I had to go with a Detroit band for this one (that was the White Stripes in case you were curious). Well, this is it...it really is it for me because the Sox got rained out today (make-up for 4:00 tomorrow). I think it's quite amazing that after the first round, I lost twice the rest of the way. No, this was not my original bracket, but in my round-for-round picks, after round one, I went 28-2. So, I'm pretty stoked about that. Of course all this is meaningless if I don't get tonight's game right. So, with out further ado, here is the final game of the 2008-2009 college basketball season:
9:21: (1) North Carolina vs. (2) Michigan State; Detroit, MI:
If you're Michigan State, it literally will not get any better than this. The crowd on Saturday night was off the charts, and they willed the Spartans to have a rather comfortable win over UConn. I'm really happy the Michigan faithful were able to make it out and support their team. If you thought Saturday was a good showing, wait until tonight. State is attempting to avenge a 35-point loss they had earlier this year to UNC at Ford Field. However, this will be an entirely different game than the one that was played in early December. First, the attendance factor will be in full effect tonight. The first game drew less than 30,000...needless to say, I'm expecting something in the vacinity of 65,000-70,000 tonight. Second, UNC was playing at full strength while State was playing without Suton, who has been a huge contributor in the Spartans' run through the tournament. Third, UNC was rolling on a river, much like they are right now, back in the first game. They were unbeaten, ranked #1 in the country, and just got back Tyler Hansbrough. Meanwhile, State had just got shalacked by Maryland in their previous game, and were obviously reeling from that upset when they took on the Heels.
I know that a lot of what I just said could be viewed as making excuses as to why State got obliterated in the first game, but the fact remains that the two games that will be played against these schools could not be any different. In fact, the only thing that remains the same is where the game was played. Other than that, everything is different.
Okay, so, when picking this game, you obviously have two options, and two pretty compelling reasons to side with either team. First, with State, you are looking at a "team of destiny." They have the homecourt, they have the aura, if you will, of an entire state (minus a few Wolverine fans who are justifiably stubborn) who has put their collective weight behind this team, and they also have something that the Tar Heels cannot boast...a win over not one, but two #1 teams in a row.
With North Carolina, you are looking at a team that could potentiall produce up to four first-round picks in this year's draft. This team stayed together to achieve the ultimate goal of winning a national championship, which is something that Hansbrough and Co. have been projected to do for the last three years, and yet have come up short of the ultimate goal. So, you definitely have a "Coke Machine" theory in place here. Still, maybe it was "Coke Machine" to just get into the finals, and not to actually win the whole thing.
Ultimately, it will come down to how much the Tar Heels can control the tempo versus how physical Michigan State can play UNC not only down low, but also on the perimeter. I was laughing out loud when a sports radio "analyst" was talking about how Michigan State needs to run up and down the floor in order to win. I will say this right now. If this game becomes a track meet, the Spartans are screwed. They have a few guys, most notably Raymar Morgan, who may be able to play at that speed, but when you look at the Heels, their team is basically built to be a run-and-gun team. What's funny is that State actually tried the run-and-gun approach against the Heels the first time around, and we all know how that ended up. True, they were playing without Suton, but still, did their entire philosophy change because their big man was out? Obviously Suton is a great player, but he's not like Hansbrough or Blake Griffin where the offense has to completely retool in their absences.
To me, I just cannot see the Heels winning this game. This is almost at a USA/USSR level without the political implications. Obviously State has a rich tradition in basketball, but it's not nearly as lengthy as the one coming from Tobacco Road. State has the underdog factor, the revenge factor, the "no one believed in us" factor, the homecourt factor, the momentum factor (shared equally with UNC)...I just can't see the Heels cutting down the nets in Detroit. If they are able to pull off a W tonight, I will seriously consider it an upset despite the fact that UNC was a one and State was a two. The spread is at eight right now...I'm really not seeing that.
- First Ten Minutes: State obviously comes out on fire, and they take an early lead. The momentum will stall out at around the five-minute mark, and the Heels will sneak back into the lead after going on a 7 or 8-0 run at around the twelve minute mark.
- Second Ten Minutes: Both teams will be going back and forth, much like a heavyweight bout, which it is. The Spartans will be able to edge UNC just enough to take a lead going into the break.
- First Ten Minutes (Second Half): Roy Williams, going into the locker room down, knows that if his team doesn't come out in the second half and gain the momentum, then there is no turning back. The Heels once again go on a nice little run to push their lead to five or six. However, they will be getting into foul trouble the entire time due to their aggressiveness at the defensive end.
- Final Ten Minutes: The foul trouble eventually catches up with the Heels, and so don't the fans. Due to a series of UNC fouls/turnovers, State will be able to not only catch up on the scoreboard, but the fans will get right back into the game. State will roar back into the lead with about four minutes left. It is at this point when the Heels will almost feel helpless, and we've all had those games. You are pulling for a team, they're out front, and then all of a sudden, something happens, and it feels like a punch to the stomach that you know there is probably no recovery from. This will come in the form of Hansbrough fouling out of his final collegiate game. This, to me, seems like an inevitability. He has waited and waited for this moment, and while I think he will have a big game, he will be too fired up, and he will start making some mental mistakes that puts him and his team in trouble. When Hansbrough fouls out, it's over. For some reason, I think a collective calm will come over the Spartans. They will come to realize that there is much more pressure on the Heels to win this tournament. Win or lose, the entire team will likely be dismantled after this season, so this is the last shot for pretty much all of the UNC starters. Plus, if you tell me that I have a choice between Tom Izzo and Roy Williams to coach the last five minutes of a game, I take Izzo every time. To me, he is probably the best coach in all the land. No one brings more to the table in big games than Izzo. Others may have more championships, but I still take Izzo and his five Final Four appearances. So, I'm going with the home team in the away jerseys tonight.
Enjoy the game tonight. No matter who wins, it will likely be a classic. Take care. Go Sox! Peace.