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Mitch McGary leads Michigan past Syracuse, into the title game

Apr 6, 2013, 11:47 PM EDT

Michigan v Syracuse Getty Images

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.

  1. polegojim - Apr 6, 2013 at 11:50 PM

    Props to Hardaway and Robinson too came up… B1G… when they needed to!

    Tough Tough Win… Great Cuse D.

    GO BLUE!!!

  2. inhokewetrust - Apr 6, 2013 at 11:52 PM

    20 years ago I cried my eyes out as a #4 broke my heart….lets hope this #4 finishes the job….hail to the victors…..

  3. boyshole25 - Apr 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM

    Doesn’t matter who won Louisville is head and shoulders above both teams but syracuse would’ve at least had familiarity as an ally

    • polegojim - Apr 7, 2013 at 12:14 AM

      Same thing said about Michigan VS Syracuse and Wichita St VS Louisville

      Good thing they actually PLAY the games, eh 25?

      Hats off to the Syracuse D and Press… WOW… Michigan could use some of that!!!

  4. boyshole25 - Apr 7, 2013 at 12:01 AM

    Mitch is a throwback old fashioned farm Baller I like his game

  5. elwaysmilehighdenver - Apr 7, 2013 at 12:04 AM

    Great win Michigan! Monday nights game should be an epic battle for the Championship. Go Blue!

    • polegojim - Apr 7, 2013 at 12:11 AM

      Yes! Looking forward to Man to Man D!

      Love the fact that this team has several more years together… maturity and savvy to build on.

  6. gbditka - Apr 7, 2013 at 12:19 AM

    If Trey Burke is the best College Hoopster in all the land….then College Football can’t get here soon enough!

    • polegojim - Apr 7, 2013 at 12:23 AM

      Enjoy those sour grapes – Ditkaman…

      The definition of a ‘TEAM’ is… others step up, when good teams focus on taking away your best.

      Burke STILL kept them breaking through a VERY good Cuse full and half court press.

      Final 4 and Elite 8 playoffs have been awesome!

      • gbditka - Apr 7, 2013 at 12:42 AM

        polegojim…not a Syracuse fan and truthfully it’s been hard to be a basketball fan over the past decade as the sport is declining in so many ways. I’m just a guy that sees things for what they are! You’re probably the same guy that thinks Obama is the best President this country has seen in your lifetime. Cut & dry…keep typing in CAPS when you want to emphasize a point and know that if Trey Burke deserved all the accolades he received over the past week, 38 minutes… 7 points by 1 of 8 from the field, 4 for 6 from the line in his most important game of his career must have NBA Rookie of the Year written all over it!

      • polegojim - Apr 7, 2013 at 12:51 AM

        Ditka – you TOTALLY missed it with me…

        …but the first sign of a WEAK argument is making it personal and generalizing… you realize it’s possible to DISAGREE without getting personal… meh… maybe you don’t.

        Also a good thing that NCAA and NBA Basketball EXPERTS are the ones providing the accolades – not just for Burke, but for ALL the other young men who DESERVED it.

    • hockeyfan28 - Apr 7, 2013 at 2:12 AM

      Ask Kansas how good he is lol

  7. packhawk04 - Apr 7, 2013 at 12:47 AM

    Ditka, just to let you know, the last player to have a similar season to burke lead MSU to a title. That was right around the time his nickname “magic” was beginning to stick. Not saying burke is anything close to him, just saying his season was very similar to it.

    • polegojim - Apr 7, 2013 at 12:55 AM

      Exactly PackHawk.. most of us know that good players don’t ALWAYS have great games… but they help keep their teams ‘in’ games when they’re not putting up monster numbers.

      Burke did that tonight by ball handling and dishing.

      See Jordan, Bryant, Johnson, Bird, Thomas… and on and on and on.

      • gbditka - Apr 7, 2013 at 1:13 AM

        Polegojim….he had just 4 assists tonight — 7 points, 4 assists in 38 minutes….stellar effort! In my world we call that someone off the bench!

      • polegojim - Apr 7, 2013 at 1:39 AM

        CMon man… seriously… it’s ONE night. You don’t win NAT Player of the Year… from ONE nights assessment.

        Good thing he’s not playing in your world… he’s playing in Atlanta!

      • gbditka - Apr 7, 2013 at 1:58 AM

        I’m not a Kansas State Wildcat fan but just ask QB, Collin Klein on how his lone loss in 2012 basically eliminated him from Heismann consideration — the best are expected to show up & excel every night…especially in clutch games. This may be a bad analogy as you Michigan fans had a rough 2012 in football…the SEC sends it’s apologies!

    • gbditka - Apr 7, 2013 at 1:05 AM

      PackHawk04…not saying Burke isn’t good….just not buying he’s the “best” College Hoops player from what I’ve seen this year. Maybe I should take into consideration the “supporting cast” as I like to think of the best player as an individual honor.

      • niallofthenine - Apr 7, 2013 at 9:28 AM

        Hey Dickta,
        Who is the POY in your great estimation and wisdom? Look at the stats for the whole year. You might get a clue. It was cloudy here yesterday. Guess the weather can be labeled as crappy all year.

  8. hypefree10 - Apr 7, 2013 at 2:14 AM


  9. barnesaintnoble - Apr 7, 2013 at 3:41 AM

    It’s not about one player, it’s about the team. Sure, having the best player in the nation helps but he didn’t play well tonight, and Michigan still won with freshman that nobody wanted like Levert and Albrecht, obviously not McGary. If you don’t think he’s the best player, that’s your own opinion, but it’s hard to argue with his season stats and almost every major award going to him. I’m sure you’re pluck a hole in that somehow, so no point arguing with you. You must be a Syracuse fan. (Or Florida, Kansas, VCU or South Dakota State).

  10. bbk1000 - Apr 7, 2013 at 5:05 AM

    It came down to a bad charging call……

    • jjsooner - Apr 7, 2013 at 8:13 AM

      Yep. Watch the replay. Terrible, game-changing call. Oh well, its part of the game.

      • bbk1000 - Apr 7, 2013 at 6:00 PM

        yea, understood…but the refs this year were just terrible…

    • polegojim - Apr 7, 2013 at 9:55 AM

      Hahahahahahahaha…. and you forget about the ENTIRE rest of the game.

      So it’s called a charge… he misses one free throw, makes the other… and Michigan WINS by 3!!!

      There you go, stop the tears.

      • bbk1000 - Apr 7, 2013 at 6:01 PM

        The Red Wings aren’t winning anything this year….

  11. taintedlombardis - Apr 7, 2013 at 5:17 AM

    Another horrible game for NCAA officials. At this point, does anybody outside of the remaining team’s fans give a damn?

  12. jjsooner - Apr 7, 2013 at 8:11 AM

    Doug Gottlieb said it perfectly about the ending of this game. Check out his comments on CBS sports.

    Once again, missed free throws keep an outcome in doubt.

    • pens5829 - Apr 7, 2013 at 8:52 AM

      When one team has considerably more opportunities at the free throw line, there’s a distinct advantage in a close game like this. Who controls those number of attempts needs to be held more accountable, and this crew made some horrible calls to close out this game. And I despise Syracuse.

      • polegojim - Apr 7, 2013 at 9:55 AM

        Oh yes… those were definitely MICHIGAN refs…. NOT.

      • pens5829 - Apr 7, 2013 at 9:20 PM

        Had a BIG 10 smell all over it!

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