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NCAA Championship Game Preview: Michigan State vs. North Carolina

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Tonight is the night we cut down the nets. The Michigan State Spartans will take on the University of North Carolina Tarheels in what should be an oustanding basketball game.

Take a look inside for my thoughts on the game....

I apologize that it has been a while since I have posted anything substantial; there is the whole career thing, but I wanted to get my two cents in about tonight's game.

First, Congrats to Coach Hamilton on his five year extension. I don't think this should come as a surprise to anyone and he deserves it. No matter what you think about his in game decision making, out of bounds plays or offensive scheme, our program would not be where it is today without him. We would not have the likes of Al Thornton, Van Wafer, Chris Singleton, Solomon Alabi, Toney Douglas or Michael Snaer on our team.

Second, the first ever Tomahawk Nation Bracket Challenge winner will be named tonight. If UNC wins, Hopnole will take home the honors. If Michigan St wins, Meier6 gets the crown. My bracket was awful this year as I got a little too greedy with the first round upsets. I also want to give credit to Njfoshizzy, Pbysh, Golden Spear, Mr. Seminole and MiamiNole for supporting Florida St so much they predicted us to win the National Championship.

On to tonight's game.

University of North Carolina Tarheels

We all know the North Carolina Tarheels too well, but here is a reminder. The Tarheels finished are 33-4 and went 13-3 in conference play. Despite having the best record in the ACC regular season, they stepped out of the ACC Championship earlier than expected thanks our Seminoles. UNC finished 1st in offensive efficiency and 16th in defensive efficiency and 3rd overall in the Pomeroy Standings. Their strength of schedule was 20th in the Pomeroy ratings. Their OOC play included Kentucky, Notre Dame, Michigan St., and Oral Roberts.

They hype surrounding UNC quieted quickly when they started ACC play 0-2, with loses to Boston College and Wake Forest. The ship was righted and UNC charged through the rest of ACC play with only one more loss in the regular season to Maryland. They beat Duke twice, Miami twice, and they barely escaped our Tucker Center with a win. However, we returned the favor in the Semifinals of the ACC tournament, defeating the Lawsonless Tarheels 73-70. Apparently, this was okay with the Tarheels as it allowed them more time to rest prior to the NCAA tournament and winning that was their primary goal of the season.

North Carolina does a lot of things well. They play a high tempo transition style offense that puts up a lot of points. They averaged 73 possessions per game, which ranked 8th in the country. It helps that they shot the ball extremely well with an eFG% of 52.9%. They also rebounded the ball extremely well, with an OReb% of 39.2%. With a very low TO% of 16.7, they protect the ball well. On defense, they do a good job at defending shots and allow a moderate ammount of offensive rebounds. Where they get you, is that they don't allow you to get to the FT line. Despite not generating a ton of turnovers, they force steals on 11% of their opponent's possessions and block the ball almost 12% of the time. This allows them to get out in transition and put up easy points.

We know the major players on this team: Hansbrough, Ellington, Gren and Lawson. After returning from his injury, Hansbrough has played exceptional basketball with an ORtg of 125.8, 17th in the nation, and excellent rebounding numbers. Lawson had the highest ORtg in the nation at 135.8...that is ridiculous. He was also 29th in eFG% and 10th in total shot percentage. And despite delivering a huge number of assists, he had a low turnover percentage for a guard at 14.6%. Out of all of Carolina's starters, Danny green had the highest TO% at 15.7%.

In their tournament run, the Tarheels have rolled through Radford (who?), LSU, Gonzaga, Oklahoma and Villanova. The LSU game was closer than it appeared and Villanova could not buy a basket to save their lives. Here are the stats from that game:


There is a glaring difference there. Not going to say anything else about it except that my favorite ACC official, Karl Hess, was the lead official for that game. By the way, he also called both of our games against Duke. Just saying.

