And on Monday night, it was the end of an illustrious tournament run by the Michigan State Spartans. One that had the potential to be remembered as one of the greatest stories in college basketball history—one full of game-winning shots, magnificent dunks, and Cinderella stories.
But in the end, North Carolina proved to be the bigger, better team. 21 forced turnovers and each made shot after each made shot established the Tar Heels' dominance early in the National Championship game.
Nevertheless, this Michigan State basketball team will go down with the likes of the 1979 and 2000 championship teams. Overpowering upset-minded USC, holding off a late-blooming Kansas team, followed by two victories over number one seeds—who would have thought that Michigan State would be in the National Championship game. But, you know what? They were.
Yet, each game, a different player provided the spark that launched the Spartans into the next game. From Travis Walton's 18 point breakout against USC to Goran Suton's back-to-back superior performances against Kansas and Louisville to Raymar Morgan's resurgence against Connecticut in the Final Four, it was destiny in the making.
However, in retrospect, this North Carolina team was a once-in-a-decade roster—a team that reached the Final Four in 2008 and returned all five starters—all of whom will be playing in the NBA. There is no question that the Tar Heels were the more talented team.
But in March, heart supersedes talent. The NCAA Tournament is where George Mason, an eleven seed, makes it to the final four, beating Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State, and Connecticut on their way—solidifying the fact that anything is possible.
But what made this Michigan State team so special was their heart and soul. With the Final Four being held in Detroit, nearly 30 years after the everlasting team of Magic Johnson and Greg Kelser led Michigan State to it's first-ever National Championship, it seemed as though they were bound to end up in this game tonight.
Unfortunately, the end to this story was not that of an underdog, but that of a great trip for a great team. There's no doubt that this 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels team will go down in history as one of the best rosters in college basketball history.
Yet, it wasn't what happened on the court that made this last three weeks so special. It's the fact that this group of college kids from East Lansing, Michigan unified the State of Michigan and gave everybody something to cheer for, because regardless of a win or a loss, tomorrow we will still be in an economic recession.
In a time of need, we can not be greedy. Throughout the tournament, Tom Izzo carved his name in stone as one of the elite college basketball coaches today. Kalin Lucas proved that he is an elite guard in college basketball and Goran Suton proved that he can grind with the best of them in the paint.
With a record of 31-7, Michigan State failed to disappoint. From pep rallies at a Metropolitan Detroit Shopping Mall to the thousands of kids gathered in the Cedar Village apartment complex in East Lansing celebrating on a Saturday night, it is evident that Michigan State support runs deep. And next year, many things won't change. The Spartans will be back, as powerful as ever, and will compete for yet another Big Ten title.
However, there will be some changes. Teams will fear coming into the Breslin Center, with each of the nearly 4,000 students jumping and screaming at the top of their lungs in the Izzone. Teams will fear playing against Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan. Teams will fear Sparty.
Because next year, is their year.