NCAA Final Four Michigan Syracuse Basketball

Michigan’s defense, Michael Carter-Williams’ struggles doom Syracuse


ATLANTA — The knock on Michigan all season long was that this group didn’t have the defensive prowess to be able to play their way deep into the NCAA tournament.

And it was a valid point; the Wolverines weren’t — and aren’t — a great defensive team. They may not even qualify as a good defensive team compared to the rest of the elite teams in the country this season. Which is where the irony for this Michigan group lies. The reason that they’re playing in Monday’s national title game isn’t Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.

It’s their defense.

Think about this: Burke, Hardaway and Nik Stauskas combined to go 5-29 from the floor tonight. And Michigan won.

“We’d be talking about Trey Burke a little bit differently if we ended winning this one,” Syracuse assistant coach Gerry McNamara said. But instead, we’re talking about Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland. Southerland didn’t score until there were five minutes left in the game, and that just so happened to be a ball that he accidentally tipped back into his own basket to push Michigan’s lead back to six points. He would finish with five points on 2-9 shooting.

Carter-Williams was worse. The guy that carried the Orange through the second weekend with two of his best performances of his career was 1-6 from the floor, finishing with more turnovers (five) than points and assists combined (four).

“I had hoped that I would play better,” Carter-Williams said. “It’s tough. I’m going to have to own up to it and move on.”

“I thought Mike got in there and had opportunities to finish,” McNamara added. “He missed one off the floater, a couple times they slid under him for charges. Sometimes it goes that way.”

And that’s where the frustration is going to lie for this Syracuse team.

They had a chance to pick up this win. They had a golden opportunity to make the National Title game right there in front of them. They lucked into a night where Michigan’s big guns and vaunted offense were no where to be found. And, perhaps more importantly, they played the Wolverines on a night where John Beilein’s club shot 4-9 from the charity stripe in the final 1:09, opening the door for a Syracuse come back.

But that comeback was thwarted. After getting to within two points with just 19 seconds left in the game, Brandon Triche drove to the right hand side and seemingly had a lane to the basket. But Jordan Morgan slid over and took the charge, sealing the win and sending Michigan on to compete for a national title.

It was the most important play of the game, and it came on the defensive end of the floor.

Who saw that coming?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.