Luke Winn: At The Dance
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  • 02:39 PM ET  04.07
Kalin Lucas
With Kalin Lucas returning to the Spartans next year, expect MSU to be in a place for another shot at a title
AP

DETROIT -- College basketball in the post-Tyler Hansbrough Era: less shot-putting, more uncertainty. There will be no clear-cut No. 1 entering next season, as there was when Hansbrough and teammates Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington opted to return to North Carolina to chase a national title. The best candidate may be the team that was manhandled on Monday night. As upsetting as that finale must have been for Michigan State -- the Spartans lost by 17 to the Tar Heels, and will lose seniors Goran Suton and Travis Walton -- it'll be trotting out the best starting five in college hoops next season, with Kalin Lucas at the point, Chris Allen (or Korie Lucious) at shooting guard, Durrell Summers at the wing, and Raymar Morgan and Delvon Roe at the forward spots. And that lineup, at this very early juncture (I'm writing this from the airport on the way back from the Final Four) makes Michigan State my pick for 2009-10's preseason No. 1.

My entire top 10 includes all of '09's Final Four teams, and, assuming a host of players turn pro -- Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, North Carolina's Lawson and Ellington, Arizona State's James Harden, Memphis's Tyreke Evans, UConn's Hasheem Thabeet, Pitt's DeJuan Blair, Wake Forest's James Johnson and Duke's Gerald Henderson -- looks like this:

1. Michigan State

If only the Final Four were in Detroit again: Motown products Lucas and Summers (as well as Ohioans Morgan and Roe) will lead a Spartans team deep and talented enough to make another title run. Like the Tar Heels did after getting embarrassed by Kansas in 2008, the Spartans can rebound from a big-stage loss and use it as a springboard for a magical season.

2. Kansas

A second national title in three years is a possibility, especially if the Jayhawks land top shooting guard Xavier Henry, who reopened his recruitment after John Calipari left Memphis. Henry might be lured back to the Tigers -- for whom his brother, C.J., currently plays -- if new coach Josh Pastner hires the boys' father, Carl, as his new director of basketball operations. But will Xavier want to pass up the chance to join forces with the fearsome inside-outside duo of point guard Sherron Collins and center Cole Aldrich, who emerged as a premier defensive force this season?

3. Syracuse

Noticing a theme? Our top three teams feature the nation's top three point guards. As long as Jonny Flynn returns for his junior year, the Orange will have their entire starting lineup back and should be the favorite to win a less-loaded Big East. In Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins, Flynn has two of the best perimeter targets in the country.

4. Connecticut

The big question in Storrs regards coach Jim Calhoun: Is he leaning toward retirement as the possibility of NCAA sanctions looms? Among the incentives to stay is the trio of Kemba Walker, Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson, who are capable of leading the Huskies back to the Final Four. Freshman forward Ater Majok, who couldn't gain eligibility in time to join the Huskies for the '08-09 season, is regarded as a potential offensive star.

5. Villanova

The guard ranks will be ridiculously deep -- McDonald's All-Americans Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns join a strong backcourt crew that could return intact -- but the frontcourt will miss Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson. If coach Jay Wright can find a way for his vaunted recruiting class to coexist with current backcourt talents Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher, the Wildcats will be dangerous once again.

6. Duke

The Blue Devils are finally adding some quality size in 6-9 Ryan Kelly (a faceup power forward) and 6-10 Mason Plumlee (a traditional center), who could help potential All-America Kyle Singler on the glass. Sophomore Elliot Williams should flourish in his first full season at the point -- but he could be moved off the ball if the Blue Devils land top recruit John Wall, whom coach Mike Krzyzewski is making a late push to lure to Durham.

7. Purdue

The Boilers could break through to the Elite Eight or beyond -- as long as the L5 vertebra fracture that plagued Robbie Hummel this year doesn't continue to nag him as a junior. Frontcourt mate JaJuan Johnson had a breakout year as a sophomore and was key in getting the team to the Sweet 16. As a junior he should battle Michigan State's Lucas for Big Ten Player of the Year honors.

