Sunday, April 5, 2009

Championship game prediction: Picking the Tar Heels


Making this pick was far from easy. It was akin to choosing between peppermint and coffee ice cream — I love 'em both.

But when it came down to it, the peppermint simply has more flair than the coffee. Both have valuable attributes, but the peppermint's are just a little more capable.

Ya dig?

Well if you don't, this is what your bumbling writer is getting at: As good as the Michigan State Spartans are and as good as they're playing, the North Carolina Tar Heels are simply a little bit (a hair or two) better — and they've shown that throughout the NCAA Tournament.

Basically, the Heels can go out and play a decent game — like they did Saturday against Villanova — and still win if the Spartans are mediocre (as the Wildcats were). MSU, on the other hand, has to play a good game to win Monday night. Anything less will result in a loss.

If UNC plays its best, forgetaboutit.

So write down this score for me, but make sure to note that I'm not entirely confident in it.

North Carolina 84, Michigan State 75.

How could it be different X's and O's wise?

Well, if the Spartans can slow down ACC player of the year Ty Lawson. I think that's possible, considering how well Travis Walton has defended recently. Against Connecticut, he helped hold stud guard A.J. Price to 5-of-20 shooting and a minimal impact on the game.

If Lawson isn't his typical dominant self, that affects all the Heels.

The Spartans could also gain an advantage through their bench play. In the win over the Huskies, Korie Lucious was a huge difference-maker with 11 points. Durrell Summers added 10 and Draymond Green had eight, and the bench outscored UConn's by a ridiculous 33-7 margin.

The Heels have athletic big man Ed Davis on their bench, and he provides them with a good defensive presence and some rebounds. But he's not a scorer. Outside of him, only Bobby Frasor occasionally scores off the Heels bench.

So another strong effort by the Spartans reserves could make a huge difference.

And finally, there's the homecourt advantage. Not too much should be made of it since this is the national title game. We know the Heels won't be fazed by the extremely pro-MSU crowd inside Ford Field.

But the fans will help the Spartans if they get down. Fans will rise to their feet in an attempt to exhilarate their Spartans, get them back in the game. That can help a team find that last ounce of energy, that last push, when the players need it.

So there are a lot of reasons to believe the Spartans might pull their third straight upset of a No. 1 seed Monday night and set off a wild celebration in a state that desperately needs it.

There are just a couple more trustworthy reasons, however, to count on the Heels fulfilling their only real goal of the season.

I mentioned Lawson who, you know, is pretty darn good. No one's stopped him yet in the tournament. Walton has one heck of a task ahead of him.

Then there's Tyler Hansbrough, who you can bet will make the most of his final college game in what's seemed like a career spanning centuries. He'll, most likely, have another quiet but efficient night.

But perhaps most importantly, the Heels have two reliable 3-point shooters and, most importantly, clutch performers outside of the attention-grabbing Lawson.

Wayne Ellington is playing the best basketball of his career by far, and if he's left open he'll knock down dagger-like 3s. No MSU outside shooter can be counted on as much as Ellington.

And then there's senior Danny Green, who has become Mr. Big Shot for the Heels. He struggled at the beginning of the postseason in the ACC tournament and first couple games of the Big Dance, but he's rediscovered his shooting stroke at the right time.

Against Villanova, Green's two huge 3s — sandwiched around a Lawson layup — kept the feisty 'Cats at bay when they had cut what appeared an insurmountable deficit down to five points early in the second half.

Green killed their spirit with two flicks of his right wrist.

I'm banking on him, and Ellington, pulling off similar acts against the Spartans.

And while MSU has all the pieces of a national-title team assembled, they don't fit as smoothly together as North Carolina's do right now. They haven't been together as long as the Heels main cogs have.

The Spartans, if they avoid early departures to the NBA, might go out and win the thing next year.

But since October, this has been North Carolina's year. This has been the Heels destiny.

They seem too sturdy to fall a game short of accomplishing their long-awaited main objective.

And that's why, after 38 games, they'll finally get to celebrate without having to worry about a next task on their seemingly never-ending journey to the top of the college hoops world.

1 comment:

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