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April 2, 2013There might not be a bigger clash of styles in the entire NCAA Tournament than the upcoming Final Four matchup between Michigan and Syracuse.
The two teams have forged a path to the penultimate game of the tournament with two very different philosophies: one has scorched opposing defenses with high-flying offense, and the other has stifled opposing offenses with pressure-packed defense.
Through four games, the Wolverines have averaged more points per game than any team that won at least one game in the NCAA Tournament. With a 71-55 win over South Dakota State, a 78-53 win over VCU, an 87-85 overtime win over Kansas and a 79-59 win over Florida, Michigan is averaging 78.8 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.
On the other hand, Syracuse has been, statistically, the most difficult team to score against in the NCAA Tournament. The Orange beat Montana (81-34), Cal (66-60), Indiana (61-50) and Marquette (55-39) to get to the Final Four, surrendering just 45.8 points per game.
Although the Syracuse 2-3 zone defense has been dominant thus far, Orange coach Jim Boeheim knows how big of a challenge is in front of his team.
"Michigan presents more problems than anybody in the tournament," Boeheim said in a conference call Monday. "They're the best offensive team in the tournament."
Boeheim's biggest concern about the Wolverines is their scoring diversity.
Sophomore point guard Trey Burke, the leading candidate for the Naismith National Player Of The Year Award, can score in heaps and is one of the best distributors in the country. Dead-eye shooters Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway, Jr. are threats every time down the court.
But, as Boeheim sees it, the emergence of freshman center Mitch McGary is what makes Michigan truly dangerous.
McGary averaged 6.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game through the regular season - but he has stepped up in the postseason and has helped lead the Wolverines to the Final Four.
In Michigan four NCAA Tournament wins, McGary has notched two double-doubles and posted career-highs in points (25 vs. Kansas) and rebounds (14 vs. VCU and Kansas).
He is averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in the NCAA Tournament.
"Now their freshman center, McGary, has really stepped up," Boeheim said. "They're a different team with his presence inside. He's now, in some games, dominant. Before, he was not a factor. He's a dominant offensive player. They still have the same guys on the perimeter. Each one of those guys can score 20 points in a night. There's nobody on their team in that lineup that can't score 20 points.
"Offensively they're by far the biggest challenge we've had this year. We played some really good teams, but we haven't played anybody as good offensively as Michigan."
The biggest matchup on the court, however, will be Burke vs. yet another terrific point guard, Syracuse sophomore Michael Carter-Williams.
Carter-Williams is 6-6, which could alter passing lanes and shots for Burke, who is a shade over 6-0.
"I think Michael has even picked up his play defensively," Boeheim said. "I think he's had a great year, but he's had an even better tournament, which is hard to do sometimes for a young player, to play well in the regular season but have a better tournament.
"He's really been good in terms of helping his teammates be better, scoring when we need to, rebounding, passing the ball. He had eight defensive rebounds against Marquette, which I've never had a guard get that many defensive rebounds."