8. North Carolina

In Ed Davis, Deon Thompson, Tyler Zeller and newcomer John Henson, the Heels will have an NBA-level frontcourt rotation. But how good will their speed game be without Lawson? The pressure will be on sophomore Larry Drew II to efficiently run the break, and senior Marcus Ginyard, who took a medical redshirt and missed the title run, will have to add some offense to his defense-heavy game.

9. West Virginia

This should be Bob Huggins' best team yet in Morgantown, in part because matchup nightmare Devin Ebanks will take the Big East by storm as a sophomore. The Mountaineers lose only gunner Alex Ruoff, but forward Da'Sean Butler, one of the nation's best under-the-radar scorers, can pick up the slack.

10. Oklahoma

Guard Willie Warren wants to come back "without Blake Griffin to see how good [he is]"-- and there's a chance Warren could be an All-America as a sophomore. Two McDonald's All-Americans, point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin and big man Keith "Tiny" Gallon, are joining him, so the Sooners should finish near the top of the Big 12 again.

WILD CARD: Kentucky

In their current state, the Wildcats shouldn't be near the top 20. But how will they look once new coach John Calipari is done building his first-year roster? The best-case scenario in Lexington could yield a team capable of chasing a national title. If lethal scorer Jodie Meeks, who plans to test the draft waters as a junior, can be convinced to return along with sophomore Patrick Patterson, and Calipari can reel in elite recruits John Wall (who had been considering Memphis) and DeMarcus Cousins (who previously committed to Memphis), then Kentucky will be scary. Landing Wall, the top prep point guard in the country, is the key, because there's no one on UK's present roster who can make Calipari's Dribble-Drive Motion offense run in high gear.

The Next 10:

11. Texas; 12. Gonzaga; 13. Washington; 14. UCLA; 15. Missouri; 16. Butler; 17. Minnesota; 18. Clemson; 19. Dayton; 20. Xavier

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  • 03:35 AM ET  04.07
Atd
The 2009 Tar Heels took their place beside the 2005 champions with a dominating run through the NCAA tournament.
John Biever/SI

DETROIT -- The heckling always came in summertime pickup games at the Dean Dome, when players from North Carolina's 2005 national-title team would square off against the ringless members of the program's current roster. The worst offenders were Sean May, Raymond Felton, and Melvin Scott, who tended to end any dispute -- over things as trivial as foul calls -- by pointing to the rafters and asking, "Have you put a banner up there?" The answer, for the entire careers of current stars Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Tyler Hansbrough, had been no. And so in the aftermath of Monday's 89-72 national-championship game rout of Michigan State (RECAP | BOX), some of the Tar Heels' thoughts turned to bragging rights. As Lawson said, before breaking into one of his trademark, devilish grins, "I mean, what can they say now?"

Nothing, really, given the magnitude of the rout: The Tar Heels scored 55 first-half points and led by 21 at the break -- both title-game records -- and essentially put the game away in the first 10 minutes. It was an epic beatdown that brought Carolina its fifth championship and sucked the life out of a record crowd of 72,922 in Detroit, an economically struggling city that had rallied around Michigan State's fairy-tale ride to the final. Ellington was named MOP after scoring 19 points, but it was Lawson who was masterful, getting to the free-throw line for 18 attempts (and converting 15 of them) to finish with 21 points, six assists and an amazing eight steals.

On Sunday, he had reminisced about acting out approximately 20 different NCAA-championship buzzer-beater scenarios on his Fisher Price hoop as a child: "Sometimes I needed a three to win it, sometimes I was on the free-throw line, sometimes I was making a last-second drive when we were down one," Lawson said, "and we won every single time." But when a writer tried to goad Lawson into saying that he was dreaming of making an actual, last-second shot on Monday, he said, "I hope it won't be that close. I like blowouts better."

