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NCAAB Title Game News and Notes

NCAAB Title Game News and Notes

UNC vs. Michigan St.
By Brian Edwards

When Roy Williams and Tom Izzo decided to schedule a game together at Ford Field on Dec. 3, this is exactly what they had in mind. They wanted a non-conference game at the facility in Detroit where the 2009 Final Four will be played in hopes of returning to that venue in early April.

And here we are. Ninety-three days later, North Carolina and Michigan St. will collide Monday night with the national championship at stake. One thing is for certain: Izzo doesn’t want Monday’s result to look anything like the one from Dec. 3, when UNC went into Motown and spanked the Spartans by a 98-63 count as a 10-point road favorite.

In the interest of full disclosure, we should note that Michigan State starting center Goran Suton (9.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game) did not play in the initial meeting.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened North Carolina (33-4 straight up, 16-19 against the spread) as a seven-point favorite with a total of 151. As of Sunday night, most books has UNC at 7 ½ with the total adjusted into the 152-153 range. Gamblers can back the Spartans on the money line for a generous plus-280 return (risk $100 to win $280).

Michigan State (31-6 SU, 21-12-1 ATS) advanced to the finals by dropping UConn 82-73 as a 4 ½-point underdog in Saturday’s semifinals showdown. Bettors taking the Spartans to win outright brought home a plus-180 payout.

This is definitely not Izzo’s most talented team of the five MSU squads he’s brought to the Final Four during his illustrious career. But this might be the one that exudes his personality the best. In other words, this team doesn’t get loose balls, it devours them. The Spartans don’t just hit the boards, they tenaciously attack the glass.

And how about their defense? UConn’s A.J. Price had been slicing and dicing through the nation’s premier defenses all year long. On Saturday, I’m not sure if Price had one clean look among his 20 shot attempts (he made five and missed 15), and we’re talking about a point guard that’s relentless at attacking the basket off the dribble. (Remember when Price broke Jerel McNeal’s ankles (figure of speech) in a win over Marquette in late February?)

A week after playing a career game in an Elite Eight win over Missouri by scoring 25 points to go with five rebounds and five assists, freshman Kemba Walker played a game to forget. Obviously, Michigan St. is more committed at the defensive end than Mizzou. Walker went 1-of-5 from the field and 3-of-9 from the charity stripe. He also committed four turnovers and when the Huskies had mounted a furious rally to pull within four with a little more than a minute left, Michigan St. beat the press and Walker committed a silly foul that allowed the Spartans to get a three-point play the hard way. (After that play, you know Bill Raftery was somewhere saying, “Dagger!”)

UConn was bigger than Michigan St. The Huskies had more talent and were stronger (how nasty were a couple of those dunks by Jeff Adrien and Stanley Robinson?). But the Spartans were better and most importantly, they wanted it more – a lot more.

And that’s a tribute to Izzo, who in the last three games has out-coached the likes of Jim Calhoun, Rick Pitino and Bill Self, who have combined to collect four national titles.

Kalin Lucas scored 21 points and dished out five assists. Raymar Morgan, playing with a mask to protect his broken nose, finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and five steals.

North Carolina was made the clear-cut favorite to win the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday. Other than the first 10 minutes of the second half of a second-round win over LSU, the Tar Heels have played the role of the ‘chalk’ well. For the most part, they have dominated all comers, as evidenced by their 5-0 ATS record in the Big Dance.

UNC jumped on Villanova early and never let up. The Wildcats made a run early in the second half to trim the deficit to five, but they would get no closer. Danny Green answered with a long 3-ball from the deep left of the key and ‘Nova’s momentum was thwarted.

The Heels went on to collect an 83-69 win as seven-point favorites. Although he struggled at the free-throw line, draining just 10-of-17 attempts, Ty Lawson was once again the catalyst, scoring 22 points, dishing out eight assists, pulling down seven rebounds and swiping away a pair of steals.

Wayne Ellington finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and four assists. He came out on fire, burying 5-of-7 attempts from 3-point land. Tyler Hansbrough had 18 points, 11 boards and four steals, while Green was also in double figures with 12 points.

The Tar Heels are only 4-5 ATS as single-digit ‘chalk’ this year, but we should mention that they have taken the cash in all three such spots in this Tournament. When Michigan St. has been tagged as an underdog, it has compiled a 5-2 record both SU and ATS.

Since 1998, these storied programs have faced each other three different times in the NCAA Tournament. In ’98, UNC thumped the Spartans 73-58 as an 11 ½-point ‘chalk.’ In the national semifinals at the ’05 Final Four in St. Louis, the Tar Heels pounded MSU by an 87-71 count as 4 ½-point ‘chalk.’ And in ’07 in a second-round matchup, Carolina won an 81-67 decision as a 10-point favorite.

We mentioned the woodshed treatment UNC dealt MSU at Ford Field earlier this year. Hansbrough, whose spectacular collegiate career will end Monday when he puts that Carolina uniform on for the final time, dominated the Spartans back in December with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Lawson had 17 points, eight assists and seven steals, while Ellington also scored 17.

Morgan had a team-high 21 points for the Spartans, who made just 4-of-17 from 3-point land and 13-of-21 at the free-throw line. Those percentages won’t get it done this time around.

In this matchup, we have extremely contrasting styles. UNC wants to run at every opportunity with Lawson at the wheel. The Tar Heels want to shoot from 3-point land with lethal gunners in Lawson, Ellington and Green. On the flip side, Michigan St. lives and dies with its terrific defense and rebounding.

The ‘over’ is 19-16 overall for UNC, but the ‘under’ has cashed in five of its last six outings. The ‘under’ is 20-14 overall for MSU, 11-5 in its last 16 games.

Tip-off is scheduled for 9:15 p.m. Eastern on CBS.

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