2013-Final-Four-Odds-and-Predictions2013 Final Four Picks and Predictions: Syracuse vs Michigan Odds and Predictions – Free Final Four Picks 4/6/2013: For anyone that doesn’t believe that the point guard spot is the most important position in college basketball, you may want to take a look at Saturday’s Final Four matchup between fourth-seeded Syracuse and fourth-seeded Michigan. The Wolverines’ Trey Burke and the Orange’s Michael Carter-Williams are two of the best point guards in the country and two of the best NBA prospects at the position, and their stellar play throughout the NCAA Tournament is a big reason that the two teams are set for a national semifinal showdown in Atlanta. The game also marks the first time in history that two No. 4 seeds will square off in the Final Four, but only one will get the chance to become the first No. 4 seed to win the national title since Arizona in 1997. Heading into the matchup, the Wolverines are two-point favorites.

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For the Orange, they picked the perfect time to figure out how to play Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone at its highest level. Syracuse is allowing just 45.8 points per game to opponents, and the team’s Elite Eight win against Marquette is a great example of just how far the Orange have come on the defensive end of the court. Syracuse allowed 74 points to Golden Eagles in a loss in late February but held the same team to just 39 points in the rematch. Throw in the fact that the Orange’s defense has also held an Indiana offense that was averaging 80 points per game to just 50 during the NCAA Tournament, and there is little doubt that they have their 2-3 zone firing on all cylinders heading into the Final Four.

While the miracle rally and overtime win over Kansas in the Sweet 16 may be Michigan’s most memorable moment of the NCAA Tournament thus far, the nail-biting victory over the Jayhawks was an exception in what has been a dominate run for the Wolverines. Their high-powered offense is averaging 78.8 points per game, and even with their two-point win over Kansas, the Wolverines still have a 15.5 average margin of victory during their run to the Final Four. Starters Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardway Jr. have all taken turns shouldering some of the offensive load, but Burke has been orchestrating the attack, averaging 13.0 points and 7.8 assists for an offense that leads the country in assist-per-turnover ratio.

The Orange Win If:

Keeping Burke out of the paint will be priority No. 1 for the Orange in this matchup. One of the few holes in their 2-3 zone is in the middle of the court near the foul line, but if Syracuse can prevent Burke from getting into the paint and compromising the zone, the Wolverines will find themselves shooting a lot of contested jump shots throughout the game. On the offense end, Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair need to attack a Michigan defense that has struggled at times. Specifically, Syracuse needs to get into the lane and get to the rim against the Wolverines’ smaller frontcourt. Whether the Orange are getting quality looks in the paint or getting to the foul line, the more important thing is that they control the pace of the game and keep Burke and company from getting any transition scoring chances. If Syracuse makes sure that Michigan has to score a majority of its points by executing against its 2-3 zone in the half court, the Orange should march on to the title game.

The Wolverines Win If:

If Michigan is going to solve the Syracuse zone and advance to the championship game, the Wolverines can’t let the Orange dictate the tempo. Scoring consistently against the 2-3 zone is tough, but if the Wolverines can push the tempo and get points in transition and quick looks before Syracuse’s defense is set, they will have a chance to continue their offense assault. When Michigan does have to score out of half-court sets, Burke’s ability to penetrate and draw extra defenders will be crucial. If he can command enough attention to open up looks for Hardaway, Stauskas and Michigan’s other shooters, the Wolverines could literally score over the top of the Orange’s 2-3 zone. On the defensive end, Michigan needs to try to fluster Carter-Williams into as many mistakes as possible. More importantly, the Wolverines have to keep Syracuse from living at the foul line and slowing the pace of the game. If the Wolverines can make the Orange have to keep up with their offense in a higher-scoring game, Burke and company could surge past the 2-3 zone.

Bottom Line:

In the end, Michigan’s deficiencies on defense could end up hindering its offense against the Syracuse zone. Despite the Wolverines’ improved play on the defensive end during the NCAA Tournament thus far, the fact remains that they have young, small frontcourt. Meanwhile, the Orange have three players in Carter-Williams, Triche and Fair that have the size and speed to attack the rim. Without any shot blockers waiting for them, Syracuse’s main offensive weapons should be able to get good looks and control the pace on the offensive end. As a result, Burke and company will likely have to score a majority of their points against the 2-3 zone, and that is bad news for a Michigan offense that relies heavily on perimeter scoring thanks to coach John Beilein’s system. Keep in mind that there is a reason that Michigan coach John Beilein is 0-9 against Boeheim’s zone. Granted, the Wolverines have one heck of an X-factor in Burke, but as great of an individual playmaker as he is, there is only so much one player can do against the stifling, confusing 2-3 zone.

Prediction: Syracuse Orange (+2) Cover the Spread

Syracuse vs Michigan
Line: Michigan -2.5
Total: 131
Time: 8:49 PM EST on CBS

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