Final Four

McNamara outlines how he scouts Michigan ahead of Final Four matchup

ATLANTA — For Gerry McNamara, the game within the game began as soon as Michigan defeated Florida. The gun sounded, and the race was underway.

“This week has just been about how much film can I watch,” McNamara said with a smile. “How much can I cram in?”

McNamara, who is an assistant for head coach Jim Boeheim and one of the heroes of the 2003 national championship, drew the scouting assignment for Saturday’s game against Michigan. So from last weekend to the present — probably with some last-minute cramming tonight — his focus has been on the Wolverines and learning all he can about them.

The three assistant coaches divided up the Final Four teams before Syracuse arrived in Atlanta. Adrian Autry is responsible for Louisville, Mike Hopkins has Wichita State and McNamara received the most pressing assignment: Michigan.

He explained his scouting process to reporters while leaning up against a hallway wall just outside the Syracuse locker room Friday, running on what he described as “not a whole bunch” of sleep. Because Syracuse plays zone, a defense not used by many teams around the country, McNamara said he must watch more film than if the Orange was a man-to-man team.

He scoured tape — as much as he could get his hands on — to pick up the tendencies and preferences of the Wolverines against the sporadic stretches of zone they’ve faced this year. A few minutes against Northwestern and a handful of other teams, but never a full game.

Indiana, the No. 1 seed in the East Regional, was in a similar situation last weekend as a fellow Big 10 team facing Syracuse. The Hoosiers had sat atop the rankings at multiple points during the 2012-13 season, and their offense with the likes of Cody Zeller, Christian Watford and Victor Oladipo had been explosive and lethal.

But like California and Montana before them, the Hoosiers were dumbfounded by the length and agility of Syracuse.

“We haven’t really faced a lot of 2-3 zone all year,” Michigan guard Nik Stauskas said. “We had a couple of teams that switch to it for a couple of minutes maybe.

“Their 2-3 zone is very impressive. They’ve been using it all year and been playing it really well.”

Next, McNamara examines the last five games a team has played to get a feel for how they are performing at this particular moment. For Michigan, that means four NCAA Tournament wins and a disappointing loss to Wisconsin in the Big 10 quarterfinals.

He shares his observations with Hopkins and Autry in a meeting of the assistant coaches. A game plan is hatched, a scheme devised.

That plan is then distributed by each coach to the specific player group they oversee: McNamara instructs his guards, Autry the forwards and Hopkins the centers.

“They’ll relay the messages that I was able to take from the film and the study I’ve done of the team and relay it to their groups,” McNamara said. “I relay my information to my guards, and all the stuff funnels back to Coach Boeheim.”

As of Friday afternoon, the Syracuse players had not seen film on Michigan, which was surprising to a few reporters. But Hopkins insisted the team is made up of basketball fans, and they’ve seen Michigan throughout the year. He added that he’s seen the Wolverines 10 times himself.

The game plan will be handed down Friday night and Saturday, with the specifics from McNamara’s film study finally spilling out of the notebook. Between film study and spending time with his son Gerry, the assistant coach hasn’t slept much this week.

But a win will make it all worth it.

Said McNamara: “I watch as much film as I can, to be honest.”

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