Feinstein: North Carolina-Michigan State Title Game Could Have an Epic Feel

NCAA Final
Either North Carolina Coach Roy Williams, left, or Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo will win his second national title tonight in Detroit. (By Eric Gay -- Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By John Feinstein
Monday, April 6, 2009


If you were going to write a script for Monday's national championship game, it would go something like this: The forces of good are fighting to overcome the odds and spread light throughout the land against the forces of evil, who have all the power, speed, quickness and the experience.

Michigan State isn't just David taking on Goliath; it is David With a Cause. North Carolina has certainly played the role of the unbeatable giant throughout the NCAA tournament, wiping out one opponent after another with almost shocking ease.

The only problem with this story line is this: The Tar Heels aren't evil; they're just really, really talented.

"I'm as big a Tom Izzo fan as there is," North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said of the Spartans coach on Sunday. "I just won't be one on Monday night."

That's certainly not an unreasonable position. In a basketball sense, Williams and his team have as much at stake Monday night as Izzo and the Spartans do. The difference is the Tar Heels haven't become a national symbol in the past two weeks.

"We're the blue-collar team, and this is the blue-collar city," Izzo said after Michigan State beat Connecticut in Saturday's first semifinal. "We understand that this isn't just about basketball."

Izzo's right. Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun understood that after hearing the roars of the more than 72,000 people wedged into Ford Field. He spoke eloquently about what Izzo and his team had done for Detroit in the wake of the auto industry's downfall and all that has befallen the city economically in the past year.

Williams is every bit as sensitive as Calhoun. But on Monday he will be a basketball coach trying to win one of the biggest games of his life. His team was anointed as this season's probable champion before a shot was taken or a screen was set. He and his players have been candid about the fact that anything short of winning the national championship will be a disappointment.

"Last year we got to the Final Four, and we were just happy to be here," North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough said. "This year we won't be happy unless we come out of here as the winners."

By all logical basketball standards, they should. Their 83-69 victory over Villanova on Saturday was as much a clinic as it was a basketball game. The Wildcats, who had played so well on defense to get here, looked helpless at times as Carolina made 11 of 22 three-point attempts and then got the ball inside whenever it wanted with Ty Lawson constantly breaking down the defense and Hansbrough controlling the lane.

Even so, the old cliche that anything can happen in one game is true, although the last truly stunning upset was 12 years ago when Arizona took down Kentucky. This would not be an upset of Villanova-Georgetown or North Carolina State-Houston proportions, but it would certainly be remarkable.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company