A blowout is exactly what Lawson got -- one much like the 35-point massacre that occurred the first time the two teams met, on Dec. 3, in the same building. He and Ellington had talked to each other about not starting slow, the way they did against Kansas in last year's Final Four, when they came out shell-shocked and fell behind 40-12. Instead, they were the ones giving Michigan State what coach Tom Izzo described as that "deer-in-the-headlights look," as the Spartans trailed 21-7, then 32-11, then 46-22 and 55-34 at half. Izzo's floor leader, senior guard Travis Walton, admitted that "it was a blur the first five minutes, when they jumped out on us so fast."

When the Tar Heels finally subbed out their starters, en masse, with 1:03 left in the game, they led 89-70, and Lawson still hadn't broken much of a sweat. "Close games are nerve-wracking," Lawson said. "When you have a blowout, everyone has fun. Even my boy Marc" -- he nodded toward walk-on Marc Campbell, who had replaced him -- "got in and got some time on a national stage."

As confetti streamed down from the Ford Field ceiling in the aftermath, the player who appeared to be having the most fun was the one who had, up to that point, been the most robotic and businesslike. Hansbrough, who arrived in Roy Williams' first recruiting class following that '05 national title, beamed as he bear-hugged his coach on the court, and later jumped into the arms of Carolina strength coach Jonas Sahratian, the man responsible for giving Hansbrough the nickname Psycho T during his freshman year. "This," Sahratian said, "was the biggest day of Tyler's life, I think. It's what he'd been working for."

Despite winning the Wooden and Naismith Awards as a junior, Hansbrough's legacy was ultimately going to be defined by whether or not he added a banner to the Dean Dome rafters. Sitting in the locker room with one of the nets around his neck, and 18 points and seven rebounds in the box score, Hansbrough felt he had put an appropriate coda on his college career, and declared, "Whoever said [I'm] not validated, I'm validated right now."

This win over Michigan State also validated the entire North Carolina team, which, like it or not, would have been regarded as an underachiever had it not won the national title. The Heels began the season as the AP Poll's unanimous No. 1, and were also heavy title favorites in Las Vegas -- but then they started 0-2 in the ACC, with losses to Boston College and Wake Forest, and, as Williams said, "everybody jumped off the ship." Their defense appeared to be lacking with senior specialist Marcus Ginyard out of the lineup, and Lawson in particular was being shown up by guards such as Tyrese Rice and Jeff Teague. But Williams gathered them together in the locker room after that second loss in Winston-Salem, and, in front of everyone, asked a question to assistant coach Steve Robinson, who had also been on Williams' staff at Kansas: "Coach, do you remember 1991, what we started out the season?"

"We started out 0-2," Robinson said.

"Do you remember where we finished that season?"

"We played Duke for the national championship."

And so Williams told his team that, if they did what the coaching staff asked, then they'd have a chance and "be there at the end."

The Tar Heels were more than just there in this NCAA tournament. They blitzed their way through the bracket, beating Radford by 43 in the first round, LSU by 14 in the second, Gonzaga by 21 in the Sweet 16, Oklahoma by 12 in the Elite Eight, Villanova by 14 in the Final Four and Michigan State by 17 in the final. Carolina only trailed its opponents for 10 minutes during the entire dance. They stepped up their defense, especially on the perimeter, when it became necessary, and put on an exhibition in the title game, forcing the Spartans in to 21 turnovers and just 40 percent shooting. Carolina lost just four games all season, but, as senior guard Bobby Frasor said, "If we had played D like this all year, it could have been special."

