Monday, April 6, 2009

NCAA hoops title game preview

By Rick Morris

The 2009 NCAA hoops championship game comes down to one very simple number: 70. Michigan State can’t win if North Carolina scores more than that number. North Carolina is very unlikely to win if they can’t muster that number.

The Tar Heels are one of the most explosive teams in recent college basketball history and if they win this game tonight, they’ll be fulfilling a destiny predicted for them by analysts since well before the start of the season. “Psycho T” Tyler Hansbrough came back to school this year, knowing that like Tim Tebow he faces an uncertain future at the next level, but wanting to match Tebow as one of the greatest collegiate athletes of the past quarter-century. He needs a win tonight to earn that recognition.

MSU, meanwhile, has every advantage that a big underdog could want tonight. They’ll have an overwhelming crowd advantage, with potentially as many as 60,000 of the 72,000 in attendance rooting for them. They’re a great defensive squad and deeper than powerful UNC. They’ve gone through a tougher route than the Heels to get here and they have a ton of motivation because nobody is giving them a chance and because they got waxed by 35 points on the same floor back in December. And while North Carolina stumbled a bit under the weight of insanely unrealistic expectations back in January (i.e. the first undefeated season for any team in 33 years), the Spartans are insanely battle-tested from fighting through a deep pit of injuries this year.

Having said all of that, however, they’re facing an absolute machine tonight, and that’s why so many people would regard a Sparty win as being in the same upset class as the big North Carolina State and Villanova national titles back in the ‘80s notwithstanding the fact that MSU is and has been a legit Top 10 team for most of the year. North Carolina is just that good. They have an inside-outside game that is the envy of the entire country and an explosiveness that few can stop – witness what they did to a very strong and very hot Villanova team in the national semifinals despite not playing anywhere close to their best game. Additionally, Michigan State is not the team to be able to exploit one of North Carolina’s few relatively small weaknesses: perimeter defense.

So this brings us back full-circle to the number mentioned at the outset: 70. The pace of the game will tell us everything we need to know tonight about whether or not MSU has the chance to pull the electrifying upset so close to home. If Carolina is hanging around the 18-point halfway through the first half and/or the 35-point mark at halftime, an upset is at least plausible. However, the conventional wisdom about how Michigan State could win a muddy, low-scoring contest is complicated by the fact that the folks in green are only firing up 69.7% from the free throw line. As such, it’s unwise to expect Sparty to shock the world tonight. North Carolina 80, Michigan State 65.

No comments: