March Madness – Championship Game
Who will cut down the nets at Ford Field tonight? (image: Eckler)
Over the weekend, Michigan State beat Connecticut and North Carolina did the same to Villanova. The two will meet for the big dance tonight in Detroit. Here’s Jeff Goodman’s preview.
Championship preview: Breaking down the teams
by: Jeff Goodman
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Michigan State, 9:21 p.m. ET
The road: The Tar Heels crushed Radford in the opening-round, pulled away from LSU late in the game in the second round and pounded Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. North Carolina advanced to its second consecutive Final Four with a resounding win against Oklahoma and then cruised past Villanova to reach the title game.
1. Ever since the quartet of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green decided to return to school, the Tar Heels were basically the unanimous pick to cut down the nets on April 6. Well, here they are with one game left to accomplish their goal.
2. Will Hansbrough leave school with a national title? He had a chance to leave school early on numerous occasions but opted to remain for all four years.
Stud: Tyler Hansbrough — There is plenty of talent on this team, but Hansbrough is the face of the Tar Heels and has been for the past four years while he led North Carolina in scoring and rebounding on most nights. No one works harder, and no one gets more out of his ability than Psycho T.
The key: Ty Lawson — No one has a gear like the speedy North Carolina junior point guard. He’s virtually unstoppable in the open court and also has showed he can make shots this year from deep. In the first meeting between the two teams, he was the difference-maker. Don’t expect that to change this time around.
Key question: Will Lawson continue his dominance? After missing the first game of the NCAA tournament and the entire ACC tourney with a sprained toe, he’s been as good as anyone in the country over the past four games.
Why they win: If North Carolina plays its “A” game, there’s no one in America that can beat the Tar Heels. They did that on Dec. 3 and had everything clicking.
Why they lose: Defense. The Tar Heels have stepped up defensively the last couple of games — none more so than Hansbrough. If they don’t guard, especially on the perimeter, they could find themselves in a hole that’ll be difficult to overcome.
The road: The Spartans took care of No. 15 seed Robert Morris in the first round and won a close one against USC to reach the Sweet 16. Tom Izzo’s team came back against Kansas and reached the Final Four with a fairly resounding victory against Louisville in the Elite Eight. Then Michigan State pulled the upset against its second straight No. 1 seed with a victory in the national semifinals over UConn.
1. The last time these two teams met came on Dec. 3, and the Spartans were embarrassed following a 35-point loss. Izzo was without starting big man Goran Suton (knee) and starting forward Delvon Roe wasn’t close to 100 percent recovered from a knee injury.
2. The home-court advantage: There will likely be 50,000 or so clad in Spartan green for the title game since Ford Field is around the corner from East Lansing.
Stud: Kalin Lucas — He didn’t play all that well in the Spartans’ first meeting with North Carolina, but he’s looked like a different player ever since. Lucas is one of the few guys that has the speed and quickness to keep up with Lawson, but he’ll need to get out of the gates quickly and get his confidence up.
The key: Goran Suton — The skilled 6-foot-10 senior sat out the game against the Tar Heels earlier in the season, but he’s healthy now and needs to have a big game. He struggled against UConn, but he’ll need to step out and pull Hansbrough and the other North Carolina big men away from the basket and also be a force on the boards.
Key question: How will Michigan State react to a team that dismantled them a little more than four months ago?
Why they win: They beat North Carolina at their own game. The Spartans make shots early, don’t allow the Tar Heels to beat them in transition and get out to an early lead. The crowd won’t hurt their cause, either.
Why they lose: North Carolina is the more talented team and has everything clicking on all cylinders. If Michigan State doesn’t come out early and set the tone, it’ll be difficult to imagine them coming away with the victory.