- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009

[1] North Carolina (33-4) vs. [2] Michigan State (31-6)

9:21 p.m., Ford Field, Detroit, Chs. 9, 13

Breaking down North Carolina

While every team nominally considers its ultimate goal a national title, it was especially true of how North Carolina was constructed. In a remarkable cosmic twice-in-a-decade occurrence (see Florida, 2007), all of the Tar Heels‘ superlative underclassmen returned for an extra season - and pretty much all of them got better. The point of it all was to collect that elusive title, the one they thought could have been theirs in 2007 (if not for an Elite Eight meltdown against Georgetown) and should have been theirs a year ago (when they spotted Kansas a 28-point lead in the national semifinals). Guards Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington are the ones pushing this team further, and it’s pretty easy to discern when North Carolina has a chance to lose - when those guys are shooting poorly from the perimeter. The Tar Heels shot 27.8 percent from the 3-point line in their losses and 40.1 percent in their victories. If Ellington and Lawson connect from long distance, it will be time to start engraving the trophy.

Breaking down Michigan State

Underestimate the Spartans at your own peril - and whatever you do, don’t consider their 35-point loss to the Tar Heels in early December as an indicator for how things will unfold tonight. Michigan State is deeper than North Carolina, and for much of the season it was tougher as well. The Spartans already have knocked off a pair of No. 1 seeds, slowing down Louisville to a crawl in the Midwest regional final and then running faster than even Connecticut would prefer in Saturday’s semifinals. In short, Michigan State is flexible enough to thrive in any tempo and will play stingy defense regardless. In a rare twist, North Carolina won’t be the deepest team on the floor in the title game. The Spartans went 11 deep in the first six minutes of Saturday’s semifinal, and it would come as no surprise if Tom Izzo deploys his army of brawn to try to wear down Tyler Hansbrough and the Tar Heels’ interior options.

Matchup to watch

North Carolina G Ty Lawson vs. Michigan State G Travis Walton

To paraphrase the old political chestnut, it’s the perimeter, stupid. Lawson is unquestionably the Tar Heels’ most valuable player, and slowing down the quicksilver point guard (or at least forcing him into poor decisions) is the path to victory for any North Carolina opponent. Michigan State likely will slap Walton - the sort of fundamentally sound, defense-first, four-year guard the Spartans specialize in exporting - on Lawson. It’s their best bet to contain Lawson and have a chance at a championship.

Prediction

NORTH CAROLINA 74, MICHIGAN STATE 71

Michigan State will try - successfully - to take away North Carolina’s advantages in transition, and Kalin Lucas will get his points (as usual) out of the Spartans’ halfcourt set. This will be no rerun of the early-season rout in the same building, but Lawson and Ellington hold the keys to snagging Roy Williams his second title this decade. Look for the Tar Heels to snip the nets after surviving a physical affair.

[1] NORTH CAROLINA

Projected starters

5 Ty Lawson G 5-11 195 Jr.

22 Wayne Ellington G 6-4 200 Jr.

14 Danny Green G 6-6 210 Sr.

21 Deon Thompson F 6-8 245 Jr.

50 Tyler Hansbrough F 6-9 250 Sr.

Top reserves

32 Ed Davis F 6-10 215 Fr.

4 Bobby FrasorG 6-3 210 Sr.

44 Tyler Zeller F 7-0 220 Fr.

Team leaders

Category Player Avg

Points Tyler Hansbrough 20.8

Rebounds Tyler Hansbrough 8.2

Assists Ty Lawson 6.6

[2] MICHIGAN STATE

Projected starters

1 Kalin Lucas G 6-0 180 So.

5 Travis Walton G 6-2 190 Sr.

2 Raymar Morgan F 6-8 225Jr.

10 Delvon Roe F 6-8 225 Fr.

14 Goran Suton C 6-10 245 Sr.

Top reserves

15 Durrell Summers G 6-4 195 So.

3 Chris Allen G 6-3 205 So.

23 Draymond Green F 6-6 235 Fr.

Team leaders

Category Player Avg

Points Kalin Lucas 14.7

Rebounds Goran Suton 8.3

Assists Kalin Lucas 4.6


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