Commentary

Breaking down MSU vs. UNC

Originally Published: April 5, 2009
By Jay Bilas | ESPN.com
North Carolina and Michigan State meet in the national championship game on Monday. Here's the breakdown of their matchup.

What to look for: Michigan State has to stop the ball. There have been few teams, if any, that have been able to stop the ball when playing North Carolina. Michigan State has to corral Ty Lawson with multiple defenders in the open court, yet must also find Danny Green and Wayne Ellington.

[+] EnlargeRaymar Morgan
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesRaymar Morgan got off to a fast start against UConn, finishing with 18 points and nine rebounds.
Key matchup: Travis Walton versus Ellington. There is no question that Lawson is the most important player for North Carolina and that makes him the most important player in the game. And Tyler Hansbrough is the most productive player on the North Carolina roster. But I think that Michigan State has to stop Ellington. His ability to make shots is really important to North Carolina and Walton needs to guard him and lock him down. If Ellington can be held in check, Michigan State has a chance to win.

Key stat: Rebounding. Michigan State is the best rebounding team in the nation and the Spartans have to limit the Tar Heels to one shot and gain extra possessions by getting second shots on the offensive end. Michigan State gets over 40 percent of its misses, and it must outrebound North Carolina to win.

X factor: Raymar Morgan. With the confidence boost he got from his great play against UConn, Morgan should be feeling better about his game. In my UConn-Michigan State breakdown before the national semifinals, I told you that you cannot let Morgan get started with early success. UConn let him get started early, and he was a major difference in the game.

UNC's best attribute: Relentless transition attack. North Carolina runs at every opportunity, and seizes the tempo. This is the best offensive team in the nation, by far, going against one of the top 10 defensive teams in the country in Michigan State. Oh, and if you think that Carolina runs because they are a bunch of natural speedsters and greyhounds, think again. North Carolina works at it.

MSU's best attribute: Toughness. This team never gives up. The Spartans are very solid defensively and very disciplined offensively. Usually, Michigan State only struggles when it has difficulty making shots. MSU may be beaten, but the Spartans will not be outworked or outcompeted.

Beware of … Danny Green. While you are worried about Hansbrough in the post, Lawson in the open court and Ellington's offensive prowess, you can forget about Green's all-around ability. Green is the second-best 3-point shooter on the Carolina roster (which would make him the best on the Michigan State roster), and he can defend, pass and score. But Green can pick up some silly fouls and Michigan State needs to go right at him.

Biggest myth: That Michigan State is a pure "transition team." The Spartans can run and have great athletes, but this team is not the same kind of running team that Tom Izzo had in the early part of the decade. This team has to "run smart" and be opportunistic. And if anyone thinks that Michigan State can get into a running game with North Carolina and win, I have a bridge to sell you. Michigan State took advantage of UConn's poor transition defense and the "jogging back" of the Huskies' big men. North Carolina wants to run, and Michigan State needs to make the Tar Heels more of a half-court offensive team.

Don't forget: While we are all salivating over the speed and talent of Lawson, Michigan State's Kalin Lucas is the Big Ten Player of the Year and perhaps the second-fastest player end to end in this year's NCAA tournament. Lucas had 21 points and five assists against UConn and he can lead the Spartans in scoring against North Carolina.

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Jay Bilas

College Basketball analyst