There was a sense, coming into Monday night's title game, that the Tar Heels might be running up against something special -- a pre-ordained, fairy-tale story for the state of Michigan. Legendary Spartans point guard Earvin "Magic" Johnson had called them a "team of destiny" on Saturday, and it seemed that Michigan State could be the right team (having knocked off two-straight No. 1 seeds), playing at the right time (the 30th anniversary of Magic's title) in the right city (Detroit, which desperately needed an emotional diversion from its failing auto industry). When the Spartans ran out of their locker room, point guard Kalin Lucas -- one of two Motor City products -- yelled, "Let's win this for the city!"

A raucous crowd -- clad in approximately 65 percent green and white -- was waiting for them in the stands, and those same fans lustily booed Carolina when it took the floor. Late Saturday night, after they beat Villanova to clinch a trip to the title game against the home-state team, Williams had told his players to prepare for the atmosphere at Ford Field as if it were more familiar, hostile territory: "Coach said, 'It's like going into Cameron again,'" said Frasor, referring to Duke's home court, where he and Hansbrough are 4-0. "And for us to make them quiet from the get-go, that was huge."

As the Spartans faded quickly, so did the power of their fan advantage. It took them until the 7:33 mark of the second half to reach the 55 points Carolina had scored in the first half, and the building was so quiet with 3:25 left in the game, and Carolina up 15, that a Michigan State dance team member could be heard saying, "C'mon, State! We still believe in you!" Not many others in the stands seemed to share that feeling. Seconds later, Lawson sunk two free throws to extend UNC's lead to 17.

Carolina came into the game exuding the confidence of a club that, as even Johnson admitted in a pregame press conference with 1979 NCAA final foe Larry Bird, was "the best team in basketball, when you look at it talent-wise." Izzo said on Sunday that the only way the Spartans could win was to have a game plan that altered Carolina's identity, because, "If we play good and they play good, we're losing." The Heels were unfazed by Izzo scheming that took them out of their transition game; they managed to win despite scoring just four fast-break points -- the same amount that Michigan State did. They taunted Sparty, Michigan State's mascot, in the tunnel beforehand -- Danny Green yelled in his face a few times, and someone said from a distance, "Sparty's just a b----!" When the Heels charged out of their locker room for the final time before the game began, they created an intimidating amount of noise in the tunnel, by clapping in rhythm, barking, and chanting "Here ... We ... Go!"

From there the Heels went, unfazed by the crowd, and steamrolled Michigan State to win what was expected of them in the preseason: the national title. After they'd watched One Shining Moment together on the floor, with Williams, who had the other net around his neck, standing amongst them, they raced back to the locker room to perform a final ceremony. As is Williams' tradition during the dance, there was an empty box drawn on their whiteboard prior to the game, waiting to be filled in. What goes inside the box is the number of teams left in the NCAA tournament. They'll typically gather 'round Williams to calculate the figure, but this time the math was easy. All that needed to be written was a giant number one.

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  • 05:59 PM ET  04.08
Anderson Varejao
Michael J. LeBrecht II/SI

DETROIT -- Poolmaster Anderson Varejao has contacted us (from his lounge chair at the Four Seasons) with the final results of SI.com's Tourney Blog Pool. For the first time ever we have dual champions: Tom McCutcheon of UNC-Wilmington and Jonathan Newton of the University of New Brunswick. Tom and Jonathan tied with 159 points and both picked North Carolina as their champ.

The winners were promised a bit of blog fame (including a photo!), so here goes:

Pool winners
Photos taken from Facebook

McCutcheon is history major at UNC-Wilmington who's looking to get a job in sports journalism after graduation. He's been following the Tar Heels since he was born, he says, because his father is a UNC alum. As for Tom's bracket-picking strategy, here's what he wrote us over the weekend:

"Defense, rebounding, coaching and momentum. Those are things I liked about Michigan State. Of course, those things aren't fool-proof, as evidenced by what happened to Memphis. I would have picked the Tar Heels regardless of them being my team or not. They made the Final Four last year with juniors and sophomores. They returned all their players, and with a lineup of juniors and seniors -- plus more future NBA players than any other team -- I knew they were ready to cut down the nets."

