DETROIT -- There's a subsect of the North Carolina locker room that freshman guard Larry Drew calls "Team Beats." He is the self-appointed president of this crew, and its lone membership requirement is that the player own a pair of Beats By Dr. Dre headphones.
Drew got the Beats for Christmas from his father, who told him that all the NBA players were wearing them. Apparently Mr. Drew had seen the LeBron James YouTube in which he passes out custom red-and-gold versions to the entire Cavs team as gifts.
I actually got these for Christmas, and they were incredible with bass, but I had to return them because of one deal-breaker: They leak copious amounts of noise, which means everyone in the room with you can hear what you're cranking from your iPod. My brother started laughing at me about 10 seconds into the first song I played, and named it from 25 feet away. This basically meant they'd be unusable in any press room, so I had to send them back. Drew recounted a similar scene from the Carolina bus the first time he used them: "It was real quiet, and everybody on the bus could hear me, and some of them said to turn it down. But I said, 'Naw, man, these are the beats! That's what they're made for.'"
Apparently, in the hoops world, this was a selling point: freshman Ed Davis and junior Ty Lawson soon purchased them, and Drew named them his vice presidents. Junior Deon Thompson and senior Danny Green followed -- without cabinet positions; Drew just considers them "add-ons" -- and Team Beats was born.
Senior Marcus Ginyard, the wise veteran of the locker room, shook his head on Sunday as he looked at Davis wearing the Beats. "Those things are too loud, man," Ginyard said. "[Davis] won't be able to hear in a couple of years. He could be sitting over there" -- all the way across an NFL-sized dressing room in Ford Field -- "and I could hear every single word if it's on full blast. It's annoying."
Ginyard took out his iPhone and popped in a couple of Apple Earbuds, a far more conservative listening option. "The Beats," Davis said when he took off his headphones a few minutes later, "aren't for everybody."
DETROIT -- Poolmaster Anderson Varejao has contacted us with the official title-game scenarios for the SI.com Tourney Blog Pool on Facebook:
• If North Carolina beats Michigan State, the winners will be: Jonathan Newton (University of New Brunswick '11) and Tom McCutcheon (UNC Wilmington '10).
• If Michigan State beats Carolina, the winner is: Matthew Spitzley (Michigan State '09).
The Newton/McCutcheon scenario would be our first-ever split title, as well as our first-ever International title: Newton hails from Oakville, Ontario. (McCutcheon is from the Tar Heel State.)
Spitzley, meanwhile, is in the Agriculture Technology program at Michigan State, and a full-time worker at K&K Dairy Farm. His Facebook profile indicates a love for cows. Varejao found this particularly amusing.
Your blogger is ranked 382nd out of 1,091 brackets. That means 33 percent of you are beating me, which I can live with.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
DETROIT -- Magic Johnson, 30 years removed from the national title he won as a Michigan State sophomore, strode up a ramp toward the Ford Field locker rooms on Saturday night, with the Spartans' 82-73 Final Four win over UConn freshly in the books. He was greeted by a group of Detroit policemen, and one of them stepped forward and summed up the collective sentiments of this downtrodden city, which has rallied around the home-state team and desperately wants its NCAA tournament joyride to end with a national title. "A little bit longer!" the cop said. "A little bit longer!"
"One more," a smiling Magic replied, and inside the Spartans' locker room, he told the team the same thing: "One more game. Don't lose focus. We've done nothing but advance to the championship -- that's all we've done. We've got one more game."
But when Magic was outside, with a few members of the press, he had confided a different feeling: "This seems," he said, "like a team of destiny."
Michigan State did not come into this Final Four regarded as the best team (that would be North Carolina) or the team with the most NBA players (UNC again), but the Spartans are something else: The right team, in the right place, peaking at the right time. A crowd of 72,456 packed Ford Field on Saturday -- a record number for an NCAA tournament game -- and, as Spartans' freshman Korie Lucious said, "it felt like 50,000 of them were for us." He wasn't exaggerating. This Final Four feels like Michigan State's event. When the buzzer sounded on their victory over the Huskies, flush-bulbs popped from all over the stadium, and the Spartans acknowledged not just the section behind their bench, but did a mini-victory lap, with senior guard Travis Walton popping the "State" on his green away jersey toward the far corners of the building. Walton, who had eight assists with zero turnovers and helped lock down UConn's backcourt, said, "For that one second, I could see that we were giving people hope, that they weren't thinking about any problems they were having."
