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April 6, 2013

Game Preview: Michigan vs. Syracuse

The Opponent: Syracuse
Record: 30-9 (11-7 Big East)
Head Coach: Jim Boeheim (37th season, 920-310)
Seed: No. 4, East Region
All-time Series: Syracuse leads series 8-5
Time and Television: April 6, 8:49 p.m., CBS
Point Spread: Michigan -1.5

Opponent Preview

Defense

Syracuse relies almost exclusively on its 2-3 zone to counteract opposing offenses, and has truly smothered foes on the road to Atlanta. Yielding just 45.8 points per game in tournament play, the veteran Orange are the first team in the "shot clock era" to hold three teams to 50 points or less in a single NCAA Tournament.

SU limited first-round opponent Montana to just 11 field goals, the lowest by a team in the tournament since 1949, and have held three tournament combatants to their lowest point total of the season - Indiana (50), Marquette (39) and Montana (34).

The combined length and athleticism of SU's backcourt is a perfect fit for Boeheim's patented zone, with starting guards Michael Carter-Williams (6-6) and Brandon Triche (6-4) each able to utilize a wide wingspan to inhibit the ball movement necessary to crack the patient defense.

The Big East runner-up, which gave up just 58.6 points a game in the regular season, has been tough on opposing stars but not are not quite invincible. Marquette guard Vander Blue posted 14 points, but shot just 3-of-15 from the field (20.0 percent), while Indiana guard Victor Oladipo was able to muster 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting (83.3 percent). Still, the Orange are stingy along the perimeter, and led the Big East in three-point shot defense, limiting opponents to 28.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

Junior forward C.J. Fair is a lanky anchor in the paint, and is one of six rotational players that stand 6-8 or taller. Syracuse has been effective mitigating production from the other team's big men, and shut down familiar Indiana forward Cody Zeller in the Sweet 16. Zeller managed just 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting (27.3 percent). SU averaged 6.2 blocks per game in the regular season.

The Orange can be exploited on the defensive glass, however. They have been outrebounded 100-98 in their last three games, and rank sixth in the Big East with just a +3.7 rebounding margin.

Offense

The long and athletic Orange averaged a stellar 70.8 points per game this season, but the offensive production has been inconsistent at best in postseason play. SU is averaging only 60.7 points per game in its last three, but has made the necessary plays down the stretch to escape a bushel of low-scoring slugfests.

Fair paces the group, averaging 14.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Triche (13.7 points per game), senior forward James Southerland (13.5 points per game) and Carter-Williams (12.1 points per game) are also key point-contributors.

Carter-Williams is versatile with the ball in his hands, dealing 7.4 assists per game, and will be the key facilitator for an offense that will be mindful of draining the shot clock to help minimize fast break chances for the high-octane Wolverines.

Boeheim's squad shot 43.9 percent from the field during the regular season, averaged 14.1 assists per game against 12.8 turnovers, and rebounded nearly 39.0 percent of offensive misses.

Both Carter-Williams and Fair earned All-Big East Second Team honors, and Triche was selected to the conference's third team, but a strong perimeter effort from Southerland could be the key if the Orange are to outscore the Maize and Blue.

Syracuse Notebook:

Syracuse is 60-35 all-time in the NCAA Tournament ... The Orange have reached the Final Four five times (1975, 1987, 1996, 2003 and 2013), and have captured one national tournament title (2003) ... Boeheim is 3-0 in national semifinal contests ... SU defeated Michigan the last time the two met 53-50 during the 2010 Legends Classic ... Michigan and Syracuse have never met in NCAA Tournament play.

From the Other Sideline:

Donna Ditota - Syracuse.com "There have been photo shoots and practices open to adoring fans. There have been events designed specifically for players participating in the Final Four. There have been opportunities the Syracuse team has sought on its own.

"Wedged between the practices and the film sessions, the stretching and the planning, the Orange men have managed to squeeze in some fun."


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