Michael Carter-Williams has undoubtedly played the best basketball of his career in this year’s NCAA tournament. The sophomore playmaker is averaging 13 PPG, 4.75 assist, 5.75 rebounds, and a tad over three steals per game in the tourney thus far. He has his elevated game to an entirely new level, to a point where many Syracuse fans have wondered where this has been all season. Now the Orange is in the Final Four with MCW running the point against Michigan on Saturday night.
The Orange danced into the tournament with a likely Sweet 16 ceiling, but has exceeded many people’s expectations with this deep run. Carter-Williams has been a primary reason why Syracuse got it done in San Jose and D.C. He received news of his Hamilton, MA home burning down while in California. With that, and scrutiny he gets on a daily basis, MCW has played huge for Syracuse.
MCW faces his toughest test yet individually in Michigan’s star-point guard Trey Burke. Trey hit one of the biggest treys of the tourney forcing the Sweet 16 game to OT, and then went off against Kansas in overtime. Michigan went on to defeat Florida to move on to Atlanta with Burke’s solid play. He’s averaging 15.5 PPG, 7.75 assists, 3 rebounds, and about a steal per game in tournament play. Burke was one of the best players in the country all year, and hasn’t surprised as much as Carter-Williams. But his big game performances have been impressive.
This is the elite player-to-player match-up of Saturday. MCW is a confident player who needs to rise to the occasion. He lives for these premier PG match-ups, playing with a swagger and cockiness all season. The same goes for Burke. The Wolverines need Trey in order to host the national championship trophy. The key to this battle is composure and discipline: not only who wants it more, but which player is going to stay within its game and not try to do too much.
Even though Burke is projected to go higher in the NBA Draft, the edge seems to go to Carter-Williams:
Burke’s ability to create his own shot is why he’s the better scoring option than MCW. You can make the case, however, that MCW doesn’t need to score on this year’s SU team due to the other options. The clutch gene favors Burke due to his theatrics in a 14-point comeback over Kansas, and late game play all season.
MCW has precedent in each of the other categories. His passing and court awareness has made huge strides in March, while his defense has helped create a ton of turnovers (67 in 4 games). In four tournament games, SU has given up just 8 fast break points, an unthinkable stat.
Each plays a different style, as the taller and lengthier MCW mainly facilitates, whereas Burke turns to his scoring to carry his squad. When all said and done, MCW reminded the media yesterday before the team left for Atlanta that this is not him versus Burke:
“He’s a great player. He can create his own shot and make shots for his teammates. That’s what makes him special. He’s also a good defensive player. I played against him in AAU. I know his game and watched a lot of his games. We are different and we do similar things. I’m not going into the game thinking this is me versus him. This is Syracuse against Michigan.”
Bingo. It’s all about the team. This is the player match-up everyone’s been circling, but when it’s all said and done, it comes down to the teams.
Posted: Brendan Glasheen