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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, April 5, 2013 at 9:00 PM

Saturday’s Final Four of the NCAA Tournament brings what might be the most fascinating matchup in years to the national spotlight. The tricky spider-web like zone defense of the Syracuse Orange will face the skilled passing and ballhandling offense of the Michigan Wolverines with a berth in the championship game on the line.

Michigan has faced some great teams this year, but they haven’t faced anything like the length, size, and speed of the Syracuse zone…

Syracuse has faced some great teams as well, but they haven’t had to deal with this combination of guard play, inside passing, and three-point shooting in the Big East or in the Big Dance…

Michigan has the skill set to deal with the Syracuse zone. Yet, the Syracuse zone has the skill set to chase down wherever Michigan sends the ball. Who’s going to get rattled first?!

Let’s run this matchup through our gauntlet of indicators to see if we can find some clues…



Syracuse: 30-9 (11-7 in the Big East)

Michigan: 30-7 (12-6 in the Big 10)

Getting to 30 wins is easier than it used to be…but that’s still a threshold of excellence that must be respected. It didn’t look like Syracuse had a chance in the world of getting there late in Big East action. They re-found their form at just the right time. You could say the same thing about Michigan, who had seemingly peaked too early until a frantic last second rally vs. Kansas dramatically changed their seasonal storyline. Slight edge above to Michigan in our view.



Syracuse: #6 with Sagarin, #7 with Pomeroy

Michigan: #5 with Sagarin, #5 with Pomeroy

Wow…that’s about as close as it can get! Both Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy see Michigan as the slightly superior team. But, the margin for error is such that you should just call it a dead heat. There are more than 300 teams in the measuring sample…and less than 40 games for each team. Not enough in the database to really split a hair like that.



Syracuse: #5 with Sagarin, #13 with Pomeroy

Michigan: #8 with Sagarin, #10 with Pomeroy

Both teams played extremely tough schedules…and the computers disagree about who played the toughest. Again, let’s call it a dead heat. No doubt at all that these teams are battle tested, and ready to go to war Saturday.



Syracuse: 9-9

Michigan: 12-6

Big edge to Michigan here…and possibly the key explaining why the market opened them as a 2-point favorite when many were expecting pick-em. The Wolverines won two-thirds of their games vs. quality competition, while Syracuse could only split out 50/50. And, let’s remember that Syracuse had to storm through tournament month to get up to 50/50.



Syracuse: #21

Michigan: #1

In the chess match, we see right away why Michigan’s offense is well-suited to face Syracuse. They have the best offense in the country once you adjust for pace factor and schedule strength! This wasn’t well-publicized during the year…because the media tends to focus on raw scoring totals rather than adjusting for tempo. Michigan doesn’t play high scoring games. They score in a very efficient manner in average or low tempo games. This may be the most under-reported story of the year in the mainstream media…the greatness of Michigan’s offense.



Syracuse: #5

Michigan: #35

You know all about the Syracuse defense. That’s been reported! Let’s note too that they’re probably more like a #1 defense in a first-look situation…but more like 20-30ish if a team has seen them before. Michigan hasn’t seen them before, but did have several days to prepare.



Syracuse: #244

Michigan: #200

Michigan is slightly below average…but tends to play to the pace of their opponent. Syracuse plays slow basketball by default because it takes opponents a long time to find openings to shoot. Given that playoff-style basketball tends to slow down anyway, this game will probably be played more in the Syracuse comfort zone. That gives them a shot to pull off the upset.



Did the indicators stats help us see a potential opening? The fact that Michigan has done much better vs. quality opposition is certainly a huge point in their favor. But, the fact that the game could slow way down makes points more valuable…and the team getting those points is the one best suited to a slow game. Still a toughie!

JIM HURLEY has been working very closely with his on-site sources in Atlanta to get a read on these teams. And, you can imagine that the computer simulation program has been very valuable in playing out the game thousands of times to account for all the possibilities. You can purchase the final word in this one plus Wichita State/Louisville right here at the website with your credit card. If you prefer talking to a live human, or you want to spend some time Saturday talking about seasonal packages in the NBA or MLB, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

In a chess match like this…you need to link up with HANDICAPPING’S GRAND MASTER JIM HURLEY!

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