ATLANTA — Here are three observations from Michigan’s 61-56 win over Syracuse in Saturday’s second semifinal in Atlanta, a victory that will match the Wolverines up with the Louisville Cardinals in the national championship game:
1. Syracuse did not have the mismatches it maybe thought it did
During Friday’s breakout sessions with players from all four teams, Syracuse guard Brandon Triche could be heard saying his team could exploit mismatches at every position on the floor against Michigan
Well, Mitch McGary proved to be a mismatch … for Syracuse’s zone.
The freshman has been one of the best players throughout the NCAA tournament — his performances against VCU and Kansas particularly stand out — and he was indeed a problem for coach Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. By letting McGary roam around the free throw line and then attack the soft spots in the zone, either by driving the ball to the hoop or passing, he was able to help the Wolverines consistently find points against the fearsome Syracuse defense — one that was allowing teams to shoot just 29 percent.
“They lengthened the zone a lot. Pressured the ball a lot more,” McGary said. “Once we got in the high post, we got some good looks. Shots weren’t falling the way we wanted them. Once we got second looks, they started falling.”
Michigan did not torch the zone — shooting just 39.6 percent and scoring 61 points — but it was enough.
McGary ended up with 10 points and team highs with 12 rebounds and six assists.
McGary’s coming of age this tournament is, perhaps, the biggest reason why Michigan has been able to overcome its defensive inefficiencies that plagued it during a fourth-place Big Ten regular-season finish and is now playing for it all on Monday against Louisville.
He seems to be enjoying the ride, too. After his post-game interview with Jim Nantz, he jumped over toward the fans waving his arms up and down.
He and his teammates are just one win away.
2. Jim Boeheim sounded off
When CBS writer Gregg Doyel opened up Boeheim’s portion of Syracuse’s postgame press conference with an immediate inquiry on his retirement plans, things escalated quickly. Very quickly.
After a heated back-and-forth — including a moment where Boeheim labeled journalists, particularly Doyel, as “thin-skinned” — Boeheim eventually weighed in on his future. Although many have assumed this will be the year the long-time Orange coach will call it quits as his team is leaving the Big East for the ACC (not to mention a pending NCAA investigation), but he said he has no such plans. Not yet.
“You know, I like where we are,” Boeheim said. “Everything in me intends to be back coaching next year. And I always say this at the end, that’s probably why people ask me the question: there’s always a chance that somebody might think, you know, you get back into coaching, you get in the thing, you just don’t feel it. If that happens, you know, I don’t want to ever let it be said that I misled anybody.”
Boeheim’s 920 career wins trail only Mike Krzyzewski of Duke in the all-time Division I record books.
Obviously, with his team’s somewhat surprising run to the Final Four this season, he can still get the job done.
3. The ballyhooed point guard matchup turned into a dud
To be clear: Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke are two of the best point guards college basketball has to offer. In fact, even on Saturday night when squaring off, they both helped their team compete for a national championship on both ends of the floor.
But it was not a vintage performance from either competitor.
Burke, who captured the Associated Press National Player of the Year award earlier this week, hit one stunning 30-foot 3-pointer — and that was basically it in the scoring department. A 6-foot playmaker of a point man, Burke finished with just six points (1 of 8 shooting) and four assists. Though he did tally five rebounds in the win, the Syracuse zone really took him out of his, well, comfort zone.
It was Burke’s lowest scoring output of the season.
Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-6 NBA prospect, was even worse than Burke, at least on the offensive end. The sophomore scored just two points on 1 of 6 shooting. It was (all together now) his lowest scoring output of the season. He ended up fouling out after a night defined by a shaky offensive performance (five turnovers).