This feel-good weekend in the city with an auto industry in disrepair, and an unemployment rate at 12 percent, came at the expense of the Huskies' national-title dreams. Coach Jim Calhoun said of the crowd, "It didn't affect us. I think it affected [Michigan State]." It roared as the Spartans took a 9-2 lead to start the game, it buoyed them when UConn went on a 6-0 run to start the second half and take a 42-38 lead; it went into a frenzy as the Spartans rallied back and led by 10 with seven minutes left; it pleaded with them to hang on when the Huskies cut it to 74-71 with just over a minute on the clock. It created an electricity that the past three Final Fours -- in Indianapolis, Atlanta and San Antonio -- lacked, and it created what Johnson would call "an unbelievable scene."
"It was the greatest college game that I've ever seen, or been a part of," said Magic. The whole state should pat themselves on the back. ... To the NCAA, thank you for allowing the game to be here in Michigan. They didn't have to do this."
On the drive to Saturday's game, the Spartans' bus took a route through Detroit, Izzo said, "by some tough homes, some tough places," and reminded his players that they had a chance to make the crowd feel good about them. He calls the Spartans "the blue-collar team" of this Final Four, and this, he says, "is the blue-collar city."
The blue-collar performance they put on included matching UConn in the rebounding war, 42-42, and winning the steals column 11-5. It included Raymar Morgan scoring 18 points and grabbing nine rebounds while wearing a mask to protect his broken nose. It included them going toe-to-toe with the bigger Huskies in a couple of tussles, including a major one with 1:55 left in the first half that began when the 190-pound Walton delivered a hard foul on 243-pound Jeff Adrien. Izzo had brought in a couple of football coaches -- ex-Lions coach Steve Mariucci and Vikings line coach Pat Morris -- to remind his team that the war with UConn would be like a football game. And Izzo knew, he said, that "we weren't going to back down from anybody."
Spartan sophomores Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers, the two Detroit natives in the starting lineup, had the most on the line. While Izzo was recruiting them in 2006, one of his prime selling points was that they could play together in Detroit -- at a Final Four just 91 miles from State's East Lansing campus -- in 2009. They said they didn't necessarily believe him at the time; and there were certain times this year when it was difficult to believe that it would actually happen. Their 98-63 loss to North Carolina on Dec. 3, which coincidentally happened at Ford Field, was one of them. Their uncharacteristic home losses to Northwestern and Penn State in Big Ten play were two others. But in the NCAA tournament they went on a tear, beating Kansas, the defending champ, in the Sweet 16; Louisville, the No. 1 overall seed, in the Elite Eight; and UConn, a No. 1 seed that had routed Louisville earlier in the year, in the national semifinals.
On the biggest stage of his young career, Lucas, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, played like the best guard on the floor and scored a game-high 21 points. All season he'd been announced as hailing from Sterling Heights, Mich., but on Saturday he changed it to Detroit -- because he had lived periodically at his grandmother's house, two minutes away from Ford Field.
Summers grew up near the Detroit Mercy campus, and said that everywhere he's been in the city this week, "It's been nothing but love. ... And we're trying to embrace the love and go and win it for them." The loving gesture he provided on Saturday came in the form of the game's biggest highlight, a fastbreak dunk over UConn's Stanley Robinson with 5:51 left in the second half. It made the score 66-56 in State's favor, and was particularly demoralizing because of the way it unfolded: Morgan stole a weak pass Hasheem Thabeet tried to make out of the post, and fired it up to a streaking Summers, who raced to the other end. Only Robinson was in his way, and, Summers said, "I tried to probe into him a little bit, and he backed up .. .and I just tried to explode as high as I could, and I was able to make it."
He made it, all right -- by dunking in Robinson's face before they both tumbled to the floor. Walton, who was looking on from the bench in front of the play, said, "That was nasty. I had to give an ugly face to it" -- and he stopped here to make one -- "because it was so nasty."
The most curious thing the NCAA did here at Ford Field was put microphones on the rims, and amplify the sound of every missed shot (a clank!) and swish (a pop!) so it could be heard in the distant reaches of the upper deck. The noises were almost cartoonishly loud courtside, though, and Summers' slam was a unique aural experience -- a jarring ker-clunk! that punctuated the fastbreak. The noise he said he remembered most, though, was of the crowd. "I fell on the ground, and all I heard was a huge roar," he said. "And then [I heard] coach, saying get up and get back."
Summers admitted to taking one peek at the jumbotron, just to see how he'd pulled it off. As he looked up at the video, so did nearly everyone else in the green-drenched Ford Field stands, and they roared upon seeing it again, as a city of fans blissfully caught up in the moment.
DETROIT -- The scalper below told me that business is bad at the Burning Tire Final Four -- just like business is bad everywhere in this city.
"But what about all the Michigan State fans coming in for the game?" I asked. "I thought they were saving the market."
"Michigan State fans are cheap," he said. "They don't like to spend."
