1. The Spartans are a completely different team now. Yes, North Carolina blew out Michigan State 98-63 at Ford Field on Dec. 3. That shouldn't mean anything Monday night. The stakes are much higher. The place will be packed with Michigan State fans.
Spartans center Goran Suton, who missed that game with a knee injury discovered that morning, will play Monday. Suton's outside shot should force Tyler Hansbrough to leave the lane, which should make rebounding a little easier for the Spartans. Also, Michigan State and North Carolina are coming off similar schedules. Michigan State played games on Nov. 27 (Maryland), Nov. 28 (Oklahoma State) and Nov. 30 (Wichita State). The Spartans had nothing left in the tank when they met the Tar Heels, who played once -- against UNC-Asheville -- between Nov. 27 and Dec. 3.
2. North Carolina is better, but the Spartans excel at making good teams play poorly. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said it himself Sunday. The Tar Heels are superior to the Spartans. "If we play good and they play good, we're losing," Izzo said. "That's the way I look at it. I mean, I don't look at that in the negative. They are the best team in the country."
That doesn't matter to the Spartans, who have knocked off a pair of No. 1 seeds in the past two games. Michigan State made Louisville flat-out quit in the second half of their Elite Eight game, and the Huskies seemed perilously close to tapping out after Durrell Summers dunked on Stanley Robinson with almost six minutes remaining. In the win against UConn, the Spartans showed their versatility. The Huskies expected a Big Ten plodder and instead found a team that ran them out of the gym. If anything, that game prepared Michigan State for Carolina.
3. Beware of the masked man. Michigan State forward Raymar Morgan has disappeared for stretches this season, only to reappear and stuff the stat sheet. On Saturday, Morgan, who played just 23 minutes in the tournament's second weekend, exploded for 18 points and nine rebounds.
Morgan played sparingly the previous week because of the broken nose he suffered early in the first half of the Sweet 16 win against Kansas. Against Louisville, Morgan couldn't cope with the mask he had to wear to protect his nose. Morgan seemed completely acclimated to the mask Saturday, and Summers said the junior only scratched the surface. "Raymar Morgan," Summers said Saturday, "is about to break out."
4. Michigan State actually plays defense. The Spartans will guard Carolina's shooters to the three-point line and beyond. The Tar Heels probably won't return the favor. Senior Travis Walton should draw Carolina point guard Ty Lawson, and while Lawson torched Walton for 17 points and eight assists in 28 minutes in the first meeting, Walton's defense has become increasingly frustrating for opponents as the tournament has progressed. On Saturday, UConn's A.J. Price seemed ready to snap.
5. Home-dome advantage. The players can downplay this all they want, but when 72,000 fans root for a team at a basketball game, it affects the game. This game means a lot to the folks in this state, and the crowd will try to help the Spartans.