Here are UNC's numbers on the year:

                      Offense               Defense
Raw Efficiency : 117.7 ( 1) 95.2 ( 44)
Adj Efficiency : 123.7 ( 1) 90.0 ( 16)

Effective FG% : 52.9 ( 43) 46.6 ( 62)
Turnover Pct. : 16.7 ( 13) 20.2 (174)
Off. Rebound% : 39.2 ( 17) 31.6 (118)
Free Throw Rate: 39.1 ( 98) 24.7 ( 5)

3-Point FG% : 38.4 ( 24) 33.7 (139)
2-Point FG% : 51.1 ( 58) 44.6 ( 45)
Free Throw Pct.: 75.8 ( 11) 69.1 (181)
Block Pct. : 9.4 (210) 11.9 ( 40)
Steal Pct. : 9.6 (156) 11.1 ( 75)

3PA/FGA : 27.4 (297) 32.6 (161)
A/FGM : 57.2 ( 91) 50.9 ( 92)

So how do you beat the Tarheels? Why don't we ask Leonard Hamilton? It's simple: slow them down. If you slow the pace down, the correlation factor is -0.46. The other thing you can do well, is force Carolina to take bad shots, close out on the threes and limit their eFG%. When they shoot the ball well, their correlation coefficient is +0.85, which is ridiculously high, meaning if they shoot better than lose. A correlation coefficient of 1 is a linear, or direct correlation, meaning there is a direct cause and effect. In their 4 losses, UNC shot an eFG% of 43.1% and under. Their lowest win was 43.6% against us. Only 9 of their wins happened when they shot under 50% on the night. They only have one win when their opponent shoots better than them...that also happened against us. Part of the reason their eFG% is so high is that they get a lot of layups in transition and they like to attack the rim with Lawson.

Carolina's likely starting lineup will be the following:

Deon Thompson, F 20 2-6 0-0 2-3 1 4 0 0 2 1 4 6
Tyler Hansbrough, F 33 5-13 0-1 8-12 3 11 1 4 0 2 4 18
Ty Lawson, G 34 5-11 2-4 10-17 1 7 8 2 0 4 3 22
Danny Green, G-F 27 4-11 4-10 0-0 1 3 1 0 3 1 4 12
Wayne Ellington, G 35 7-14 5-7 1-2 2 9 4 0 0 2 0 20




Michigan State Spartans

Living in Big Ten country, I have heard about Michigan St more than I ever wanted to this year. How much do you know about the Spartans? You probably know that UNC handed it to the Spartans in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on the very same court on which they will be playing tonight. The final score was 98-63. That was on December 3rd and it was the Spartan's 6th game of the year. It was UNC's 8th. Plus, MSU played games on November 27th, 28th, 30th and then the game against UNC on December 3rd and all of those games were away. All I am saying is that you should not use that game as a comparison. It would be as if we had the opportunity to play Pitt again in the NCAA tournament. We finished the year as a very different team than the one that faced Pitt at the beginning of the year.

Michigan State is currently 31-6 and finished first in the Big Ten with a 15-3 record. They finished 18th on offense and 8th on defense in the Pomeroy ratings and 7th overall. Their strength of schedule was 5th overall and their opponents defensive rating was 3rd in the nation. Their OOC play included Maryland, Oklahoma St, UNC, Texas and Kansas. Their three losses in the Big Ten were to Northwestern, Penn St and an excellent Purdue team. They beat Illinois twice and Ohio St twice. However, they lost to Ohio St 82-70 in the second round of the Big Ten tournament.

Michigan State's numbers don't blow you away upon initial inspection. They play very slow tempo, averaging 67.2 possessions per game, just slightly above the national average. As a reference, we averaged 66.8 possessions per game. Michigan St also plays a very aggressive man to man defense. Is this sounding familiar? Michigan St is also prone to turnovers, however, not like we were. They turn the ball over on 1 out of every 5 possessions. We were closer to 1 out of every 4 possessions. MSU also defends the three very well and is likely a result of their defense. They also do a phenomenal job rebounding the ball and rank 5th and 11th nationally on OReb% and Defensive OReb%. They only allow their opponents to rebound 27.4% of possible offensive rebound opportunities. The other thing that MSU does very well is that they are patient on offense and have and assist on 63% of every field goal they make. That to me demsonstrates a style of offense that has a system and is not dependent on one on one play.

