Skip to content

Mitch McGary leads Michigan past Syracuse, into the title game

Apr 6, 2013, 11:47 PM EST

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Dayton remains tied for first in the Atlantic 10 with win at No. 22 VCU

    Feb 28, 2015, 5:13 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Having just seven scholarship players hasn’t kept the Flyers from playing a major role in the Atlantic 10 race.

  2. Kansas will sit Cliff Alexander against Texas as NCAA issue could affect eligibility

    Feb 28, 2015, 3:45 PM EST

    Cliff Alexander (AP Photo) AP

    Kansas will be without Cliff Alexander against Texas on Saturday.

  3. Bubble Banter: St. John’s with a huge win, N.C. State with an ugly loss

    Feb 28, 2015, 2:27 PM EST

    Mark Gottfried (AP Photo) Mark Gottfried (AP Photo)

    All the bubble winners and losers from Saturday’s college hoops action.

  4. #POSTERIZED: Jake Layman runs and hides, still gets dunked on (VIDEO)

    Feb 28, 2015, 1:55 PM EST

    Jake Layman AP

    Jake Layman didn’t want to get dunked on.

  5. #POSTERIZED: Montrezl Harrell destroys Florida State defender (VIDEO)

    Feb 28, 2015, 12:21 PM EST

    Pittsburgh v Louisville Getty Images

    Robbie Berwick is not going to like seeing this highlight.

  6. Auburn guard Antoine Mason will miss Saturday’s game to deal with the death of his father

    Feb 28, 2015, 11:15 AM EST

    Auburn Alabama Basketball AP

    Auburn will be without second-leading scorer Antoine Mason as he deals with the death of his father.

  7. Marist’s Khallid Hart hits a driving, game-winning layup to beat Saint Peter’s (VIDEO)

    Feb 28, 2015, 10:00 AM EST

    (Marist Athletics) (Marist Athletics)

    Marist’s Khallid Hart made the game-winning layup with 1.5 seconds left for the win.

  8. Report: Villanova’s JayVaughn Pinkston accused of violating probation

    Feb 27, 2015, 10:20 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    An off-campus altercation back in 2010 led to a year-long suspension for the Villanova forward.

  9. Jim Boeheim uses classic rant about Gerry McNamara to praise Rakeem Christmas

    Feb 27, 2015, 9:15 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Jim Boeheim goes back almost nine years to describe Rakeem Christmas’ importance to this year’s team.

  10. Campbell’s Reco McCarter throws down 360 dunk … again (VIDEO)

    Feb 27, 2015, 6:00 PM EST

    AP AP

    This isn’t the first time he’s done this in a game.

  11. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings will not be suspended

    Feb 27, 2015, 4:45 PM EST

    AP AP

    The Vandy coach was quick to apology following last night’s incident.

  12. Michigan head coach John Beilein remains ‘hopeful’ that point guard will return this season

    Feb 27, 2015, 4:25 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Derrick Walton Jr. hasn’t played in just over a month, but he’s still bothered by an issue with his right foot.

  13. UTEP head coach Tim Floyd suspended one game by Conference USA

    Feb 27, 2015, 3:20 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Floyd was ejected with 10:05 remaining in the Miners’ 77-60 loss at Louisiana Tech, and he failed to leave the court in a timely manner.

  14. Florida reinstates junior forward following three-game suspension

    Feb 27, 2015, 2:59 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Billy Donovan would like to see his veteran forward make some strides in the commitment department moving forward.

  15. NCAA tournament berth the final step for St. John’s senior class

    Feb 27, 2015, 2:16 PM EST

    Steve Lavin's three seniors have the NCAA tournament in their sights (AP Photo) AP

    On the heels of St. John’s last NCAA appearance in 2011, seven players joined the program. Three remain, and their aim is to get to the Big Dance as seniors.

  16. Pregame Shootaround: Valparaiso looks to clinch outright Horizon League title

    Feb 27, 2015, 1:32 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Also of note is the second meeting of the season between rivals Iona and Manhattan.