Final Four Betting: Will Michigan Beat Syracuse’s Zone?

The Syracuse Orange looked like a dead team walking when they lost to Georgetown by a 61-39 margin three and a half weeks ago. Now, they’re headed to the Final Four in Atlanta and have a good shot on the betting lines to go to the championship game.

Syracuse Orange vs Michigan

Odds: Michigan -2.5

Syracuse can win because…

It is so locked in with its 2-3 zone defense. The Orange have allowed an average of 45.75 points per game in this NCAA tournament, and in the round of 32 – when they defeated California by a 66-60 score – the Golden Bears scored only 41 points in the game’s first 35 minutes. California fouled Syracuse repeatedly in order to extend the final five minutes of regulation. The Orange attempted a large amount of free throws and gave Cal a number of layups in return, ensuring that the Golden Bears didn’t shoot that many threes. Cal scored 19 points in the final 4:50 of regulation, distorting the extent to which Syracuse’s defense flourished in that contest. The Orange really haven’t made a single misstep on defense this entire tournament. Their win over Indiana in the Sweet 16 was a masterclass for the 2-3 zone. Indiana had been averaging roughly 79 points per game in the 2012-2013 season, but Syracuse held the Hoosiers to just 50 points and won by a double-figure margin. The story was very similar in the Elite Eight against Marquette. The Golden Eagles hit 54 percent of their shots against Miami in the Sweet 16, but against Syracuse in the Elite Eight, Marquette scored just 39 points and hit only 22.6 percent of its field goal attempts. This is going to be a very difficult defense for Michigan or anyone else at the Final Four to solve.

Michigan, moreover, has a tendency to settle for jump shots, which is exactly what the Syracuse zone is designed to do. The key nuance is that the Orange do contest those jumpers unless they’re particularly long ones. Taking an open shot is possible against the Syracuse zone… but only if that shot is a 27-footer, a low-percentage field goal try.

Michigan can win because…

The Wolverines are shooting the ball well enough to beat the Syracuse zone. Nik Stauskas, a Canadian on the Michigan roster, hit 7 of 8 field goals and all six of his three-point attempts on Sunday in the South Regional final, a 79-59 win over Florida. Stauskas found a comfortable spot in the left corner of the court, hitting almost all of his threes from that position. If Stauskas or anyone else on the Michigan roster can hit just a few threes, the Orange will have to extend their defense. The Wolverines can then attack Syracuse with dribble penetration and kickouts, making Syracuse chase instead of allowing the Orange to sit back in their zone and save their legs. Michigan guard Trey Burke is a player who can definitely break down the Orange’s defense with his dribble. His speed will be hard for Syracuse to contain, giving the Wolverines a good chance of getting into the painted area and forcing the Orange to make tough defensive decisions. Michigan big man Mitch McGary can clean up misses on the offensive glass as long as Burke can draw an extra Syracuse defender into the lane when he dribbles and tries to find an opening in the Orange’s defensive alignment.

Outlook & Prediction:

This game will be close on the college basketball odds because it’s such a chess match between two teams’ strengths, Syracuse’s defense and Michigan’s offense. What will probably swing this game to Michigan is the fact that the Wolverines are playing with great energy and belief. They should be able to contain Syracuse’s noticeably unsteady offense.

Pick: Michigan -2.5

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