Here we go with the final game of the 2008-09 college hoops season with the National Championship game Monday night at Ford Field in detroit, Michigan, pitting the Michigan State Spartans against the North Carolina Tar Heels. Tip time is 9:21 pm EDT.
North Carolina Tar Heels (33-4) (-7 1/2, 152 1/2) Michigan State Spartans (31-6)
How they got here (all stats for NCAA tournament only):
Michigan State beat Robert Morris, 77-62; USC, 74-69; Kansas 67-62; Louisville, 64-52; Connecticut, 82-73.
North Carolina beat Radford, 101-58; LSU, 84-70; Gonzaga, 98-77; Oklahoma, 72-60; Villanova, 83-69.
Average Points Scored
Michigan St.: 72.8
North Carolina: 87.6
Average Points Allowed:
Michigan St.: 63.6
North Carolina: 66.8
Average Margin of Victory:
Michigan St.: 9.2
North Carolina: 20.8
Just looking at the raw numbers, it's easy to see how the oddsmakers have the Tar Heels installed as 7 1/2-point favorites. If they play as they have, on average, Michigan State will score 69.8 points against North Carolina, but the Tar Heels will put in 75.7 points, so we come up with a final score of 76-70, in favor of North Carolina, meaning that the Tar Heels capture the national title, but don't cover the spread. Also, the number (146) falls short of the over/under of 152 1/2.
In the parlance of Las Vegas, this is called hedging. The Tar Heels maybe should only be favored by 6 points, and the O/U lower by 6 1/2, but owing to the idea that more people will bet the favorite, they're going to pay a premium. Those betting that Michigan State either wins or covers get an additional 1 1/2-point boost in their wager. Naturally, 1 1/2 points is nothing in a college basketball game, but the Las Vegas sharpies who calculate these things are uncanny at getting the final result right.
Further, since there are going to be more people betting on Carolina, their hope is that the Spartans pull off the upset, becaue the money line is massively tilted toward a North Carolina victory. You have to put up 360 to make 100 on a flat bet (no points) on the Tar Heels, though you could put up 100 to make 300 making a similar wager on Michigan State. Essentially, Vegas is saying that North Carolina is a 3-1 favorite, which, as most of us already know, is a pretty heavy choice.
How Carolina wins is pretty understandable. First, there's history. Earlier this season, the two teams met at the very same site, Ford Field, with Carolina romping to a 98-63 win. It was Carolina's 8th game of the season, Michigan State's 6th.
Two items stand out from that encounter. Kalin Lucas, Michigan State's point guard, scored 6 points and dished 5 assists. He's arguably a better player now than he was then, but by how much? Playing opposite Ty Lawson, who is possibly the best point guard in the nation, Lucas can't be expected to fare that much better in the final. Give him 15 points and 8 assists, and it's still a 24-point win for Carolina.
The second point is that Goran Suton, Michigan State's steady center, did not play. Suton is good for at least 12 points and 10 rebounds, even against the mighty Tar Heels. Those numbers are a little better than his season average, so give the Spartans another 12 points, plus 4 more due to the additional board strength. That still leaves Michigan State on the short end of the score by 8, which means there is hardly any way the Spartans can win this game, unless...
Draymond Green, a 6'6" freshman who plays bigger, and Delvon Roe, a 6'8" frosh, can contribute more on both ends of the floor. This is likely, since neither of them scored a single point in that December pasting, though Roe was fairly productive in his 26 minutes, with 8 boards, 3 assists and 3 blocks. Green played all of 6 minutes and fouled out. That's unlikely to happen again, considering the additional time both players are likely to see in the final.
Michigan State got an incredible 33 points from its bench in their semifinal win over UConn, many of those on layups and dunks in the fast break. will the Spartans actually try to outrun the Tar Heels. They just might, as it seems to be one way to get some quick scores and settle in on defense, which is the heart of Michigan State success.
With that in mind, the big stat - which probably won't come into play here, though it might - is that the Spartans are 30-0 when holding their opponent to less than 70 points. Of North Carolina's four losses, the lowest point total was 70, against Florida State in the ACC tournament. In the other three, they scored 75, 78 and 89. If North Carolina pours in 80 or more, their chances of winning are enormous, because Michigan State has only topped that number 4 times, the last just two days ago. The Spartans can score, but the Tar Heels - for all intents and purposes - can score more, so the idea of running on them sounds more like suicide than success.
Michigan State will throw more players into the mix, that's a given, but, even though those players may have fresh legs, they probably won't have much impact against North Carolina's impressive offense, which can hurt teams on the inside or out, with heft in the middle and gunners on the wings. Unless Michigan State comes up huge, or the Carolina kids have an off night shooting, this one looks like a pretty big win for the Tar Heels.
The other factor which may come into play is the fact that it's a virtual home game for Michigan State. Whether that matters much or at all remains to be seen. The Tar Heels are battle-tested and enjoy advantages in many aspects of the game - size, experience, three-point shooting, among the top reasons. Ty Lawson at the point and Tyler Hansbrough in the post are WMBs - Weapons of Monstrous Ballin' - who are unlikely to be denied.
Michigan State has provided some of the tournament's best moments in the regionals and semifinals, taking out the best teams from the Big East - Louisville and Connecticut - while the Tar Heels disemboweled Villanova. It's interesting, that for all the Big East hype all season long, none of their teams are represented in the national championship game. It's Big Ten vs. ACC.
One final word about this game needs to be mentioned. This North Carolina team may be one of the best ever, rivaling the great Michael Jordan-Sam Perkins-James Worthy era. If they win this game, which they should, will we someday come back to look at this national championship and say, "Wow, Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington all on the same team?" Maybe. I count as many as seven potential NBA players on the North Carolina roster right now, and there may be more. Danny Green, who has come through big during the tournament run, is not the most overlooked player on this squad, at least not now. That award would go to Deon Thompson, the 6'8" junior foward who's in on every loose ball, banging in the middle with the giants of every team, quietly doing all the little things like boxing out, swatting away shots and providing backside defense without any acclaim. He and Green make this team special.
North Carolina will win handily.
PREDICTION: North Carolina 84 Michigan State 71