Newton is a second-year biology student at the University of New Brunswick who had only been in a few pools prior to this one, and the Tourney Blog pool was his first-ever victory. Here's how he described his bracket strategy:

"Living in Canada, which means no ESPN, NCAA basketball isn't that well-covered before the madness begins. So my favourite team would have to be North Carolina, just because they get the most coverage, because they're usually No. 1, or they highlight Duke-UNC games. Before the brackets were due I had read a couple of articles on SI.com and found out what teams were hot and cold going into the tournament and which conferences to stay away from in general [Big Ten] and I just made the choices that I thought were the most likely to succeed and ended up here: winning this bracket."

The entire Tourney Blog Pool top 10:

1. Tom McCutcheon (159)
1. Jonathan Newton (159)
3. Dennis Bastron (158)
4. Dwayne Harris (157)
5. Frank Russo (155)
6. Brian Leigh (154)
6. Cuong Nguyen (154)
6. Darinka Savcic (154)
9. Jacob Keyton (152)
10. Wilkie Colyer (151)

263. Luke Winn (121)

Thanks to the 262 people (out of 1,091 brackets) who beat me, the 828 who didn't, and the rest of you who just followed the blog without participating in the pool. Hope to see you back next year.

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  • 06:57 PM ET  04.06
29det1
Luke Winn/SI

DETROIT -- The city awoke this morning to find the ground covered with snow, which, I guess, inspired these guys to don hula skirts. Their blending of luau/Sabotage/superfan motifs was daring.

29det4
Luke Winn/SI

Fans get "physcially inspected" on the way in to Ford Field. I just get wanded. That's a media perk.

29det6
Luke Winn/SI

It wouldn't be a Final Four without the troll wigs. These guys riled up the UNC student section pen around 6:30 p.m.

29det7
Luke Winn/SI

It also wouldn't be a Final Four without the Jesus Freaks. This guy wasn't getting much attention from the Michigan State crowd, which only believes in Destiny.

29det3
Luke Winn/SI

I ran head-on into a training session for the flag unveiling. I'm considering borrowing one of those shiny helmets for press row tonight; on Saturday, myself and Andy Staples were nearly squashed by a flying Idong Ibok.

29det2
Luke Winn/SI

The end of the road is almost here. I pulled this stack of press credentials out of my bag before leaving the hotel. As you can see, the Final Four pass comes complete with a DMV-quality photo. Not pretty, but it'll get me where I need to go this evening. Enjoy Michigan State-UNC, and thanks for reading for the past 30-or-so days. I'll be back later with a game story.

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  • 10:16 AM ET  04.06
Michigan State
Michigan State has to prove it's not the team that lost to North Carolina by 35 last December
Getty Images

DETROIT -- In the aftermath, they went to the Red Lobster in Lansing, ordered shrimp and crab legs, and made resolutions. On Dec. 3, 2008, Michigan State's duo from Detroit, point guard Kalin Lucas and small forward Durrell Summers, had suffered through the indignity of a 98-63 loss to top-ranked North Carolina at Ford Field in their hometown. Lucas said he considered this nothing short of "an embarrassment." His friends and family had all been in the stands to witness the Spartans' flop. So when he and his roommate, Summers, went out to eat on Dec. 4, "We told each other that we'd do whatever it took to get back to Detroit" -- meaning the Final Four in April. Summers said they agreed on one other thing: "To never let that" -- a loss of that magnitude -- "happen again."

Four months and two days after that meal, Lucas and Summers can say they've met the first goal: They went on to win the Big Ten regular-season title, earn a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, knock off defending champ Kansas and upset top-seeded Louisville to reach the Final Four. Once there, in front of a record crowd of 72,456, more than two-thirds of them clad in green-and-white, Michigan State beat another No. 1 seed, UConn. Lucas scored 21 and Summers added 10, and the most famous Spartan of all-time, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, stood outside the locker room and said, "This seems like a team of destiny." On the 30th anniversary of Magic's title team, the Spartans are on the precipice of winning the school's third national championship. But standing in the way of destiny is the same juggernaut that was here in December: North Carolina. Can Lucas and Summers really prevent the disaster from repeating itself?

