DETROIT — As I sit in my hotel room this afternoon watching the snow literally blow sideways and next to no one on the sidewalks or roads, it occurred to me that perhaps I should explain who’s going to win tonight’s national championship game between North Carolina and Michigan State.
On emotion alone, it’s easy to pick the Spartans. No offense to Tar Heels fans, but State’s fans and Michiganders in general need a diversion from 22-percent unemployment rate in the Motor City and more than 12 percent statewide.
As Spartans supersub Durrell Summers said on Sunday when asked if he knew anyone personally who had lost their job he replied, “My mother, my father, my cousin, I could go on…”
Even if this snow, expected to reach eight inches by Tuesday’s dawn will cost the city tourist dollars since most folks in hotels will hunker down until gametime rather than hitting the downtown shops, casinos, restaurants and bars.
Talk about no breaks.
But there’s still a game to be played, and as a UNC squad grows increasingly frustrated with the storyline that it would somehow be better for State to win, you get the feeling that the Tar Heels may come out more focused than at any time in this event, which would almost assuredly be bad news for the Spartans.
Just one quote along those lines from UNC coach Roy Williams, who said on Sunday, “I do realize they have a cause. We also have a cause. We want to win a national championship. Period. The end. And if you would tell me that if Michigan State wins, it’s going to satisfy the nation’s economy, then I’d say, ‘(Heck), let’s stay poor for a little while longer.’”
And all the intangibles do seem to be in State’s favor. They’re even staging a “White Out” tonight inside Ford Field, which means if all the Spartans fans wear white T-shirts as requested, the place will look roughly as white as the snow-covered landscape outside.
But that’s not going to stop UNC’s Ty Lawson from penetrating, or Tyler Hansbrough from rebounding, or Wayne Ellington and Danny Green from killing the Mean Green Machine softly from afar.
In fact, at all five starting positions it could be argued that UNC has the edge.
Lawson is better than MSU sophomore point Kalin Lucas. Not wildly better. But better.
Put Travis Walton on Ellington and you may neutralize that spot at shooting guard but you don’t necessarily gain an edge.
UNC has a comfortable edge at power forward with Deon Thompson (10.6 ppg and 5.8 rebounds) over MSU freshman Delvon Roe (5.7 pts and 5.1 rebs). At small forward may be the most competitive matchup with the up-and-down Raymar Morgan facing Green. The Morgan who went for 18 points and nine rebounds against UConn could hurt the Tar Heels. But Green’s averaging his season’s average of 13 points in the tournament, so it’s unlikely that’s anything more than a two-or-three point edge for MSU.
Then there’s Hansbrough versus Goran Suton, who missed the 98-63 beat-down that the Heels handed the Spartans in December.
Hansbrough is averaging more than 17 points and eight rebounds in the tournament to 11 points and 10.6 rebounds for Suton. Again, edge to UNC.
That leaves coaching and the bench. Because both Williams (2005) and Tom Izzo (2000) have won it all, we’ll call this a wash. And because State’s bench outscored UConn’s 33-7 on Saturday while UNC’s bench scored five total on Villanova, we’ll give the bench to State.
But there’s a sense that UNC toyed with ’Nova, much as it has with most teams in this event after getting big leads. Beyond that, most NBA scouts are saying that Tar Heel freshman post player Ed Davis (five rebounds, five points and a block against Nova) is the best pro prospect in this game, even though he doesn’t start.
They said the same thing about the Tar Heels’ Marvin Williams in the 2005 title game and he became an Atlanta Hawk that summer.
So who do I think will win tonight? The same team I picked three weeks ago. Make it North Carolina 79, Michigan State 68.
But I do wish Roy Williams had been more sensitive about the nation staying poor a little longer.
For more on the NCAA title game, read Tuesday’s Times Free Press.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...