North Carolina's Advantage
One roster is loaded with future stars in the NBA. One roster consists of role players and few household names. History has shown the team with the most potential professional talent usually makes the most noise in the NCAA Tournament.
That's one reason why a team containing a handful of players that will make up the NBA's next generation of stars should be the favorite in Ford Field in front of one of the largest crowds to ever witness a college basketball game.
The 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels rival the 2005 UNC Championship team in talent and pro potential. The 2009 Heels likely won't be drafted in the lottery like their '05 counterparts, but this year's UNC has three long-range threats, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Danny Green, who will all find a home in the NBA.
The ultimate collegiate player, Tyler Hansbrough, won't have the same kind of success in the NBA as he did in Chapel Hill—much like his 2005 counterpart Sean May—but the senior should still make an NBA roster without much trouble.
Off the bench, freshman Ed Davis plays the role of Roy Williams' 2005 club's Marvin Williams. He's an impact big man who likely won't head to the NBA this year, but is a lottery pick in waiting. Davis would have contributed 15 points and 10 boards a game at most other schools if he didn't play about sixth fiddle to UNC's stacked roster.
Michigan State's Advantage
Michigan State couldn't be any different. Not a single player on Tom Izzo's squad will likely even be a first round pick in the NBA draft, but what Izzo lacks in pure talent, he makes up in depth. The Spartans are one of a few teams in the country that will actually use almost all their scholarship players each game.
Izzo isn't afraid to run 11 players deep.
That depth allows Izzo to play with the flexibility of his roster, but keep his players fresh for the second half. The theme of Michigan State's run to the title game has been the team's ability to throttle its opponents in the second halves of games.
In three consecutive games, Kansas, Louisville, and Connecticut fell victim to devastating Spartan attacks that sealed the game for Michigan State.
Coach Izzo has an array of very different players he can insert off the bench to his advantage. He's got a stud rebounder and senior leader in Marquise Gray, but also a 6'8'' freshman with freaky athleticism with Delvon Roe. Or Izzo could use the 6'6'' tank Draymond Green to draw big men away from the basket.
In the backcourt, Izzo can insert sharpshooter Chris Allen for instant offense or Korie Lucious if he needs another reliable ball-handler.
The fresh bodies on the floor also allow Michigan State to execute its biggest strength all game long by relentlessly pounding the glass and going after every loose ball.
No matter how much talent Tom Izzo has on his roster, there is one thing that is always a guarantee—Michigan State will out-rebound its opponents.
It's a given.
The Spartans clean up over 40 percent of their misses, creating about five extra opportunities to score each game. With MSU's offensive efficiency, that's like putting an extra five or six points on the board before the game even starts.
What's so deadly about this Spartan squad, is the fact that Izzo's club is just as good on the defensive glass this year as well. In the past, MSU usually is good on the defensive glass, but not great.
In 2009, Michigan State ranks 11th in the country in limiting an opponent's second chances. Basically, wipe away a handful of an opponent's possessions, and Michigan State essentially picks up close to 10 points each game solely because of its dominance on the glass.
Izzo is going to need his role players to function well and his team to control the glass if he wants his Spartans to have a chance against the loaded Tar Heels.
An Unexpected Tar Heel Strength
UNC has quieted all its detractors who say this club doesn't play defense very effectively. The Tar Heels have been as good as any team in the tournament on the defensive end of the floor during the past three rounds.
When taking into account the strength of its opponent, UNC's performance against Villanova, allowing 69 points in a 77 possession game was the Tar Heel's second best defensive output of the season. The best defensive performance of the year? Surrendering a paltry 63 points in 83 possessions to guess who.
UNC preceded its strong performance against Villanova by allowing just 60 points in 65 possessions against an offensively gifted Oklahoma team.
In those two games, Carolina's opponents shot a mere seven of 46 from three-point territory. Michigan State isn't a strong threat to beat teams from the outside, so if UNC can force MSU into 15 or more attempts from beyond the arc, the Spartans could be in trouble.
Izzo's Spartans can make up for their lack of shooting with rebounding, so Carolina should commit an extra guard to staying back to go after the long rebounds that typically accompany three-point shots.
With how efficient North Carolina is in both the halfcourt offense and transition, Roy Williams should make sure both of his guards don't leak out into transition too soon. He doesn't need his team to constantly get up and down the court quickly, so make sure his squad doesn't get beat in the one area MSU has dominance in.
The Key to Michigan State Success
If North Carolina does get out and run, Michigan State is going to have to make a conscious effort to slow them down. MSU isn't afraid to play up-tempo if it needs to, but North Carolina's tempo tends to even get the most disciplined teams out of their comfort zones.
Tom Izzo's team needs to jam the outlet passes as much as possible. He may need to commit an extra guard to getting back in transition rather than send that guard inside the arc after long rebounds.
That will allow the Spartan big men to at least get down the court to contest shots and get in the way of the ultra-quick and nimble Ty Lawson.
MSU should also look to put a little pressure only on Lawson in the backcourt. If the ball is out of his hands for just a few seconds, it should prevent UNC from relentlessly attacking the basket in transition, which creates high-percentage shots around the basket, but also lots of wide-open looks from three for Danny Green and Wayne Ellington.
North Carolina has been getting off to incredible starts in each of its past three NCAA Tournament games. Against Gonzaga, Oklahoma, and Villanova, it looked like Roy Williams' Tar Heels would score 60 points in the first half alone. Eventually, they cooled off, but if UNC can score at that pace again for the first 10 or 15 minutes, Michigan State may not have the scoring punch to come back.
If North Carolina does win this game, then this game will probably not turn into a classic because if UNC does exert its will, Michigan State probably won't have a chance. This game wouldn't be as bad as the Tar Heels' 98-63 win earlier this year over Michigan State, but it would still be a convincing win.
If Michigan State were to win this game, then it would likely be more of the instant-classic variety. A Spartans' win would probably feature back and forth scoring, as UNC would wear down defensively, but still have the offensive stardom to answer bucket for bucket.
Stud point guard Kalin Lucas has to be assertive on the offensive end of the floor and Raymar Morgan must be the player that scored 18 points against Connecticut, not the player that scored a total of seven points in his previous three tournament games.
North Carolina should control the tempo and will force the ball up and down the court. As a result, Michigan State will settle for jacking too many quick shots early in the shot clock. Those shots are more likely than not to fall at a high enough rate for this to be an efficient offense model for the Spartans.
Final Prediction: North Carolina 82, Michigan State 72