I worry that, despite the resolve of State's players, and the heartwarming side-plot of them lifting up a downtrodden Detroit, their fate may have been sealed (in a bad way) on Dec. 3. Ever heard of the blowout rule? This was a concept SI's Alex Wolff introduced in a 2001 NCAA tournament preview story on the subject of "toughness." Wolff wrote that only one team in the quarter-century leading up to that story -- North Carolina in 1993 -- had suffered a loss of more than 25 points and gone on to win a national title. The Tar Heels lost by 26 to Wake Forest that season, but didn't have to play the Demon Deacons in the NCAA tournament. The blowout rule has held up in every season since, too: The 2002 Maryland team came the closest to breaking it with a 21-point loss to Duke in the regular season. If I may dauntingly re-frame the rule in the context of these Spartans, consider it this way: In the three decades since Magic's team cut down the nets in Salt Lake City -- essentially the modern age of college basketball -- no team has lost a regular-season game by more than 26 points and won the NCAA tournament. Michigan State, mind you, lost to Carolina by 35.

The standard disclaimer here is that the Spartans weren't the same team then that they are now. You heard it from them Sunday, and you heard it from North Carolina's players, too (Ty Lawson: "They're a different team now;" Danny Green: "They're a different team than the one we saw;" Tyler Hansbrough: "They're a different team now"). There were some extenuating circumstances surrounding that loss: Michigan State had just played three games over Thanksgiving weekend at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando; senior leader Travis Walton had to take a final exam back in East Lansing that day; and the biggest one of all, the fact that "G" -- senior center Goran Suton -- "wasn't even in the building," as coach Tom Izzo puts it. Suton had been sent back to campus the morning of the game to have his knee examined, and didn't return to the lineup until Dec. 17.

But even under optimal conditions, with the Spartans at full-strength, how different would that game have been? Not all that much, Izzo admits. "If we had everybody perfect, the way [North Carolina] played that night, instead of winning by 35, they could have beat us by 20." This would have brought Michigan State out of blowout-rule territory ... but it still would have been a 20-point loss to the team its playing Monday night. So why should we believe that there's any chance of a different result in the national-title game?

The hope, within the Michigan State ranks, revolves around the game plan, for Izzo is regarded as one of the best postseason coaches of all-time, having taken five teams in the Final Four in 11 years. His tactical work in this NCAA tournament has been second-to-none: In the Elite Eight he made top-overall seed Louisville, previously known as masters of the press, grind to a halt, score zero fastbreak points, and lose 64-52. In the Final Four he made UConn, previously known as masters of the paint, gain no advantage on the glass and lose 82-73. Izzo's game plans have a way of making elite teams look like shells of their former selves, and he's well aware that, given the disparity in NBA talent on the two rosters Monday night, he must make Carolina not look like Carolina. "If we play good and they play good, we're losing -- that's the way I look at it," Izzo said. "They're the best team in the country. ... But we found a way to have some teams not play as good against us. So we've just got to play good and have them play a little less than good."

The Spartans' game plan for Carolina began taking shape Wednesday, when the assistant coach assigned to scout the Tar Heels, Dwayne Stephens, started poring over 15 games (or 30 hours) worth of video, which would later be cut down into a "long edit" of 400 clips. After Michigan State beat UConn in the first game on Saturday, which concluded after 8 p.m. ET, video coordinator Jordan Ott jumped into the back of a Michigan State trooper's car, carrying an external hard drive filled with game files, and was escorted back to the Somerset Inn in suburban Troy, Mich., to begin setting up clips for the coaches' arrival. Izzo left the North Carolina-Villanova game at halftime, and Ott had a 15-minute video package ready for him to review right away. The short edit -- 50 clips selected from the original 400 -- is what the coaches and team reviewed Saturday night, and the staff stayed up until 3 a.m. discussing strategy. "How well we get back and defend their 'earlies'" -- the shots they take in the first 10 seconds of the possession -- "is going to be big," Stephens said.

