DETROIT – For the first and only time in this NCAA tournament, the Big East isn’t in the equation.
Tonight’s championship game features the teams that knocked out the final two teams from the Big East, which had dominated the field and the headlines.
North Carolina and Michigan State don’t have a whole lot in common except winning. The Tar Heels lead the nation in scoring margin (18.0), while the Spartans are No. 1 in rebound margin (9.6).
One is known for getting out on the break and scoring, even at the perception of ignoring defense, while the other is known for its toughness and ability to force teams into foregoing what usually works on offense.
Here’s a quick look at both teams:
North Carolina has two-time All-American Tyler Hansbrough in the middle and a group of players on the wing who can handle the ball on the break and finish. Hansbrough is the school’s and Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time leading scorer. Even though his average for the five tournament games (17.4) is a little off his season mark (20.8), he’ll go inside and take any punishment Michigan State’s big guys want to meter out. He went to the free-throw line almost nine times a game in the tournament and is shooting 81.4 percent. Danny Green is a tough matchup for opposing forwards because of his ability to drive as well as shoot the 3, especially on the break.
Michigan State has 6-foot-10 Goran Suton, the Big Ten’s leading rebounder, inside, and he’s averaging a double-double in the tournament at 12.2 points and 10.6 rebounds. He is 5 for 11 on 3s in the tournament, and that’s good enough to draw whoever is covering him away from the paint. Raymar Morgan, who broke his nose in the regional semifinals, broke out of his tournament slump against UConn, finishing with 18 points and nine rebounds. Delvon Roe, Marquise Gray and Idong Ibok provide depth and plenty of fouls.
Ty Lawson was the ACC’s player of the year, and the junior has bounced back from a late-season toe injury to again become the premier point guard in the nation. He leads the Tar Heels in scoring in the tournament at 20.8 points while averaging 7.0 assists and committing a total of six turnovers. He made the high-powered offense run, and it’s been purring in the tournament at 87.6 points per game.
Kalin Lucas was the Big Ten’s player of the year, and the sophomore has led the Spartans in scoring (14.4) during the tournament, averaging 5.4 assists and 2.4 turnovers. Travis Walton was the conference’s defensive player of the year and is considered one of the best guards in the nation in one-on-one coverage. He backed that up as the main defender on Connecticut’s A.J. Price, who was 5 for 20 from the field Saturday. Walton also helped on offense with a season-high eight assists in that game.
North Carolina has had a seven-man rotation for most of the tournament. Though freshman forward Ed Davis draws most of the attention for his 7.6 points and 5.0 rebounds, it’s senior guard Bobby Frasor who has shaken off two injury-marred seasons to make big contributions in his last NCAA tournament.
Michigan State has used eight players for most of the tournament. Sophomore guards Chris Allen and Durrell Summers have both contributed in big spots, especially Summers with his 10 points, including one of the most impressive dunks of the tournament, and six rebounds in the victory over Connecticut.
Roy Williams is in the championship game for the fourth time. The first two at Kansas were losses to Duke and Syracuse. His only title appearance with the Tar Heels was a victory over Illinois in 2005. His displays of emotion on the bench are rare, although he has folded his glasses, placed them on the scorer’s table and headed into a huddle to voice his displeasure about things.
Tom Izzo is in the championship game for second time with the Spartans; his first resulted in a win over Florida in 2000. One of the most animated coaches in the business, Izzo can get fans at home fired up with his intense display, especially when things are going well for Michigan State.
North Carolina ended last season with a crushing loss to Kansas in the national semifinals, and four of those starters passed on entering the NBA draft to return to school. The Tar Heels were a unanimous No. 1 in the preseason poll, then held that spot for eight more weeks. They played at Ford Field earlier this season, beating the Spartans 98-63 on Dec. 3.
Michigan State will have a sea of green and white behind it among the 75,000-plus spectators watching the game about 90 miles from the East Lansing campus. The Spartans were in the top ten for all but three weeks this season. Their worst loss of the season was the game at Ford Field against the Tar Heels.
This is a game that features a run-all-day, spread-the-court team against one that wants to bump and bang in a small area. The crowd shouldn’t affect North Carolina. With Lawson back to 100 percent, the Tar Heels should be able to get out and run and run. North Carolina wins 88-73.