Tar Heels Head North

Detroit, MI - Top-ranked North Carolina will get its first glimpse of Detroit's Ford Field during Wednesday's ACC/Big Ten Challenge showdown with Michigan State.

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But don't expect Tar Heels coach Roy Williams to make a big deal about a possible return trip to the NFL stadium, which happens to be the site of the NCAA basketball tournament's Final Four in early April. He's done that once before and the motivational technique didn't pan out.

Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made North Carolina -9 point spread favorites (NCAAB Odds) for today's game (View Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 74% of bets for this game have been placed on North Carolina -9 (View NCAAB Bet Percentages).

During a road trip to Atlanta during the 2006-07 season, Williams decided to show his team the Georgia Dome - the host of that season's Final Four.

``Stopped the team on the expressway ... and said, 'There's where they're going to be playing the Final Four,''' Williams recalled Tuesday. ``We didn't make it, so I'm never showing them a freakin' arena again.''

Regardless, top-ranked North Carolina (7-0) is considered a favorite to spend part of its spring in the Motor City.

Michigan State (4-1) also hopes to be a repeat visitor to Ford Field this season. The Spartans entered last week ranked No. 5 in The Associated Press poll, but fell to No. 13 after a first-round loss to Maryland in the Old Spice Classic.

Michigan State rebounded with wins over Oklahoma State and Wichita State. But the Spartans will have to become more consistent - and get healthier - to have a shot at the Final Four.

``Our team is not where we need to be at this point and it's not where we're going to be down the road,'' Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

Both North Carolina and Michigan State enter Wednesday's game with health questions surrounding key big men.

Reigning national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough sat out Sunday's lopsided Tar Heel victory over North Carolina-Asheville as a precautionary measure. Hansbrough missed four games this season as he continues to recover from a preseason injury to his right shin and an ankle injury suffered against UC-Santa Barbara.

Williams said the decision on whether Hansbrough plays Wednesday will depend on Tuesday's practice.

``I'm not hiding. I'm just telling you, I do not know,'' Williams said.

Hansbrough has performed well in limited action this season. He scored 34 points in North Carolina's victory over Notre Dame in the championship game of last week's Maui Invitational. In three games this season, Hansbrough is averaging 21 points.

Michigan State center Goran Suton sat out the Old Spice Classic with a knee injury. The leading returning rebounder in the Big Ten isn't likely to play against North Carolina, either, although he is expected to be back in the lineup at some point - perhaps before the Big Ten season begins.

Freshmen forward Delvon Roe has been a key contributor in Suton's absence, but his minutes continue to be limited as he recovers from a high school knee injury.

Wednesday's game features two of the nation's quickest, most dangerous point guards.

North Carolina's Ty Lawson averages 16 points and 6.7 assists per game. Michigan State's Kalin Lucas averages 11.6 points and 6.2 assists.

Both teams are among the deepest in the nation and don't mind playing an up-tempo style.

Six North Carolina players score at least 10 points per game. The Tar Heels average a gaudy 96.9 points and have scored more than 100 in three of their seven games. Average margin of victory: 29.7 points.

Izzo says that if the Tar Heels stay healthy, there will be talk about whether North Carolina should be considered one of the best teams in college history. That's one reason he's fired up for Wednesday's game, a rare chance to play a No. 1-ranked team.

``We're definitely excited about the opportunity we have in front of us, even though it might be daunting, to say the least,'' Izzo said. ``It's maybe the best team we've played since I've been here.''

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Posted: 12/3/08 12:16 AM ET


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