Saturday, April 2, 2005

North Carolina vs. Michigan State

At first glance, this may seem like a match-up between two completely different clubs. However, going into the season, both teams were under the microscope. Neither squad had fulfilled their potential, and the pressure was building to get it done. "It" was a Final Four berth. Both Michigan State and North Carolina accomplished that. The Tar Heels were expected to be here--a #1 seed and an ACC Championship would merit that sort of consideration. The Spartans, on the other hand, did not look very good throughout most of the season. However, they picked it up towards the end and are now looking at a shot at the National Title game.

Both teams have a very good perimeter game. North Carolina starts with Raymond Felton, arguably the most important player to his team in college basketball. If they don't have him, the Tar Heels fall apart. He gets the fast-break started with perfection, and has become a scorer when necessary. Rashad McCants may be the best offensive player in the country, when he is on his game. He can shoot the three and take it to the basket. McCants also has a nice post-up game against smaller players. Jackie Manuel is a superb defender, and gets the task of guarding the opponent's top outside scorer. Melvin Scott provides senior leadership and three-point shooting off the bench. He has shown the ability to step in for Felton at times, as well. Michigan State is talented and deep in the backcourt. Shannon Brown has developed into a go-to-scorer for the Spartans. He can shoot the ball and drive, and is one of the best finishers in college basketball. His partner on the wing, Maurice Ager, is another outstanding finisher. He lead the team in scoring and is tough to guard when he drives the baseline because of his athleticism. Freshman Drew Neitzel stepped into the starting lineup late in the season, and the Spartans took off. He does not score much, but he runs the offense efficiently and starts the fast-break. Chris Hill and Kelvin Torbert may be the best duo off the bench in the country. Both seniors and former starters, they provide loads of offense when they come into the game. Torbert is a great athlete, while Hill is a top notch three-point shooter.

In addition to having solid outside production, the Spartans and the Tar Heels also have great frontcourt players. North Carolina has the best post player in the country in Sean May. He can dominate any game, as evidenced by his multitude of super games late in the season, including a 26-point, 24-rebound showing against Duke and a 29-point game vs. Wisconsin. Jawad Williams is ridiculously versatile. He can shoot the three with ease, take it to the basket, and post up. His athleticism and offensive game make him a tough match-up. The Tar Heels also have the best NBA prospect in college basketball--and he does not start. Marvin Williams can do it all on the court. The freshman also has a knack for making clutch plays. David Noel is another solid defender and rebounder off the bench. Michigan State has one of the toughest match-up problems in the nation in Alan Anderson. At 6-6, he may be undersized, but is also too quick for most bigger players to handle. One on one, he is unstoppable. Paul Davis has finally lived up to his potential in the latter part of the season. He is going to need a huge game for the Spartans to win. Defensively, he can rebound well and block shots. In addition, he dominated Kentucky in the overtime, continually grabbing offensive boards that lead to points. Matt Trannon is very athletic, and is a tremendous leaper. He provides good rebounding and defense off the pine, backing up the post players.

This has the potential to be a very exciting match-up between two high-scoring teams that like to get up and down the floor quickly. However, if Michigan State wants to do that against North Carolina, they are going to get destroyed. The Tar Heels are unbeatable in a fast-paced game. The only way that the Spartans have a chance to win the game is if they make UNC play defense every possession. I don't see that happening. UNC is too talented for Michigan State. Moreover, look at the point guard match-up: Raymond Felton vs. Drew Neitzel. Case closed.

Prediction: North Carolina by 8

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