Michigan 88-73
Northwestern 94-66
Iowa 95-67
Nebraska 62-47
#9 Minnesota 83-75
Purdue 68-53
Illinois 74-60
Northwestern 68-46
#10 Ohio St. 76-74 OT
Penn State 79-71
Illinois 71-58
#9 Michigan St. 58-57
Purdue 80-75
Penn State 83-66
S. Dakota State 71-56
VCU 78-53
#3 Kansas 87-85 OT
#14 Florida 79-59
Wins San Diego St. 62-49
Wagner 88-57
Princeton 73-53
Colgate 87-51
Arkansas 91-82
E. Michigan 84-48
Long Beach St. 84-53
Monmouth 108-56
Canisius 85-61
Detroit 72-68
Alcorn State 57-36
Central Conn. St.  96-62
Rutgers 78-53
S. Florida 55-44
Providence 72-66
Villanova 72-61
#1 Louisville 70-68
#21 Cincinnati 57-55
#25 Notre Dame 63-47
St. John’s 77-58
Seton Hall 76-65
Providence 84-59
DePaul 78-57
Seton Hall 75-63
#17 Pittsburgh 62-59
#5 G’town 58-55 OT
Montana 81-34
California 66-60
#4 Indiana 61-50
#15 Marquette 55-39
#15 Ohio State 56-53
#3 Indiana 73-81
Wisconsin 62-65 OT
#8 Michigan St. 52-75
Penn State 78-84
#2 Indiana 71-72
#22 Wisconsin 59-68
Losses Temple 79-83
Villanova 71-75 OT
Pittsburgh 55-65
UConn 58-66
#11 G’town 46-57
#22 Marquette 71-74
#10 Louisville 53-58
#5 G’town 39-61
#4 Louisville 61-78
75.5 Points Per Game 70.8
62.9 Scoring Defense 58.6
1,047-for-2,159 (48.5%) Field Goal % 984-for-2,238 (44.0%)
890-for-2,105 (42.3%) Def. Field Goal % 773-for-2,101 (36.8%)
280-for-727 (38.5%) 3-point % 230-for-683 (33.7%)
231-for-715 (32.3%) Def. 3-point % 238-for-843 (28.2%)
421-for-597 (70.5%) Free Throw % 562-for-832 (67.5%)
11.4 FT Made/Game 14.4
35.2 Rebounds Per Game 38.5
32.1 Opp. Reb. Per Game 34.8
14.5 Assists Per Game 14.1
9.4 Turnovers Per Game 12.4
6.2 Steals Per Game 9.1
2.8 Blocks Per Game 6.2
G – Trey Burke (18.8)
G – Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.6)
Leading Scorer F – CJ Fair (14.4)
F – J. Southerland (13.9)
F – Mitch McGary (6.2)
F – Glenn Robinson III (5.5)
Leading Rebounder F – CJ Fair (7.1)
F – J. Southerland (5.2)

It wasn’t long ago that the Michigan basketball program seemed to be heading nowhere. Mired in the muck of years of sanctions, simply reaching the NCAA Tournament was a lofty goal. The once-proud program was reduced to a NIT regular. But this is a new era.

Tomorrow night, Michigan will take the court in the Final Four for the first time in 20 years. All eyes will be on the young Wolverines that have danced through the tournament with a lot of swagger and a little bit of luck. After opening the tournament as a trendy pick to be upset, Michigan beat South Dakota State and then ran VCU out of the gym. The luck came in the improbable comeback against Kansas in the Sweet 16, but the Wolverines carried that momentum into a dominating 20-point win over Florida. For the most part, Michigan has done it with its offense, looking nearly unstoppable.

Mighty Syracuse has its own plans of advancing to the title game and has also taken the tournament by storm, albeit in a different way. The Orange have won with defense, Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone that has stifled the likes of Indiana – who beat Michigan twice this season – and Marquette.

So what will give in this titanic battle of offense versus defense? Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for Michigan.

1. Handle the pressure. The pressure will be enormous for the team that starts three true freshmen alongside all-everything point guard Trey Burke and future NBA’er Tim Hardaway Jr. Even John Beilein, a veteran coach of nearly four decades, has never coached a game of this magnitude.

This week, the distractions and the attention paid to the team have been at an all-time high. It would be easy, especially for a kid who was probably on high school spring break this time a year ago to lose focus on the task at hand. Just look back to mid-season when Michigan reached No. 1 in the national rankings and then proceded to lose to Ohio State.