When the basketball was free -- for Friday's open practices at Ford Field -- more than 20,000 fans showed up. The teams were actually introduced, player-by-player, before taking the court for practice. Practice! Villanova's kids (but not Jay Wright) had fun waiting in the intro line.
One of the good moves the NCAA made this year was to add "student sections" along each end line. But the student sections are flat expanses of chairs ... so this is the view from the back row. If you're short, you may only be able to see Hasheem Thabeet's head.
I'm having trouble picking out my one Final Four souvenir. Should I go with the camoflauge cap on the left, or the camouflauge cap on the right? I like the versatility of these; you can watch a hoops game, then go on a pheasant hunt without changing costumes.
If you're looking for a shirt that still has a Radford logo on it ... I found it (below, at left). If you're looking for a Burning Tire logo so large it obscures most of a court, I found that too.
This was a nice touch: Upon picking up our press credentials, each media member was handed a one-of-a-kind drawing done by a local elementary school student. The inscription the shopping-cart drawing I received was, "I love my city because ... to go shopping to by a game [sic]."
Which leads me to believe this boy conveniently ignored the "my city because" part, and just wanted a new video game. It's Detroit. Can you blame him?
One of the great moments in local-TV sports history occurred here on Friday: A 6-foot-3 female reporter asked Hasheem Thabeet to take off his shoes and stand back-to-back with her, so she could say, "I'm 6-3," then stick the mic in Thabeet's face so he could say, "7-3."
The games tip off at 6:07 p.m. here in Detroit. My predictions are chalky: UConn over Michigan State. North Carolina over 'Nova. I don't care if that's boring. I just want to see the best-possible title game.
SI.com asked assistant coaches from former opponents of each of the Final Four teams to diagram bread-and-butter sets used to free up star players -- as well as pass along actual scouting-report data on each player's strengths and tendencies. Here's what our anonymous coaches told us about ...
A.J. Price, PG, UConn (14.7 points, 4.8 assists)
Why He Matters: He's the best all-around guard on the floor in Saturday's first game.
Likely To Be Guarded By: Michigan State's Travis Walton
Bread-and-Butter Play: "They call this one 'Single' -- what they do is, have Price with the ball coming from left to right, and set a double-high, staggered ball screen for him with Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien. The first screener -- usually Thabeet -- will roll hard to the baseline if the screen works; if Thabeet's man hedges hard [as is shown in the second image], Thabeet will just slip to the rim. Price has a few options when he comes off the screen -- he can pull up, hit Thabeet on a lob, hit Adrien for a foul-line jumper, or hit Stanley Robinson, who's in the right-hand corner, for a three or a backdoor cut."
Scouting Points on Price:
• "The biggest thing with Price is how efficient he is coming off ball-screens. He's a complete guard, in that he can shoot the three, pull-up mid-range, drive it all the way to the rim, or make the right pass for an assist. I think he actually has an NBA future because of how good he is coming off screens. He takes whatever you give him."
• "One reason why he's so good at this screen stuff: His head is always up when he's coming around the pick. Plenty of guards, you'll see them with their heads buried, but his eyes are up, looking to make the right decision. And he does it right about nine times out of 10."
• "Price is a strong ball-handler; he pounds the ball hard, and he can change directions quickly with his crossover, which is deadly in both directions."
Goran Suton, PF/C, Michigan State (10.1 points, 8.1 rebounds)
Why He Matters: His shooting ability can pull Hasheem Thabeet away from the basket.
Likely To Be Guarded By: UConn's Hasheem Thabeet or Stanley Robinson
Bread-and-Butter Play: "They'll use physical signs; this one was a downward thumb from Kalin Lucas. Lucas passes Travis Walton on the left wing, and then they have Suton set a back-screen for Lucas, who runs off of that and loops off a double-screen on the right block. At the same time, Suton moves out from the elbow to run a side pick-and-roll with Walton. They love to use these pick-and-rolls late in the shot clock; between this one and one they call by touching the forehead -- a simple one with Lucas and Suton at the top of the key -- they were successful something like 42 percent of the time with the clock winding down."
Scouting Points on Suton:
• "Suton is a face-up 4-5 man who presents a very difficult matchup for a lot of big guys, because they're not used to defending pick-and-pop stuff out to the three-point line. Michigan State uses Suton more like a three-man than they do a five, given how many screening actions involve him on the outside."
• "Suton isn't all that physical in the post; he's just smart. He'll pull the chair out from under you when he's guarding you, and try to get around and go for the steal on the post-entry pass. And he never leaves his feet, either, because he knows he's not a shot-blocker. He just forces you to catch the ball farther out than you're used to, and does things to get you off-balance."
• "He almost reminds me of a Bill Laimbeer, in that he's not the greatest athlete, or the best jumper, but just has a really high basketball IQ. He knows you're not comfortable guarding him outside, and he knows that he's more likely to stop you by pushing you out of the paint than letting you catch it in deep."
