UNC/Michigan State Basketball Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 12/03/2008
The North Carolina Tar Heels men's basketball team is a soulless killing machine.
The cold, steely efficiency with which this team operates is chilling, and I can't say that I've seen anything quite like it in the past several years. North Carolina doesn't beat people: they overwhelm them, sending wave after wave of angry, athletic rams to rampage over opponents for the longest 40 minutes those teams will play.
And now tonight the Tar Heels bring their circus of calculated cruelty to Ford Field in Detroit to dance with the (formerly) mighty Michigan State Spartans. North Carolina has been instilled as a nine-point favorite and the game tips off at approximately 9:15 p.m.
That the Tar Heels are favored is not a surprise. But the fact that the No. 1 team in the land is laying nearly double-digits on the road to the No. 12 team in the land is just the second-most shocking thing about this spread. The first is that my initial thought on the line was that it wasn't nearly enough.
The Tar Heels are 7-0 this season, winning their games by an average of 29.7 points per game. And even if you kick out a 68-point maiming that they tossed UNC-Asheville on Sunday - yeah, that was 68 points - the average margin is still 23.3 points. And we're not talking about a bunch of lightweights from the Southern Conference. UNC laid one on Notre Dame - probably the second-best team in the nation's best conference - on Kentucky, and on probable NCAA Tournament team UC Santa Barbara. And here is the kicker: the Tar Heels have been running roughshod without the full services of two of their best players, Tyler Hansbrough and Marcus Ginyard.
Dating back to last year's devastating tournament run (that is, until they ran into Kansas) they have won 11 of 12 games by an average of 28.1 points. Further, 17 of their last 20 wins (in 21 games) have come by at least 10 points. Again: a soulless killing machine.
So does Michigan State stand a chance tonight? It's actually pretty simply - no, they don't.
Michigan State has been one of the most erratic top-tier teams in the country over the past several years. They always seem to play their best with their backs against the wall, mixing in excellent efforts against other top competition in with curious collapses against seemingly inferior foes. And so far the 2008-09 version of Sparty has been no exception. Just last week they were handed an 18-point beat down from a Maryland team that will be lucky to be in the NIT next March. And now State has to tangle with the top team in the land, and there is little doubt that they will bring their best game.
But it won't be enough. Unfortunately, Michigan State doesn't have anywhere near the depth that is needed to run with the rams. Their top interior presence and leading returning rebounder, Goran Suton, won't be suiting up and their ace freshman forward, Delvon Roe, somewhat limited with sore knees. That leaves just four upperclassmen and six of their top eight to matchup with a team with five returning starters from last year's Final Four team and three starters form the 2006-07 Elite Eight squad.
North Carolina simply wears teams down. UC Santa Barbara played inspired ball and actually hung around against the Heels. That was until an early second-half burst turned an eight-point lead into an 18-point cushion. The same thing happened to Notre Dame, who went from down six to down 13 to down 21 faster than you can say "Harangody".
UNC will allow teams to score. They encourage clubs to take "easy" shots on offense, because they know that a possession war will end the same way these other games do. Even when opponents manage to score, the Heels transition from defense to offense as fast as any team I've ever seen. In fact, count how many times tonight a UNC player takes the ball out of the net after a made Spartans basket, whips a pass up court to a streaking teammate, and said teammate is at the glass laying one in before more than three Spartans are past half court. I put the over/under at 6.5.
Carolina is 37-14 against the spread in their last 51 nonconference games and 47-21 ATS against teams with a winning percentage over .600. They always seem to play their best game against the best competition. And even though Raymar Morgan and Kailin Lucas will do everything they can to keep themselves and the pro-Spartans crowd into the game, I have a feeling that you'll be able to get up for several beer runs during this one without worrying about missing the action.
The Tar Heels win big, and the calculated circus marches on.