Perhaps the experience of feeling the pressure and not handling it well will pay off this time around. Beilein has shown he’s fully capable of keeping the team loose and confident, and now they Wolverines will have to play with the confidence they have shown in the last two weeks.

2. Score in transition. Syracuse’s zone has held opponents to just 29 percent shooting and 15 percent three-point shooting so far in the tournament. Michigan has caught fire in the tournament, especially against Florida on Sunday, but if the Wolverines have to completely rely on the outside shot to beat Syracuse, it won’t bode well. Pushing the tempo and getting out in transition will be important for Michigan which thrives on fast break baskets because it will keep Syracuse from being able to set up the half court defense that has given opponents fits. The more Michigan can score in transition, the better chance the Wolverines have of winning.

3. Make Syracuse work for its points. Michigan played good defense against Florida, but the Wolverines haven’t been a good defensive team for most of the season. Kansas was able to score basically at will in the Sweet 16 matchup, and Michigan can’t let Syracuse do the same. Since points will be hard to come by on the offensive end, Michigan must play tough defense and force Syracuse to make contested shots. The Orange are a good but not great offensive team, averaging 70.8 points per game. They finished eighth in the Big East in shooting (44 percent) and seventh in three-point shooting (33.7 percent), so keeping them from getting easy layups will make things easier on the other end of the court.

Overall, I think this game completely depends on how well Michigan’s freshmen handle the big stage. If Nik Stauskas is hitting his shots, Glenn Robinson III isn’t invisible, and Mitch McGary keeps from picking up early fouls, Michigan will have a great shot to win this game. If the shots aren’t falling and Burke has to revert to doing it all himself, it will be a long day for the Wolverines. I think the swagger will continue, Burke will once again steal the show, and Michigan will advance to Monday’s title game with a 74-68 win. Sam’s prediction: 69-62 Michigan.

Breaking down the Syracuse zone and how Michigan can beat it

Thursday, April 4th, 2013


Saturday’s Final Four matchup between the two remaining four-seeds in the this year’s tournament, Michigan and Syracuse, is being hyped up as a classic battle between the high-powered offense of the Wolverines and the stingy 2-3 patented zone defense of Jim Boeheim’s Orangemen. Michigan has scored more than 70 points in all four games thus far in the Big Dance while Syracuse has yet to give up more than 60 themselves.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Boeheim’s defense is that no one can seem to beat it despite it rarely changing. When a team faces Syracuse, they know what is coming. The challenge is in breaking it, which John Beilein is undoubtedly working his tail off in the film room to do. In his career, Beilein is 0-9 against Boeheim, and the last time these two faced off, back in 2010, then-No.10 Syracuse edged Michigan 53-50. Here is a quick preview of what makes the zone so good and how to attack it successfully.

Videos that visualize the zone and the basic principles:

How the Zone Beats You

1. Length and Athleticism: The one constant you will find among Jim Boeheim’s recruits is size, and this year’s Syracuse squad is no different. At the top of the 2-3 zone are 6’4″ senior Brandon Triche and 6’6″ sophomore Michael Carter-Williams, who reportedly boast 6’10″ and 7’0″ wingspans, respectively. Anchoring the zone are 6’8″ senior James Southerland, 6’7″ junior C.J. Fair, and 6’9″ sophomore Rakeem Christmas, with respective wingspans of 7’3″, 6’9″, and 7’3″.

Right off the bat, the length makes it almost impossible to get off uncontested shots from anywhere on the floor, and the fact that Syracuse has some of the best athletes left in the tournament doesn’t help. Any pass inside or around the perimeter will be challenged by this length, and lazy passes are bound to be intercepted. Inside the Orange send away a lethal 19 percent of their opponents’ shots, and teams struggle to score from anywhere on the floor, shooting just 43 percent from two and 28 percent from three on the year, defensive marks good for 20th and 3rd best in the country. Just when it seems there is an open lane or an easy layup, one of Syracuse’s guards is bound to cut it off, or a big man is right there to block it.

2. No Easy Shots: Watch any amount of Syracuse’s zone defense and one thing really stands out – rarely do they give up easy looks. Sure, there are holes in any zone, and teams will get open looks that most teams hate to surrender, but part of Boeheim’s genius is that he will give up a wide open 20- to 25-footer any day over a wide open layup or dunk. The Orange do a great job of making the tough shot look appealing and making the easy shots impossible to come by. Indiana, one of the best offensive teams in the country, was absolutely stifled by the zone last weekend and only managed to make one out of every three shots, and just three of their 15 from downtown. When Indiana wasn’t bricking contested shots or deep looks, they were getting rejected – in all, 34 percent of their shots met the out-stretched hands of Syracuse before coming close to going in.

