For the first time in the history of the NCAA tournament, a pair of No. 4 seeds will face off in the Final Four as Syracuse faces Michigan on Saturday night in Atlanta. The Wolverines are two-point favorites at Bovada.
History would seem to favor the underdog Orange. It’s the fourth time that coach Jim Boeheim has led Syracuse to the Final Four, and Syracuse won its previous three national semifinals comfortably: 95-84 over Texas in 2003 on the way to the Orange’s lone national title, 77-69 over Mississippi State in 1996 before losing to Kentucky, and 77-63 over Providence in 1987 before falling to Indiana on the memorable Keith Smart jumper.
In addition, Boeheim is 9-0 in his career against Michigan counterpart John Beilein, although just one of those wins has come with Beilein at Michigan. At 68 years and five months, Boeheim could become the second-oldest coach to win a national championship behind UConn’s Jim Calhoun (2011). The Orange are +425 to cut down the nets Monday.
The Orange sputtered to close the regular season, losing four of their final five games. They reached the Big East Tournament final but lost by 17 to fellow Final Four team Louisville. A Syracuse-Louisville rematch in the national title game is +140 at the book. One conference hasn’t had both finals teams since the Big Eight with Kansas and Oklahoma 25 years ago. This is Syracuse’s final season in the Big East as it heads to the ACC. Louisville follows in 2014.
It’s the first Final Four for Beilein and for Michigan since the Fab Five went in 1992 and ’93. The Wolverines were No. 1 in the country briefly earlier this season before closing the season with six losses in their final 12 games.
Michigan needed a miracle rally in the Sweet 16 to send their game against Kansas into overtime. Trey Burke, the Big Ten Player of the Year and the favorite for the national award, hit a 3-pointer from about 30 feet to tie it late. Burke has accounted for 134 points in this tournament (scoring and assists), the most of any player. Other than versus Kansas, Michigan hasn’t been challenged in the tournament. A Michigan-Louisville national title game is the -110 favorite at the book, and Michigan is +300 to win it all.
It should be a classic game of opposites. The Wolverines are an up-tempo team averaging nearly 79 points per game in the Big Dance. They shredded VCU’s vaunted “Havoc” pressure defense in the Round of 32 in a 25-point blowout and outscored VCU 27-4 in transition. Florida was ranked as the No. 2 defense in the nation but was gouged for 79 points (one shy of a season high against the Gators) in the Elite Eight as Michigan was 10-for-19 from 3-point range and turned the ball over only nine times.
Syracuse’s 2-3 zone is one of the toughest defensive sets to prepare for. At the top of that zone are 6-foot-6 guard Michael Carter-Williams and 6-foot-4 Brandon Triche, making it tough to penetrate and get off jumpers. Syracuse is allowing less than 46 points per game in this tournament, and Indiana, one of the nation’s highest-scoring teams, was held to a season-low 50 in the Sweet 16.