Ott, a 24-year-old from McConnellsburg, Pa., who walked into the Michigan State basketball office two years ago and got a job as a graduate assistant, was named the team's video coordinator this offseason. His goal is to eventually get into coaching, and he's been able to witness plenty of Izzo's scouting-session genius first-hand. "He's incredible at picking up the little things," Ott said, and in the Louisville game, there were two key observations Izzo made in their film reviews at the Indianapolis Hilton: The first was that Suton could exploit the opening around the foul line in Louisville's extended zone. Suton finished the game with 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting. The second was even more important: Ott and the staff went back and looked at how the Cardinals had pressed a number of different teams this season. Izzo locked in on footage of Cincinnati, which mostly cleared out and allowed point guard Deonta Vaughn to walk the ball up the floor. "Coach [Izzo] picked that up late on Saturday night," Ott said, "and he said, 'Man, this might be a way to break it.'" The Spartans slowed the game down to a Big Ten pace -- and then later, in the second half, when Louisville expected the ball to be walked up, they surprised them by having Lucas blitz the zone pressure.

When scouting UConn, Ott said Izzo talked about staying low when getting position for rebounds, because if it became an "arms match" -- with Huskies big men Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien using their length and strength against the Spartans frontcourt -- then State would have little chance of winning. Suton (seven rebounds), Raymar Morgan (eight) and Delvon Roe (nine) stayed low and improbably finished even in the rebounding war 42-42. Izzo's second point was that Thabeet was so slow getting down the floor in UConn's transition game that the man guarding him could be used to "corral" Huskies guard A.J. Price, who's generally dangerous on the break. UConn scored just 10 fastbreak points compared to Michigan State's 22, and Price finished with 15 points on 5-of-20 shooting.

Izzo makes a promise to his players when they head into a two-game NCAA tournament weekend: "You get me through the first game, and I feel good that I can help you get through the second." He has the information-distribution down to a science, in part gleaned from football buddies such as former Lions coach Steve Mariucci, who was in the locker room Sunday. Izzo keeps teams meetings short (to 15-20 minutes) and frequent (up to 5-6 times per day) because he feels that the game plan soaks in better that way. But North Carolina will be the biggest test of all, because none of the Spartans' schemes worked the first time around: Tyler Hansbrough gashed them for 25 points in 27 minutes, Lawson scored 17, dished out eight assists and didn't turn the ball over once, while Lucas coughed it up five times and scored just six points. The only thing the Tar Heels seemed to admire about Izzo's plan was one of his pick-and-roll plays: UNC coach Roy Williams tells his players to keep an eye out for things they like from other teams' offenses, and freshman Ed Davis said they took one of Izzo's sets and put it into their own offense the next week, calling it "Michigan State."

But Davis bids Izzo good luck in figuring out how to plan against this Carolina team, even if they do use one of his own plays against him: "We have so many weapons," Davis said, "that if you stop Ty, then you've gotta stop Danny [Green], or if you stop Wayne [Ellington], then you've gotta stop Deon [Thompson], and so on, so I don't really know what possible game plan they could use."

Therein lies the problem. If Carolina is playing on top of its game, it's impossible to beat, no matter what maneuvers Izzo makes, or resolutions Lucas and Summers have already made, or destiny-related feelings Magic might be having. A win on Monday night, three decades after Magic brought home the school's first title, would be a dream ending in Detroit. But only in a dream world, where the blowout rule didn't make their 35-point loss to the Tar Heels look so ominous, would it be easy to imagine the Spartans pulling off such a reversal.

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