John Beilein is 0-9 in his career against Jim Boeheim's zone

3. Forcing Turnovers: The last thing Syracuse is phenomenal at is taking the ball away. The Orange have forced turnovers on 23.6 percent of their opponents’ possessions this season, good for 27th in Division I, and are the seventh-best team in the nation when it comes to steals, which lead directly to fast-breaks. Michigan obviously is tremendous at holding onto the ball and getting a shot up on more possessions than anyone else in the country, but the Wolverines have not seen a ton of zone all year, and that could be cause for concern. The Orange can really frustrate and wear teams down with their length and athleticism, and usually force their opponents to take a good 25-30 seconds off the shot clock each time down the court. The longer it takes to get a shot up, however, and the more perimeter passes thrown, the better the chance the possession will end with a turnover. Because it’s hard to penetrate and Syracuse’s defenders rarely tire because they don’t have to move as much, turning the ball over is always a potential problem.

How You Beat the Zone

1. Make Shots: It can’t get much easier than this point, but it can’t get much harder either. Make your shots against the zone and it suddenly becomes much simpler to beat it. Syracuse will give up open looks when one side of the court is over-loaded, and it will be Michigan’s job to make those open shots when they have them. Nik Stauskas has been excellent all year in knocking down threes with a hand in his face; if he is able to do more of that Saturday, Michigan should find itself in good shape. To get open looks, Michigan will have to move the ball quickly and efficiently. Look for a number of skip passes over the top of the zone for open threes as well as kick-outs from penetration and from the high post, which is the soft spot in between the two lines of the 2-3. The man flashing to the elbow for Michigan will also have a number of open looks that Syracuse will happily give up. Mitch McGary and Tim Hardaway, Jr. need to take those open looks with confidence and knock them down to open up the floor.

2. Feed the High Post: Rarely will you have success against the zone by just passing the ball around the perimeter all possession long and then throwing up a long three. The key is to have smart flashes to the elbow/free throw line area, where opportunities abound, from McGary, Hardaway, and Glenn Robinson III. When the ball gets to the high post, there are a number of options. First, the quick turnaround jumper will often be open. Second, a pass to the high post can create a quick turnstile to rotate the ball to the opposite end of the floor for a corner three. Third, the high post man can draw the back line of the defense forward and look for the baseline cut for an easy layup. Lastly, the high post can get a nice drive to the basket if the baseline man comes up and sets a screen. Louisville had success with the third and fourth keys here in the second half of the Big East championship game, when they scored 56 points after only mustering 22 in the first half (whole game video below). As opposed to only having one high post man and one man on the baseline, however, the Cardinals mixed it up a little by bringing the baseline man up to the opposite elbow and running screens or cuts to the basket. The bottom line is ultimately that when the ball gets in the middle of the zone, good things usually happen for the offense.

3. Mix it Up: The last key to beating Syracuse’s zone in the half court set is simply to throw some different looks at it. Running the same action time and time again will likely produce the same poor result, and as soon as one play has success against the Orange, they will throw just a slight wrinkle in to stop it. Michigan loves to run ball screens, and while those don’t always work incredibly well against the zone, they should still use the screen often to open up the driving lanes and get Syracuse out of whack. Trey Burke is one of the best penetrators in the game, and if he is able to get past the first line of defense, Michigan should have success with numbers closer to the basket or open looks from outside.

4. Beat the Zone up the Court: Perhaps the most effective way of beating the zone, especially for a team like Michigan, is to beat Syracuse up the floor and prevent them from setting it up. The Maize and Blue are nearly unstoppable on the fast-break, and they should again be looking to attack whenever they create a turnover, grab a steal, or corral a long rebound. Syracuse will try to set up their 2-3 look in almost every situation, but if Michigan has the numbers advantage while running, one or two men for Syracuse can’t play a zone by themselves.

Other Videos of Syracuse’s zone in action:

A first look at Michigan’s Final Four opponent: Syracuse

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013


Michigan clinched its first Final Four berth in 20 years with a 79-59 win over Florida on Sunday. Now, the Wolverines face Big East tournament runner-up Syracuse on Saturday night with a spot in the national championship game on the line. Three weeks ago, few thought this could be likely. Both teams limped to the finish like at the end of the regular season, Michigan going 6-6, including the Big Ten Tournament, and Syracuse dropping four of its last five prior to the start of the Big East Tournament.

