Final is Set
Detroit, MI - Michigan State has been itching for this do-over since December.
Not only is the NCAA title at stake when the Spartans play North Carolina on Monday night, Michigan State will be trying to avenge that 35-point beatdown the Tar Heels laid on them four months ago. It was the most lopsided loss for Michigan State since 1996, Tom Izzo's first year as coach.
``We got embarrassed,'' Kalin Lucas said after the 98-63 loss in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, also played at Ford Field.
Oh, how things have changed.
The Spartans (31-6) are an inspired bunch these days, playing for their third national title and the pride of their downtrodden state.
Spartans have been happy to oblige, knocking off not one, but two No. 1 seeds to get to the NCAA title game.
And now comes another in North Carolina (33-4). It will be the fifth meeting between the Tar Heels and Spartans in the NCAA tournament, and North Carolina has won the first four.
``I hope we were a ray of sunshine, a distraction for them, a diversion, anything else we can be,'' Izzo said after the Spartans ran over Hasheem Thabeet and Connecticut in an 82-73 upset Saturday night. ``We're not done yet.''
The Spartans were a weakened bunch when they played the Tar Heels back in December. Center Goran Suton was out with a knee injury, and Michigan State was playing its fourth game in a week. They managed to stay with Carolina early, but had fallen behind by 14 at the half and were thoroughly outmatched in the second half.
But Suton is back - way back. He led the rough-and-tumble Big Ten in rebounding, and was picked as the most outstanding player of the Midwest Regional after averaging a double-double in the first four games. He only had seven boards and four points Saturday, but he played a big part in smothering Thabeet, who wasn't much of a factor despite his 17 points and six rebounds.
ls against the Huskies. Lucas, the Big Ten player of the year, had 21 points.
Then there's the crowd factor. With their Breslin Center home court just 90 miles away, Michigan State is playing the closest to home of any Final Four team since Kansas won the 1998 title in Kansas City, and Detroit is awash in green and white. A Final Four-record crowd of 72,456 turned out Saturday night, and about two-thirds of the fans were there for the Spartans.
And how's this for some karma? Magic Johnson, Spartan-in-chief since leading Michigan State to its first title in 1979, will present the game ball before Monday's title game along with Larry Bird.
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Posted: 4/5/09 12:45AM