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April 5, 2013There's a standard response for teams that come into games confident (perhaps to a fault), and it usually goes like this: "yeah, but [our opponent] hasn't seen a [defense, offense, etc.] like ours! For Syracuse players it's the zone defense, a stifling 2-3 that all but shut down Indiana and is the reason the Orange are in the Final Four.
They've got good reason to be confident, having allowed only 45.8 points per game in tournament play on average. They took it to Kansas big man Jeff Withey ("I plan to dominate") territory Friday, though, in predicting doom for U-M point guard Trey Burke.
"He hasn't ever seen our zone, and it's gonna be tough for him," Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams said. "We're gonna make it tough for him."
Carter-Williams, 6-6, and shooting guard Brandon Triche (6-4) provide length U-M hasn't seen before, forcing the Wolverines to bring their bigs out to the perimeter in practice this week.
"Every matchup, it doesn't matter who we're playing against, I think every game so far, Mike and me have been the bigger guards," Triche said. "That will be true tomorrow and for the games to come."
The better guards, though? That remains to be seen. Burke, the national player of the year, said he'd let his play do the talking as he has most of the year. He didn't feel the need to say much other than, "it's the Final Four. If you're not confident, you shouldn't be here."
Syracuse had yet to watch film on Michigan in the days leading to the game. U-M head coach John Beilein and his staff, meanwhile, started scouting the Orange hours after the Wolverines' win over Florida.
"You've just got to be patient with [their zone]," Hardaway said. "You can't rush anything, and you can't match their length when you're practicing against your scout team. Take great team shots and don't pass good looks for better looks because you might not get those. When you have a great open look, knock it down."
But don't get greedy, Burke added. Falling in love with the three-point line can be a trap, and it's one the Wolverines want to avoid.
"We can't start taking deep threes," Burke said. "We have to just try to find different ways to attack the zone. When we see areas where we could attack, we have to try to exploit it. Execution will be big tomorrow."
And play with a bit of swagger like the slight favorite they are.
"If the zone was unbeatable, they'd be 39-0," Hardaway said. "It sounds like cockiness. It doesn't come down to talent, who has the biggest players or height advantage. It's going to come down to heart and passion.
"We've got a very smart team here, and the guys do a great job of competing. We're not going to match their athleticism, we're not going to match their abilities, but we can match their intensity, and we can match their drive."