One of those losses by the Orange was a 61-39 regular season ending loss at the hands of Georgetown – the lowest points Syracuse had scored in a game since 1962. It left Jim Boeheim’s squad having to play on day two of the Big East Tournament rather than getting a double bye, but the Orange reeled off three straight wins, including a revenge win over Georgetown, before falling to Louisville in the tournament finale.

James Southerland will be a tough matchup for Michigan's defense

When the Big Dance began, Syracuse found itself a somewhat disappointing four-seed – just like Michigan – and undervalued in its region. An opening round 81-34 blowout of Montana was hardly surprising, but from there, Syracuse has been impressive. In the Round of 32, the Orange held on to beat California, 66-60, despite going 12 minutes without a basket, shooting just 39.1 percent for the game, and missing 15 free throws.

The Sweet 16 was where most thought Syracuse would bow out, but a strong defensive performance virtually shut down Big Ten regular season champion Indiana en route to a 61-50 win. The 50 points allowed were the Hoosiers’ lowest of the season as Tom Crean’s squad struggled against Boeheim’s tried and true 2-3 zone. Indiana, the Big Ten’s second-best shooting offense, shot just 33 percent from the field and fell behind by as many as 16 in the first half. It took the Hoosiers 14 minutes to reach double digits and by then it was too late.

On Saturday, Syracuse faced a rematch with Big East foe Marquette, which beat the Orange in the season’s only previous meeting, 74-71. In this one, however, it was the Syracuse zone that caused problems for Marquette just like it did to the Hoosiers. The Golden Eagles were held to just 23 percent shooting and scored just 39 points, the lowest output for a team in the Elite 8 since 1986, and Syracuse won by 16.

The common theme throughout Syracuse’s tournament run has been its relentless 2-3 zone. Through four tournament games, it is holding opponents to just 29 percent shooting and 15 percent from three-point range, while averaging 6.5 blocks and 10.8 steals per game. The length and athleticism of the Orange has given opponents fits, but those opponents haven’t done their part either. If any team in the tournament can solve the zone, it’s Michigan which led the Big Ten in shooting and ranked second in three-point shooting, and is firing on all cylinders right now.

Michigan currently features the nation’s top adjusted scoring offense and has the guard play that can handle the zone. It will be Trey Burke’s job to get into the paint and either hit the jumper if he’s open or dish it out to the wings if the zone collapses. It’s a good problem to have. Throw in the emergence of Mitch McGary on the inside and it gives the Wolverines the added dimension if Syracuse is taking away the perimeter.

Offensively, Syracuse ranks 21st in adjusted offense and ranked third in the Big East with a scoring average of 70.8. However, the Orange were just middle of the pack (eighth) with a 44 percent field goal clip and seventh in three-point shooting (33.7 percent). Boeheim’s squad is definitely a team that wins with its defense and uses it to set up its offense.

Michigan will try to capitalize on mistakes made by Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams (Jessica Hill, AP)

Junior forward C.J. Fair is the team’s leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, but senior forward James Southerland is arguably the team’s best overall player. He averages 13.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 45.6 percent overall and 40.3 percent from downtown. He scored a season high 35 points on Nov. 30 at Arkansas, but managed five against Indiana last Thursday.

Senior guard Brandon Triche and sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams are both extremely talented and capable scorers, averaging 13.7 and 12.1 points, respectively. However, both have struggled with inconsistency this season. Both have been sloppy at taking care of the ball, which could feed into Michigan’s propensity for getting out and running. Triche had six turnovers against Indiana and seven in the Big East Tournament loss to Louisville. In fact, he’s had nine games this season with four or more turnovers. Carter-Williams, meanwhile, has had 16 such games, including an eight-turnover game against Louisville in January.

Michigan hasn’t been known for its defense this season, but should be able to apply some pressure to the Syracuse guards to force some turnovers and get out on the run. That should allow the Wolverines to get some baskets without having to face the zone. That will be vitally important to Michigan’s chances of winning because it may depend on whether the Wolverines’ shots are falling or not.

Whether Syracuse is the toughest opponent Michigan has faced in the tournament thus far is questionable – Kansas was likely the better team – but the 2-3 zone makes the Orange a tough matchup and virtually requires a good shooting night. Thankfully, Michigan is fully capable of that, especially if it can keep the swagger it has shown in the past two weeks.

Stay tuned for a breakdown of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone in the next day or two and further coverage of the matchup leading up to Saturday’s game.

Can Michigan overtake Duke for top spot?

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012


Michigan’s continued dominance coupled with Indiana’s overtime loss to Butler on Saturday afternoon allowed the Wolverines to move up yet another spot in the national rankings. Michigan began the season fifth, but has steadily climbed to second while those above them have faltered. All except Duke, which remains the only team ranked ahead of them.

