UNC's Trouncing of Michigan State: A Case Study in Matchups
In recent years, this truth has become more and more evident: As Kenny Smith has been saying for years, and as Scoop Jackson first brought to my attention several years ago in a piece for SLAM magazine, basketball is all about matchups.
For example, from 2005-2007, the three best teams in the NBA's Western Conference were the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, and San Antonio Spurs.
The Mavs matched up well with the Spurs, who matched up well with the Suns, who matched up well with the Mavs.
In 2005, San Antonio made the Finals, because they were able to avoid Dallas, who was defeated by Phoenix in the second round, creating a Suns-Spurs Conference Finals which Tim Duncan's squad won, 4-1.
In 2006, Dallas made the Finals, but only because Phoenix was without Amare Stoudemire in their Conference Finals clash.
The Spurs made the Finals in 2007—a huge factor being that the Mavericks had been upset in round one by the Warriors, meaning that San Antonio was able to avoid them in the Conference Finals.
Phoenix never made the championship round because they could not avoid San Antonio in 2005 and 2007 (and because Stoudemire was hurt in 2006).
The best team is the team that survives.
What happened in Detroit Monday night, where the North Carolina Tar Heels defeated the Michigan State Spartans 89-72 to win their second national championship in the last five years, was similar to that NBA scenario. UNC jumped all over the Spartans, right from the start, and it became obvious what was happening: At the beginning of the season, Carolina played MSU at that same Ford Field and beat them 98-63, causing people to seriously wonder whether or not the Heels could run the table.
Now history was repeating itself, and it was clear Tom Izzo's kids simply had no chance against Roy Williams's. UNC was still bigger and better on the inside and bigger and better on the perimeter, and there was no amount of time that was going to change that. The Spartans fell behind by 24 in the first half, but never stopped playing hard—and yet even with their most earnest efforts they still could not get closer than 13. Tilting at windmills.
And that's the thing about basketball sometimes: Michigan State was a No. 2 seed, and they had defeated two No. 1 seeds to get to the final game against the Tar Heels (just as I had predicted in my bracket); but they could play this North Carolina team 100 times and I doubt if they would win more than once or twice.
Michigan State was closer to the team that defeated Louisville and Connecticut in consecutive games than they are the ones that got outclassed last night; Monday night, that didn't matter. Unluck of the draw.
Carolina, on the other hand, simply had the best team.
No opponent from this college basketball season was defeating the Tar Heels last night. Their sights were set on this night in April since a night last April, when their season ended at the hands of eventual champion Kansas in the semifinals. UNC returned everybody from that team, and by doing so positioned themselves as the preseason No. 1. They failed to distinguish themselves during the season, as many thought they would, but maybe they were just bored, waiting for March to begin.
They peaked during the tournament, winning every game by a double-digit margin.
As it turns out, the Heels were who we thought they were—they had the best talent (against Michigan State, I think they had the six best players in the game - their entire starting unit and freshman backup big man Ed Davis, who's a beast), this was their year, they were supposed to win, and they did.
They would have matched up well with anyone.
I'd say something nice about Roy Williams, but a coach that great deserves more than a paragraph or two.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go collect my earnings from my bracket beatdown of my family. I won $50 from my dad and grandmother.
Hey, it was a favorable matchup.
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