Michigan v Syracuse

Mitch McGary leads Michigan past Syracuse, into the title game


ATLANTA — That vaunted Syracuse zone, the one that held Indiana and Marquette to a combined 89 points last weekend, did it’s job, at least on the perimeter. Michigan’s star point guard Trey Burke — that’s National Player of the Year Trey Burke to you — finished with seven points, shooting 1-8 from the floor.

Tim Hardaway Jr. wasn’t much better despite leading Michigan in scoring with 13 points; he needed 16 shots, hitting just four of them, to get those 13 points.

Nik Stauskas, the guy who went 6-6 from beyond the arc last Saturday while lighting up Florida to the tune of 22 points, was 0-5 on this Saturday night and finishing without a single point.

And Michigan won.

No. Seriously. They won. 61-56.

That’s what happens when Mitch McGary, who has been the breakout star of the 2013 NCAA tournament, decides to channel his inner John Stockton. The Chesterton, IN, native finished with 10 points and 12 boards. He set the tone for the Wolverines defensively with two highlight reel blocks in the first minute of the game. He threw down a couple thunderous dunks. But where he made his real mark on this game was as a zone-buster.

McGary finished with six assists on Saturday night. That in and of itself doesn’t sound all that impressive, but think about this: McGary had 18 assists all season long prior to setting foot on the court at the Georgia Dome. He didn’t have a single assist in the first four games of the season. He had all of four assists when Big Ten play began on January 3rd.

It wasn’t just the fact that he made the passes, either. He was throwing no-look touch passes with his right hand. (He’s lefty, by the way.) He grabbed a rebound and led a 3-on-1 break, dropping off a pretty little bounce pass to Tim Hardaway Jr. for a layup.

How many people knew that he was capable of that?

“It was very … intriguing as we were developing the game plan against the zone,” Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander said after the game. To breakdown the Syracuse zone, you need to somehow get the ball into the high post. It can be via dribble penetration or it can be the result of a pass into the foul line area. It doesn’t matter. The ball just has to get there because it will either create an open 15-footer from the foul line or a high-low pass for a layup. The key? Having a big man versatile enough to be able to make that pass or make that shot. Why do you think Otto Porter was so successful against Syracuse this season?

Mitch McGary isn’t Otto Porter, or so we thought.

“When the ball gets in the high post, there was two things happening,” Syracuse assistant coach Gerry McNamara said after the game. “We weren’t active enough from the guard position to keep it out of the high post, and then when it was getting in there, we werent active enough with the forwards to take away the dump pass.”

McGary made those dump passes. Maybe he is like Otto Porter after all.

“Did you ever think,” Alexander said, “that Mitch McGary would lead Michigan in assists over Trey Burke?” Not in a game that the Wolverines won. “I’m shocked.”

As are the rest of us, but the development is evidence of a point that the Wolverines made on Friday: the game is slowing down for McGary. He’s beginning to learn that basketball isn’t simply a game that has to be played at 100 mph. Nothing about the way McGary plays is nuanced; I don’t think he’s ever even heard the word ‘finesse’. But his understanding of Michigan’s system — the way that he can read the defense and know what is the right play to make — is where he has made the biggest strides this season.

“I consider myself a good passer,” McGary said.

McGary is still a bully. Michigan’s defense on Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland is what won them this game. The tone on that end was set by McGary’s blocks at the beginning of the game. He still grabbed five offensive rebounds. He still was the most physical presence in the paint.

But more proof that he’s beginning to learn how to play the game is bad news for the Wolverines.

While it may win them a national title, it’s looking increasingly less likely that they’ll have McGary for another season.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.