The last time Michigan reached second in the rankings was the second year of the Fab Five, the 1992-93 season that remains marred by scandal and erased from the record books. Most current college students have never seen Michigan ranked as high as it is now.

So how far can the Wolverines keep going? Can they supplant the Blue Devils for the top spot? How long will Michigan remain unbeaten? Let’s take a look at Michigan’s upcoming schedule as well as those of Duke and the other remaining unbeatens.

Next 10 games
#1 Duke (9-0) #2 Michigan (11-0) #3 Syracuse (9-0) #4 Arizona (8-0)
Dec. 19 vs Cornell Dec. 20 vs EMU Dec. 22 vs Temple Dec. 18 vs Oral Roberts
Dec. 20 vs Elon Dec. 29 vs CMU Dec. 29 vs Alcorn State Dec. 22 vs ETSU
Dec. 29 vs Santa Clara Jan. 3 @ NW Dec. 31 vs C. Con. State Jan. 3 vs Colorado
Jan. 2 vs Davidson Jan. 6 vs Iowa Jan. 2 vs Rutgers Jan. 5 vs Utah
Jan. 5 vs Wake Forest Jan. 9 vs Nebraska Jan. 6 @ USF Jan. 10 @ Oregon
Jan. 8 vs Clemson Jan. 13 @ #7 Ohio State Jan. 9 @ Providence Jan. 12 @ Oregon State
Jan. 12 @ #25 NC State Jan. 17 @ #13 Minnesota Jan. 12 vs Villanova Jan. 19 vs Arizona State
Jan. 17 vs Georgia Tech Jan. 24 vs Purdue Jan. 19 @ #5 Louisville Jan. 24 vs UCLA
Jan. 23 @ Miami Jan. 27 @ #10 Illinois Jan. 21 vs #11 Cincinnati Jan. 26 vs USC
Jan. 26 vs Maryland Jan. 30 vs NW Jan. 26 @ Villanova Jan. 31 @ Washington

Right off the bat, the main thing that’s apparent is that Michigan faces the toughest schedule in the next month. Eastern and Central Michigan will close out the non-conference slate and the calendar year, while Northwestern, Iowa, and Nebraska should also be victories, leaving Michigan 16-0 heading into the Jan. 13 matchup at Ohio State. That would match the longest streak since the 1985-86 team started 16-0. If the Wolverines come out of Columbus unbeaten, they then head to Minneapolis four days later for another tough matchup. Survive that and Michigan hosts Purdue and then visits currently unbeaten and 10th-ranked Illinois.

Trey Burke's 18ppg and 7-2 assist-to-turnover average have Michigan flying high (Tony Ding, AP)

Duke still hasn’t played a true road game this season, having played Kentucky, Minnesota, Louisville, and Temple on neutral sites. The Blue Devils won’t play their first road game until Jan. 12 at N.C. State and may not face a realistic threat until Feb. 13 against North Carolina. In fact, Duke, N.C. State, and North Carolina are the only ranked teams in the ACC, so the Blue Devils certainly have an easier remaining road to retaining the No.1 spot than Michigan does.

Syracuse is right on Michigan’s heels in the rankings, but hasn’t beaten a ranked team yet this season. Last night, the Orange nearly lost to Detroit. An 8-1 Temple squad could present an interesting matchup on Saturday, but after that Syracuse should cruise into a Jan. 19 matchup at fifth-ranked Louisville undefeated. If they can survive that one, they host currently unbeaten Cincinnati two days later.

Arizona got by No.5 Florida on Saturday and now doesn’t have a currently ranked team left on its schedule. The 9-1 Oregon Ducks could be the team to trip up the Wildcats on Jan. 10 in Eugene. If not, it’s hard to see Arizona losing before Michigan, given the comparative schedules.

Of course, going undefeated is nearly impossible in today’s college basketball, and losing some games and facing adversity may even be preferable before the NCAA Tournament beings. No one expects Michigan to go unbeaten, but it would be fun to see the Wolverines grab the top spot. But even if it doesn’t happen, Michigan has proven over the first few weeks of the season that they’re a force to be reckoned with and can match up with anyone.

Michigan should make it at least three more weeks at No.2, but likely won’t pass Duke unless the Blue Devils stumble big time. Once Jan. 13 hits, Michigan will face big-time opponents pretty much every other game the rest of the season. It will be tough to earn a No.1 seed in the Big Dance, but even with a few Big Ten losses, Michigan should be good enough to earn a 2-seed. But there’s still a lot of basketball left to play.