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2009 NCAA Tournament: Championship Game Preview

National Championship features Michigan State and North Carolina rematch


Back on Dec. 3 at the Big Ten/ACC challenge, one of the featured matchups was Michigan State-North Carolina at Detroit’s Ford Field.

They were in the top 12 in the national rankings – North Carolina was No. 1, while Michigan State was No. 12 – each team was picked to win its respective conferences and each was thought to be on the short list of national champion contenders. However, the game proved to be no contest as the Tar Heels hammered the Spartans, 98-63.

Well, four months have passed since that game. While revenge could be a part of Michigan State’s motivation, winning a national championship has more incentive. The Spartans play North Carolina on Monday night at Detroit’s Ford Field for the NCAA Tournament championship. North Carolina is looking for its fifth national title in school history; Michigan State is seeking its third.

Consider what each team did in its semifinal win on Saturday. The Spartans beat Connecticut, 82-73, because they several things really well. First, they held Huskies shooting guard A.J. Price to 5-of-20 from the field and 15 points. Second, Spartan forward Raymar Morgan, who scored only four points in the Sweet 16 games against Kansas and Louisville, erupted for 18 points. Plus, guards Travis Walton, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and Kalin Lucas, the Big Ten Player of the Year, combined for 13 assists and three turnovers.

Michigan State advanced to its first national championship game since 2000 when it beat Florida.

For North Carolina, the Tar Heels jumped on Villanova pretty early but then kind of sputtered in their 83-69 win. The Wildcats shot only 32.9 percent from the field, and UNC point guard Ty Lawson scored 22 points and handed out eight assists.

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North Carolina will be favored Monday because the defense has been improving in the tournament, Lawson has asserted himself as the best point guard in the country and there just aren’t many answers for North Carolina senior Tyler Hansbrough.

The Tar Heels’ transition game is so efficient because Wayne Ellington has also been big. He scored 20 points against Villanova.

Although the second half against Villanova was a bit of a problem, the Tar Heels were never threatened because their defense continued to make Villanova take bad shots.

But Michigan State is much more physical than Villanova. Plus, this team will have Goran Suton for this game. He did not play in the first game against UNC.

There are two keys for Michigan State to win.

  • Shut down Lawson. Walton will probably get the assignment. He has done a great job against Louisville’s Terrence Williams and Connecticut’s Price. His spacing is going to have to be a tad looser because he doesn’t want to get caught against Lawson’s speed. But if he can create problems against dribble penetration and make it a little more difficult for Lawson to run the offense, then that can affect the rest of the parts in UNC’s offense.
  • Rebound and control pace. Against Louisville and Connecticut – teams that love the 94-foot game – the Spartans kept these contests at half court, especially in the second half. And in the final 10 minutes of regulation, you see the life seep out of the Cardinals and Huskies.

Michigan State will always rebound. Fending off Hansbrough and Danny Green will be important.

However, in the final analysis, this North Carolina team is driven to win. The parts are there because there are so many scoring options between Lawson, Ellington, Hansbrough and others.

Lawson is more athletic and will get his share of opportunities. The Spartan ride has helped Detroit and Michigan forget its economic blues.

The rematch from December will be closer, but the Tar Heels are the best team in the nation and should prevail.


National Championship Game - Ford Field, Detroit

No. 1 North Carolina (33-4) vs. No. 2 Michigan State (31-6)

Time/Day/TV: 8:00 EDT/Monday/CBS

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North Carolina Road to the Final Four: D. No. 16 Radford, 101-48 D. No. 8 LSU, 84-70 D. No. 4 Gonzaga, 98-77 D. No. 2 Oklahoma, 72-60 D. Villanova, 83-69

Michigan State Road to the Final Four: D. No. 15 Robert Morris, 77-62 D. No. 10 USC, 74-69 D. No. 3 Kansas, 67-62 D. No. 1 Louisville, 64-52 D. No. 1 Connecticut, 72-63

Michigan State Leading Scorers: Kalin Lucas 14.6, Raymar Morgan 10.2, Goran Suton 10.1

Michigan State Stat You Need to Know: The Spartans are 2-0 in National Championship games.

North Carolina Leading Scorers: Tyler Hansbrough 20.9, Ty Lawson 16.3, Wayne Ellington, 15.6

North Carolina Stat You Need to Know: The Tar Heels are 4-4 in National Championship games.



By Kevin Lonnquist
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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