Michigan beats Syracuse to reach national championship
BY HERB GOULD Sun-Times Media April 6, 2013 11:22PM
Michigan's Mitch McGary dunks the ball against Syracuse during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game Saturday, April 6, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) ORG XMIT: FF272
Updated: May 8, 2013 7:15AM
ATLANTA — Familiarity breeds ... knowledge.
John Beilein and Jim Boeheim go way back. When Beilein was coaching at LeMoyne, a Division II school in Syracuse, Boeheim helped him move up to the Canisius job. And then Boeheim helped Beilein land the West Virginia job.
So what does Beilein do to repay Boeheim? He applies his knowledge of the 2-3 zone, which has been given Superman-like stance in this tournament — to mix up some Kryptonite.
And voila, Michigan turns Syracuse into a mere mortal, 61-56 on Saturday to advance to the national championship game vs. Louisville on Monday. The Wolverines will be going after their first national championship since 1989.
Of course, it helped that Beilein has assembled a roster seriously capable of zone-busting.
Even then, it went down to the wire against a refuse-to-lose Syracuse. The Orange closed to one point, 57-56, with 40 seconds left on James Southerland’s 3-pointer.
The Wolverines (31-7) dodged a bullet, though, when Syracuse guard Brandon Triche was whistled for charging with with 19 seconds left. Jordan Morgan drew the foul, which was Triche’s fifth. The Orange’s star guard, Michael Carter-Williams had fouled with 1:14 left after sub-par game in which he managed only two points on 1 for 6 shooting.
Tim Hardaway Jr. (13 points, 4 for 16, five assists, five rebounds) overcame a tough shooting night to lead the Wolverines (31-7). Northwest Indiana freshmen pals Mitch McGary (10 points, 12 rebounds, six assists), Glenn Robinson III (10 points, 5 for 7, six rebounds) and Spike Albrecht (six points, 2 for 2 on 3-pointers) all turned in solid performances.
When Michigan led 36-25 at the half, it nearly doubled what Syracuse had allowed in its first four NCAA tournament games. The first four Orange opponents managed a total of 79 points, or 19.7 per first half.
One of the explanations when Syracuse smothered Indiana in the Sweet 16 was that the Hoosiers’ guards weren’t big enough to shoot over the zone. But unsung Spike Albrecht, the gritty 5-11 shooter from Crown Point, made hash of that theory by draining a pair of 3s.
Another explanation was that Cody Zeller, who was supposed to be an elite big man, wasn’t up to the challenge.
So how did McGary, admittedly a rapidly improving freshman, do what Zeller didn’t do? The answer is: He’s rapidly improving — and Beilein gave him a good road map to navigating the zone.
Even with all the momentum it built in the first 25 minutes, Michigan had to hold on for its tournament life.
Syracuse is a seasoned, well-schooled group, and it did an excellent job punching back against the younger Wolverines.
Michigan’s second-half resilience spared the Big Ten chatter about the Big East being the nation’s best league. If Syracuse had met Louisville in the final, though, that would have opened up that conversation.
Instead, college basketball will have a fitting end to a a raucous season. Big East vs. Big Ten, the two leagues that have looked like the best in the class of 2012-13
Louisville, the No. 1 overall seed, weathered all the obstacles that come with being the favorite.
And Michigan, a No. 4 seed, has grown up big-time in the last three weeks. It’s a team that relies heavily on freshman, who aren’t supposed to be as strong under pressure as more experienced players.
This is Michigan’s first Final Four trip since 1993. when a young Fab Five made its second straight visit to college bsketball’s biggest stage. That group couldn’t get over the championship.
On Monday, we’ll find out if this young Michigan team is up to the task.