NCAA Championship Game Preview

#1-seed North Carolina vs. #2-seed Michigan State
Tip-Off: 9:21 PM ET
Sagarin Ratings: North Carolina (95.44), Michigan State (90.07)
Line: UNC – 7.5

After the Tar Heels trounced the Spartans by 35 points on Dec. 3, it was clear that if North Carolina stayed healthy, they’d probably make a return trip to Ford Field. Ty Lawson’s swollen toe threw the team’s chances up in the air, but the Tar Heels stayed focused and “The Toe” — after a scare in the first half against LSU — hasn’t given Lawson any noticeable problems in the tournament. Conversely, after that December meeting, the Spartans were left wondering just how good of a team they were. In their defense, they had just returned from a three-game stint at the Old Spice Classic in Florida and were playing their fourth game in seven days — against the top-ranked team in the country no less. Still, the game was in Detroit, and they had a couple days to recover after beating Wichita State on Nov. 30, so they should have put up more of a fight.

So how do we handicap Monday night’s game? Well, the Tar Heels still have an advantage at every position, but the Spartans are playing with a lot of confidence and Ford Field is still just 92 miles from campus. So there figures to be a lot of green and white in the stands tomorrow night, especially since the UConn and Villanova fans have been looking to dump their tickets before they catch a flight out of town.

Unlike most of the teams in the country, Michigan State does have the athletes to run with North Carolina, but the Spartans are just as content to settle into the half court and run their sets. Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas has to limit or outplay Ty Lawson at the point. If Lawson wins that matchup, it’s going to be a long night for the Spartans. Michigan State can’t pack the lane like they did against UConn. Wayne Ellington and Danny Green have been hot, so the MSU defenders will have to stay home. They need to meet Tyler Hansbrough at the free throw line and keep him from establishing deep position in the post. If they can push him out of his comfort zone, the perimeter defenders won’t have to double.

The bottom line is the Spartans have to get the Tar Heels out of their game. Michigan State can throw 10 or 11 players out there, but they should only push the ball when they have an advantage. Otherwise, they should execute their half court offense and hope that those wide open 15-foot jumpers keep falling. Athleticism isn’t an issue; Michigan State can jump as high and run as fast as North Carolina can, so this game will come down to execution. In the end, I think the Tar Heels will have enough to win the game, but I think Michigan State +7.5 is attractive due to the Spartans “sticktoitiveness.” They’re just going to keep coming and coming until the final buzzer sounds.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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