- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 2, 2005

ST. LOUIS — Before North Carolina takes on Michigan State at Edward Jones Dome tonight, coach Roy Williams and his Tar Heels probably will spit in the Mississippi River.

Williams traditionally has let the saliva fly before major games near a waterway since 1982, before he was a head coach. And while Williams wouldn’t confirm plans to do it again — who wants to see that on “SportsCenter”? — the grin clearly showed his intentions.

“You can never tell,” Williams said. “Maybe.”

Williams’ willingness to succumb to superstition shouldn’t be surprising. Three of the four regional finals were decided in overtime last weekend, and Williams and counterpart Tom Izzo know how fickle the final weekend can be. Williams hasn’t won a title in his four Final Four trips, while Izzo has one championship from three appearance.

Dumb luck could decide which team advances to Monday’s championship game as much as any rational analysis. It’s that close.

“It’s going to be who can play in this environment and perform, who can perform in front of 40,000 people,” Williams said. “There are surprises, but generally, talent wins out.”

And in his second season since Williams replaced predecessor Matt Doherty, North Carolina certainly has talent. There’s center Sean May, who has played better than any big man in the country in the last month and carries a tape of his father’s 1976 national championship effort for Indiana in his backpack. Shooting guard Rashad McCants, back after a mysterious stomach ailment, and Raymond Felton help form a powerful triumvirate. Plus there’s Marvin Williams, who arguably is the team’s most talented player but doesn’t even start.

The difference for the Tar Heels? Roy Williams took all that talent and might have turned it into the best team. A recent film session showed the Tar Heels why the Detroit Pistons won last year’s NBA title.

“[Williams] showed us clips of that team, and he asked us before we went in there who is the best player on that team,” May said. “Everyone had their difference of opinion, and he just said, ‘You can’t tell who their best player is because they don’t care. They don’t have one superstar, and no one shines.’

“I think this team has totally turned around from what we were last year, the way we play and the way we did things. On any given night, you don’t know who will be the leading scorer. It could be Marvin off the bench or it could be Raymond or Jawad [Williams].”

That’s what scares Izzo the most. He can handle knowing May will be strong underneath or that McCants can beat the zone with 3-pointers. It’s the variety that is most troublesome.

“Which way do you want to go — lethal injection or electric chair,” Izzo said.

Nevertheless, Izzo wasn’t happy about the Spartans being cast as the spoilers. Michigan State beat Duke and Kentucky last weekend in perhaps the most challenging regional matchups encountered by the surviving quartet.

“I feel like [people think] we have to apologize for being here,” Izzo said. “I do think we can play with anybody in the country. I’ve always believed that.”

Unlike the Illinois-Louisville semifinal that features impressive guard matchups, how Michigan State center Paul Davis does vs. May could be a key. Davis has delivered a double-double in four NCAA tournament games, but May averaged it over the entire season.

“May has the best hands I’ve seen since Chris Webber,” Izzo said. “As the ball touches his fingertips, it seems like he sucks it in like a vacuum.”

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