Teams on mission in quest for glory

If everything goes according to script, senior forward Tyler Hansbrough will cap his record-setting career by leading North Carolina to the NCAA championship tonight.

The Tar Heels (33-4) play Michigan State (31-6) for the title at 6 p.m. The only surprising part of the story is the Spartans are in it, and it would be a major upset if they win the title.

North Carolina is a 71/2-point favorite and the total is 1521/2 at most Las Vegas sports books.

With a loaded lineup featuring Hansbrough and point guard Ty Lawson, the Tar Heels were the preseason No. 1 team in the nation, and they have thus far delivered on that promise.

"I said at the beginning of the season, I felt like North Carolina was the best team in the country by six or seven points," Las Vegas Sports Consultants oddsmaker Ken White said. "I thought this team was unbelievable."

The Tar Heels are 5-0 against the spread in the NCAA Tournament while scoring 87.6 points per game and beating their opponents by an average of 20.8 points.

"They are blowing teams out," White said. "It reminds me a lot of the New England Patriots two years ago. The Patriots were far better than everyone else in the NFL. But they lost the Super Bowl."

North Carolina always has been the NCAA Tournament favorite. Michigan State was a relative long shot three weeks ago, getting 25-1 odds to win.

The Spartans failed to even reach the Big Ten tournament title game in mid-March. But they rallied late to beat Kansas and were dominant in an upset of Louisville to reach the Final Four, where they whipped favored Connecticut 82-73 on Saturday.

With today’s game at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan State has a definite home advantage, White said. The attendance at Saturday’s games was 72,456, and a majority were Spartans fans.

The title game is a rematch from Dec. 3, when North Carolina embarrassed Michigan State 98-63 at Ford Field. Hansbrough was the Tar Heels’ leader with 25 points and 11 rebounds. But the Spartans were weakened by injury and playing their fourth game in a week.

Much has changed for Michigan State. The Gold Sheet handicapper Bruce Marshall said not enough has changed, though, and he foresees another double-digit win for the Tar Heels.

"North Carolina goes on spurts and gets eight, 10 points in a row really quick. When they fall behind, the Spartans are not really built to play catch-up," Marshall said. "North Carolina can put the game away so quick, and I don’t know that Michigan State can recover from that."

The Tar Heels run and shoot at a faster pace.

Spartans coach Tom Izzo probably will implement a game plan to try to slow Lawson in transition and put the emphasis on defense and rebounding.

"I think Izzo goes back to a bump-and-grind, slow-down style of basketball. He has to slow this thing down to keep it close," White said. "I do think it’s going to be a great game."

Thirty years ago, Magic Johnson led Michigan State to its first title, in a victory over Larry Bird and Indiana State that changed college basketball for the better.

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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