WHEN: 9:07 p.m. today
WHERE: Ford Field, Detroit
TV: WRAL, WNCT RADIO: WCHL-1360, WCMC-99.9, WRDU-106.1
RECORDS: UNC 33-4, Michigan State 31-6
As they were against Villanova in Saturday's 83-69 semifinal win, the Tar Heels are considered 7 1/2-point favorites to win and claim the school's fifth national championship.
But the fan mix cannot be discarded. More than 75 percent of the anticipated crowd of about 72,500 will be solidly behind the Spartans, whose East Lansing campus is about 90 miles from Detroit.
None of tonight's players participated in the 2005 semifinal game at St. Louis, where Carolina defeated the Spartans 87-71 en route to a title-game win over Illinois.
Carolina's undefeated 1957 national champions also had to go through Michigan State late, winning 74-70 after three overtimes in the semifinals at Kansas City, Mo., on the way to another triple-overtime win over Kansas the following night for the crown.
MICHIGAN STATE GAME KEYS
PERIMETER OFFENSE: Few teams have a stranger outside mix than Michigan State. Kalin Lucas, a 6-footer and the team's leading scorer, shoots 39.7 percent overall and 39.4 percent on 3-point attempts. Fellow guard Travis Walton shoots 41.5 percent and almost never attempts a 3. Subs Chris Allen, Korie Lucious and Durrell Summers have 122 of the team's 194 made 3-pointers. It's important that Spartans coach Tom Izzo finds the hot hands.
INTERIOR OFFENSE: The Spartans don't have Carolina's size, but they weren't nearly as tall and big as Connecticut, either. Nonetheless, forwards Delvon Roe and Raymar Morgan along with center Goran Suton are aggressive offensive rebounds and routinely provide the team with an edge on second-chance points. Morgan is coming off a big game, but Suton and Roe need to improve on their combined eight points in the semifinals.
FAST BREAK: With Lucas, Walton and Summers, the Spartans have breakaway quickness, but the team usually does considerably more damage in transition than actual baseline-to-baseline blitzing, which is Carolina's style. The Spartans will look to attack the Tar Heels in 2-on-2 and 3-on-2 situations whenever possible. The primary distributor usually is Walton, who had eight assists in the semifinals.
DEFENSE: Walton had the primary assignment on Connecticut's star guard A.J. Price, which is an indication he will get Carolina's Ty Lawson. But the Huskies didn't have a perimeter shooter to match Wayne Ellington, meaning Izzo may have to take inventive defensive measures -- widely scattered zones. Inside, Suton and Roe probably will rotate on Tyler Hansbrough. Containing Lawson has to be the first priority.
BENCH: Few teams can match Michigan State's depth. Izzo used 11 players for at least six minutes each against Connecticut. Lucious' 11 points -- all in the first half -- caught the Huskies' defense by surprise. But 6-6 freshman Draymond Green looms as a bigger problem for UNC. He's a 235-pounder who doesn't mind throwing his weight around inside or on the edges.
NORTH CAROLINA KEYS
PERIMETER OFFENSE: Same old same old for the Tar Heels. The combination of Lawson's floor speed, along with Ellington's and Danny Green's jump-shot strikes, has become the team's meal ticket during the tournament. One concern, after Saturday's win over Villanova, is Lawson's free-throw shooting. A 79.5-percent shooter at the line for the season, he missed seven of 17 against the Wildcats.
INTERIOR OFFENSE: In two straight games -- Oklahoma and Villanova -- Hansbrough has struggled to stay out of foul trouble. He sat seven minutes against Villanova and twice that against the Sooners. That will be something to watch against the physical Spartans, who are always willing to trade foul for foul in the paint. Deon Thompson and Ed Davis need more than the one offensive rebound each had Saturday.
DEFENSE: Since the Spartans don't really have an explosive scorer, the emphasis for the Tar Heels will be defensive balance and keeping Lucas and Walton from driving the lane out of Michigan State's complex halfcourt sets. Carolina would like to force as many deep jumpers as the Spartans are willing to take. Davis and Tyler Zeller need to step up, especially if Hansbrough picks up two or three first-half fouls. Guard Bobby Frasor's seven rebounds against Villanova were more than Davis and Zeller combined. That's not likely to happen again, but Frasor will be asked to deliver defensive help against Walton and Lucas.