DETROIT -- There is no doubt that the North Carolina Tar Heels can beat the Michigan State Spartans tonight.
But can they beat destiny?
That is the central question that is, well, destined to be answered tonight. It might seem hokey or silly or even irrelevant, but if you had sat next to me in Ford Field on Saturday night, listening to the pitched green-and-white crowd in the stands and watching the Spartans play their most inspired basketball of the season, then you would have also gotten the feeling that this NCAA tournament has been overtaken by outside forces.
The storyline is too great to resist. Not only are the Spartans here in Detroit, they're here at a time when the city so desperately needs this economic and spiritual lift. Upon arriving in Detroit late last week, my initial instinct was to predict that Michigan State's home dome advantage would mean little in their battle against mighty UConn. After all, the fans can't make 7-foot-3
My second thought was to wonder whether the Michigan State players would overreact to the crowd. They could come out too hyped up or feel too much pressure to perform, and get thrown off their game. That was a very real danger.
Instead, the Spartans fed off the energy of the crowd without becoming bloated by it, and it gave them a deepening belief. Each time a Michigan State player stepped onto the court, he did something important, something significant which helped keep the Huskies at bay. It started with 6-7 junior forward
You can go up and down the Spartans' roster and find many more examples. Senior guard
But if there is one area that Michigan State's tenacity, togetherness and toughness manifested most of all, it is rebounding. The Spartans led the nation this season in rebound margin, and on Saturday night they snagged 18 -- count 'em, 18 offensive rebounds against the best front line in America. Those offensive rebounds, combined with the Spartans' ability to force UConn to commit 16 turnovers, added up to 13 more field-goal attempts than UConn had. It is very, very hard to beat a team that is getting that many more shots than you are.
If the Spartans are able to do that to a team like UConn, they should have an even more pronounced advantage tonight. North Carolina is a good rebounding team, but
All of which is not to say North Carolina will be overmatched. That would be ludicrous. We all know what an offensive juggernaut the Tar Heels are. They led the nation in scoring this season with 90 points per game. I seriously doubt North Carolina will get to 90 tonight, but if they get to 80, Michigan State could be in trouble. The Spartans showed Saturday that they have a great running game, but they have to be careful about allowing tonight's game to get into a track meet. Mostly, they have to take care of the ball (turnovers have been MSU's bugaboo this season, though it has done a better job during the tournament) and take smart shots. If the Spartans are careless and don't shoot a high percentage, that will feed right into North Carolina's transition game.
North Carolina is a heavy favorite, as it should be. When
Look, we all know North Carolina is the better team. And if Michigan State is going to win, it will need some help from the Heels, whether it be in the form of a bad shooting night, foul trouble or sloppiness with the ball. But if Michigan State has a challenge in not getting over-hyped by the crowd, so too will North Carolina have to keep its composure against the sound of 60,000 plus green-and-white clad Spartans in full throat. In this, the 30th year since Michigan State won its first national championship, there may not be any Magic on the court, but there is magic in the air here in Detroit. Destiny brought the Spartans to Motown at the very moment when this city needed them most. It's only fitting that they add one more win to cap off an NCAA championship run for the ages.