• "I wouldn't be surprised if UConn makes adjustments and puts Stanley Robinson on Suton instead of Thabeet, just to keep Suton from scoring on threes."
Tyler Hansbrough, PF, North Carolina (20.9 points, 8.1 rebounds)
Why He Matters: Villanova has no direct counter for Psycho T in the paint.
Likely To Be Guarded By: Villanova's Dante Cunningham
Bread-and-Butter Play: "This one is a 'Post Iso' that's part of Carolina's secondary break, which it's been running for years. Hansbrough is usually in the trail position, and here he'll get some indication from Ty Lawson to cut down to the right block, at the same time Danny Green is coming up from the right corner to receive the ball near the key. Both he and Wayne Ellington do this play; once Green receives the ball, he'll dribble right, and look to feed Hansbrough, who's trying to seal off his man in the post. What you'll also see is Deon Thompson lifting up for an open shot if his man stays in the post to help on Hansbrough; and if that's not there, Lawson and Thompson will set staggered screens for Ellington coming out of the left corner."
Scouting Points on Hansbrough:
• "We told our guys, the first thing you have to do is get Hansbrough off the block. If you let him post you deep, he'll score. You have to fight him and move your feet. If he catches the ball, stay down and don't go for his shot fake. Then you put your chest into him and go up with two hands, straight up. If you put your hands straight out they'll call a foul, so you have to keep them up and move him with your chest."
• "He's so hard to ref, because he's creating contact on almost every play when he has the ball. That's just the nature of his game, and you're going to get pulled into it. When he's on defense, though, he's really not that physical at all. He doesn't want to get into foul trouble, so he's not overly aggressive."
• "He's always working to get position, unlike some big guys that will just stand around. Carolina is so good in its motion, when it's just playing without any sets, after the break. If you picture Lawson being on one wing with the ball, and Hansbrough on the other side -- what happens a lot of times is, the guy guarding Hansbrough will stare the ball, and Hansbrough will just cut right across his guy's face to the ball, and post up quick."
Scottie Reynolds, PG, Villanova (15.2 ppg, 3.3 apg)
Why He Matters: North Carolina's defense has been vulnerable against combo guards who can create off the dribble.
Likely To Be Guarded By: Carolina's Ty Lawson
Bread-and-Butter Play: "They have a set called 'Spread,' where Reynolds has the ball, and he's one of four guys on the perimeter, with two on each side of the floor. [Dante] Cunningham is the lone man in the post. Reynolds will make a pass [top left], stay on the side away from the ball, and then after three passes, it gets back to him. This is when Cunningham runs out of the post and sets a 'sprint' ballscreen for Reynolds [as seen at bottom left], with the option to either pop or roll [bottom right]. These ballscreens for Reynolds are a huge component of what they do."
Scouting Points on Reynolds:
• "He's really heavily right-handed. When he's trying to score, he's much more effective when he's going to his right hand off the dribble. When you push him left, his percentages go way down."
• "They'd prefer to have Reynolds operating from the left wing -- especially in that spread set. From there, he can drive to the middle with his right hand."
• "He likes to shoot behind ball screens, and he's also very good at creating contact and getting you to foul him. A lot of this is through his shot-fake, which he'll use on threes and even at the end of drives in the lane. Ideally you'd like to use a bigger guard on him who can challenge his shots -- and handle his shot-fake -- without leaving his feet."
The Tourney Playlist (Daily, free mp3s from Gorilla vs. Bear)
- 1. Wavves: So Bored
- 2. Ratatat: Mirando
- 3. Vetiver: Everyday
- 4. Bon Iver: Blood Bank
- 5. Dept. of Eagles: No One Does It Like You
- 6. Grizzly Bear: He Hit Me (Cover)
- 7. Bodies of Water: Gold, Tan, Peach ...
- 8. El Guincho: Palmitos Park
- 9. Swan Lake: A Hand At Dusk
- 10. No Age: Teen Creeps
- 11. Crystal Antlers: Andrew
- 12. Bosque Brown: Went Walking
- 13. Camera Obscura: My Modern Career
- 14. SALEM: Brustreet
- 15. VEGA: Well Known Pleasures
- 16. Crystal Antlers: Andrew
- 17. The Rosebuds: Life like
- 18. Music Go Music: Warm In The Shadows
- 19. Dan Rossen: Too Little Too Late
- 20. St. Vincent: The Strangers
- 21. Here We Go Magic: Fangela
- 22. Karl Blau: Mockingbird Diet
- 23. Chad Vangaalen: Willow Tree
- 24. Women: Black Rice
- 25. Nite Jewel: Weak For Me