ATLANTA — According to all the signs, billboards and posters outside of the Georgia Dome, the Michigan and Syracuse men’s basketball teams are playing tomorrow. Apparently, the winner of tomorrow’s game will earn a berth in the National Championship, or something like that.
But the Orange seemed to be downplaying the first part of that billing, focusing and talking about the team from New York and not the one from Ann Arbor.
Syracuse guard Brandon Triche said that Syracuse has yet to watch film on Michigan, a statement echoed by forward Rakeem Christmas and assistant coach Mike Hopkins. Christmas said that the team would probably watch film Friday evening or Saturday morning, less than 24 hours before Saturday’s opening tip.
In comparison, junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said that the Wolverines have even watched some film their early-season match-up with Eastern Michigan this week because the Eagles’ head coach, Rob Murphy, was an assistant at Syracuse from 2004-11.
On Friday, inside the underbelly of the massive Georgia Dome, it was clear the two programs were approaching this game very differently.
“These guys are basketball fans,” Hopkins said. “These guys are very, very familiar with the Michigan team. I’ve seen them play 10 times. But one of the things that helps us going into it is that we are a really relaxed team. When you get this far, we do what we do. We are focused on the simple things we have to do to be effective.”
Offensively, it still seemed like several Syracuse players had a good grasp on how they were going to attack the Wolverine defense, even though they hadn’t yet watched h film as a team. Freshman guard Nik Stauskas, who is known more for his shooting than his defensive abilities, was singled out more than any other Michigan player as a potential liability to exploit.
Triche — who said that Syracuse has mismatches at every position when it has the ball — compared Stauskas to sub 6-foot Indiana sharpshooter Jordan Hulls.
Triche didn’t know Stauskas’s height, and had to be reminded that the freshman is 6-foot-6.
“If they put Nik on either Brandon (Triche) or C.J. (Fair), I think we can exploit that mismatch,” said Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams. “I’m not trying to knock Nik or anything, I think he’s a great player and a great shooter, but if we attack him, he’s going to have to work. That’s going to take away from his shot, because he’ll be tired and his legs aren’t going to be there.
“We are going to make him work.”
Syracuse also seemed to have all the answers on defense. Instead of talking about how to slow down the play of sophomore point guard Trey Burke — the AP Player of the Year — Syracuse players talked about their vaunted 2-3 zone, and how it has shut down a lot of players of Burke’s caliber in the past.
It doesn’t hurt that Burke is barely 6-feet tall, while only two Orange starters stand shorter than 6-foot-8. The point guard across from Burke, Carter-Williams, is 6-foot-6.
“We’ll play our zone,” Triche said with a chuckle. “We’ve stopped some good players of lately and before. (Former UConn guard) Kemba Walker was doing his thing, he got eight points against our zone. I don’t see (Burke) being too much better than Kemba Walker.”
Added Carter-Williams: “There’s no pressure on me. You know, he’s got a lot of pressure on him to come off Player of the Year and to hold up expectations and such. I have no pressure, so I’m just going out there, playing freely and enjoying myself.”
With one team watching no film at all and another watching film of a former Syracuse assistant, the differences in preparation were palpable the day before the game, adding just another subplot to what is turning into a very interesting national semifinal game.
“Obviously, they don’t think much of us,” said freshman point guard Spike Albrecht. “I don’t know what they think. That’s a little extra motivation for us. Maybe that’s how they do things over there.
“We don’t worry too much about them.”