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Heels and Spartans

There’s a basketball game of some note on tonight. The college basketball National Championship. You might have heard of it. After one of the more underwhelming Final Four Saturdays in recent memory — sorry, even with Michigan State’s “upset” of UConn, there just wasn’t a great deal of compelling basketball coming through the screens this past Saturday — Michigan State and the North Carolina Tar Heels will meet tonight to decide who gets to take the NABC’s crystal basketball trophy home with them for the summer.

Some things to watch for tonight:

Ty Lawson versus Kalin Lucas
Which of these point guards has the better game goes a long way towards deciding the winner. Both teams live and die by their point guard play, and fittingly, both guards have played great during the tournament. If there’s an edge here, it probably goes to Lawson because he’s a little quicker than Lucas, but don’t put a great deal of stock and/or money here. Lawson versus Lucas looks like a push.

Tom Izzo versus Roy Williams
Whichever coach wins takes their seat at the “best coach in college basketball” table. For Izzo, it’s his fifth Final Four as Michigan State’s head coach, and his second trip the National Championship game. For Williams, this is his third trip the Final Four in his sixth season at Chapel Hill. Like Izzo, Williams has converted one of these trips into National Champion hardware. Considering the way Izzo coached his team up for the Louisville and Connecticut games, it’s hard not to give him the nod here, especially with his Spartans entering the game as underdogs.

Raymar Morgan versus Tyler Hansbrough
As long as Morgan doesn’t go back into the tank against the Heels, this should be as good as the Lucas/Lawson battle. Morgan is Michigan State’s enforcer, controlling the paint with strong rebounds and tough points; in effect, making him a mirror image of Carolina’s Hansbrough. If Morgan can stay out of foul trouble, these two should provide some entertaining basketball tonight. Hopefully, tonight’s officials let Hansbrough and Morgan beat on each other for 40 minutes, making the paint safe for grown men only. High school and rec league ballers need not apply.

Offensive Rebounding versus Defensive Rebounding
Against UConn, Michigan State had 16 offensive rebounds, while against Villanova, Carolina gave up 19. If the Heels are seriously concerned with winning their fifth National Championship, they had better do a much more effective job with the defensive rebounds. Allowing a team like Michigan State to get second shot after second shot can be detrimental to title hopes.

Full Court versus Half Court
Will Michigan State be able to control Carolina’s attacking style, much like they did the Louisville Cardinals in the Elite 8? Conversely, will the Heels be able to run, run, run against the Spartans methodical style? Rebounding will play a big role here because if the Heels can control the defensive glass, initiating their fast break won’t be quite as difficult against a great Spartan defense.

Outlook
Without question, Tom Izzo and his Spartans have done a masterful job getting to the National Championship game. The Tar Heels, on the other hand, have been a consensus favorite since the season started last November. Normally, I’m all about the team with the most talent (see, Carolina, North), but to do that here would be to ignore the way the Spartans have handled their last two, more talented opponents. Michigan State controlled Louisville from the opening tip and pulled away from UConn at the end.

These facts cannot be ignored when looking at the outcome of this game. The Heels are the more talented team, top-to-bottom, but to suggest Michigan State can’t match up is silly — it’s either that, or someone is taking a 35-point beating from last December a little too seriously.

Don’t expect the same result tonight. Yes, the Tar Heels might very well win, but unlike their last meeting against Michigan State, they are going to have to earn it tonight. In the end, I expect the talent level to be the difference, but not without the standard, Tom Izzo grind-it-out fight before the final bell sounds. In other words, if Carolina is entertaining thoughts of winning, they are going to have to earn it first.

Final Score
Carolina 78, Michigan State 74

MOP
Ty Lawson (with Wayne Ellington as a close second).