With the auto industry crumbling, Detroit's unemployment rate has hit 13 percent, the worst in the nation. A dwindling population hasn't helped plummeting home prices, which some experts now put at an average of $7,500. Not surprisingly,
Basketball won't breathe life into a city hit hard by economic and social blows. Believing that Michigan State playing North Carolina in the national-championship game changes anything in Detroit would be a severe overestimation of the impact of sports. But the Spartans are providing a much-needed distraction for a city that needs an escape.
Still, this Michigan State team is more than a feel-good story. The Spartans blazed through the toughest path to the title game, beating defending champ Kansas and two No. 1 seeds, Louisville and UConn, to earn a date with North Carolina, a team featuring a star-laden roster (including two ACC players of the year) that has seemed destined to win a title. Yes, UNC did beat Michigan State 98-63 in this same building back in December, but these aren't the same Spartans.
The Tar Heels have won each of their tournament games by an average of 20.8 points, including a thoroughly dominating 83-69 win over Villanova in the Final Four.
UConn and Villanova fans have most likely left Detroit, which means all those remaining title-game tickets have to go somewhere, most likely to fans wearing green and white. An overwhelming number of the 72,456 in attendance should be rooting for Michigan State -- and the Spartans may need every bit of that hometown crowd behind them to pull out the victory.
Detroit native and Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas has taken the symbolism of the Spartans playing at Ford Field to heart. He scored a game-high 21 points and dished out five assists against UConn. He's shown he can handle pressure and still penetrate against a dominant front. He has speed, but not necessarily enough to stop
As good as Lucas has been, it's hard to say anyone has been better in the tournament than Lawson. After dropping 22 points to go along with eight assists against Villanova, Lawson is averaging 20.7 points in the tourney and has hit 9-of-14 threes. Michigan State can't rely on one player to stop Lawson, who's like a one-man fast break. That means it will take Lucas,
The Spartans' best defensive player added
Ellington has been red-hot in the tournament, averaging 19.2 points and hitting nearly half of his threes, including 5-of-7 in a 20-point performance against Villanova. He's not a pure shooter, but he can hit shots off the dribble or camp out on the wing and nail open jumpers. If he gets any space to operate, it could be a long night for the Michigan State.
Morgan broke out of his rut at the perfect time, scoring 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting to go along with nine rebounds and five assists against UConn. It was a significant breakthrough for Morgan, who has dealt with mono, walking pneumonia and a broken nose that forced him to wear a mask. The mask seemed to bother him in the Elite Eight, but he torched the Huskies after being fitted with a new mask. With a favorable matchup tonight, Morgan will be the Spartans' X-factor against UNC.
Green's shooting has heated up of late and he's been able to further stretch defenses, as he did by dropping four treys against Villanova. In the last three games he's shooting nearly .500 from the field. If he's on, it gives UNC too many offensive options for the Spartans to stop, but even if he's off, Green continues to shoot (averaging 10.5 attempts per game). Much like his counterpart, he could be the deciding factor in a Tar Heels' win.
The freshman struggled early against UConn's front, but played beyond his years once he dug in, making some big contributions with eight rebounds and an impressive block from behind on a
Aside from his 10-point game against the Sooners, Thompson has struggled offensively in the tournament, going 15-of-35 from the field. He was 2-of-6 against Villanova and had four rebounds and four fouls in 20 minutes. He's capable of providing a presence in the paint, but we've rarely seen it since the ACC tourney.
Suton disappeared against UConn, going scoreless in the first half and attempting just five total shots as he dealt with foul trouble. He should get more involved on the offensive end against the Heels, but has a tough task in guarding a player who does exactly what he does, only better.
The four-time All-America had 18 points, 11 rebounds and four steals against Villanova, overcoming two early misses to hit eight of his last 12 field goals. As a whole, the Spartans are deeper up front than the Wildcats, but Hansbrough can bang with them and do what he does best: get to the foul line and force his opponent to use a revolving door of defenders on him.
The Spartans' bench showed its worth against the Huskies, outscoring UConn's reserves 33-7.
Outside of 6-10 freshman Ed Davis, who had five points and five rebounds against Villanova, and senior
Izzo has put together a pair of masterful game plans, slowing things down against Louisville and speeding them up against UConn. But most important, he has his team peaking at the right time. By getting this team within 40 minutes of a national title, Izzo has proven he's among the best in the land.
Nobody likes to be the villain, but with a large contingent of Spartans fans on hand, Williams' Heels will be playing that role at Ford Field. Consider it the ultimate test for a group of Tar Heels who returned to the Final Four this year to avenge their 2008 performance, and Williams' toughest task of the season. Williams, who is making his fifth career title-game appearance, has kept UNC playing at a high level throughout the tourney. The key will be how he adjusts to whichever game plan Izzo throws at him.