The names you need to know are Kalin Lucas, Raymar Morgan and Durrell Summers. The other player who I think is secretly having a big impact on the Spartan's tournament run is Goran Suton. He didn't have the best game numbers wise against UConn, but he was matched up against Hasheem Thabeet, who is a defensive beast. None of Lucas, morgan or Summers tempo free stats jump out at you like the Tarheels. Suton has their highest ORtg at 117 and Lucas is the next highest at 111.4. Nothing spectacular. MSU, despite being a relatively young team withonly 3 Seniors on the team (Ibok rarely plays), MSU goes deep into their bench, with 36.6% of their minutes coming off the bench. UNC's bench, on the other hand, only plays 27.6% of possible minutes which is well below national average. Michigan St is not a huge team. On average, they are smaller than UNC, but they play bigger than expected with an effective height of +2.2.

In their tournament run, Michigan St has put up an impressive resume beating Robert Morris, USC, Kansas, Louisville and UConn. All of the games have been "relatively" close but that is a dificult road to the championship.

Here is what they did against UConn:


Michigan State took care of the ball and that helped them win this game. Here are Michigan State's numbers on the year:

                      Offense               Defense
Raw Efficiency : 109.0 ( 48) 94.7 ( 34)
Adj Efficiency : 115.4 ( 18) 88.0 ( 8)

Effective FG% : 49.9 (137) 47.2 ( 81)
Turnover Pct. : 20.5 (184) 20.3 (171)
Off. Rebound% : 40.9 ( 5) 27.4 ( 11)
Free Throw Rate: 40.7 ( 56) 35.6 (158)

3-Point FG% : 35.7 ( 99) 31.5 ( 38)
2-Point FG% : 48.6 (143) 47.1 (123)
Free Throw Pct.: 69.8 (141) 69.6 (214)
Block Pct. : 8.5 (149) 8.2 (182)
Steal Pct. : 9.0 ( 89) 10.1 (141)

3PA/FGA : 26.2 (312) 36.3 (282)
A/FGM : 63.6 ( 10) 52.7 (136)

So how do you beat the Spartan's? Prevent them from shooting the ball well. Just like UNC, if MSU has a higher eFG% than you, their correlation coefficient is a ridiculously high +0.85. To get them to lose, force turnovers. So Carolina does a reasonable job at forcing turnovers and does a good job defending shots, particularly 2 point shots. That is trouble for MSU as they score 56% of their shots from inside the arc and 22% from the FT line. They get to the line on 40% of their shot attempts. That will be difficult against UNC. The key to this game will be pace. 3 of MSU's 6 losses cam when they played at a higher pace than their season average, they also had lower offensive efficiencies when playing at the higher pace.

Here is the Spartan's likely starting lineup:

Raymar Morgan, F 30 7-13 0-0 4-6 3 9 1 5 0 0 3 18
Delvon Roe, F 21 2-4 0-0 0-0 4 8 0 0 2 0 2 4
Goran Suton, C 28 2-5 0-1 0-0 2 7 2 2 1 3 4 4
Kalin Lucas, G 33 7-15 3-6 4-6 0 2 5 0 0 3 1 21
Travis Walton, G 23 1-6 0-0 0-0 0 0 8 2 0 0 3 2



Final Thoughts:

If Michigan St can control the pace of the game, they will win. As you can see, there are a lot of similarties between the Spartans and the Seminoles. UNC struggles when they can't get out and run on a regular basis. Just like I thought we matched up better against UNC than we did against Duke, I think Michigan St matches up well with UNC. However, UNC's offense was firing on all cylinders against Villanova. Pomeroy is predicting UNC to win by 3 with a 63% chance of winning. He's rarely wrong.

This will be a great game. Enjoy it. What are your thoughts on the game?