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Tar Heels will be green with envy if Spartans win title

DETROIT – First, we should honestly appreciate the burden carried by the team in green Monday night.

Talk about Final Four pressure, the Michigan State Spartans are being asked to atone for General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Fannie Mae, Wall Street and Washington.

A compelling plot twist, isn’t it, how a gaggle of collegians is brightening the lives of laid-off assembly line workers and struggling shopkeepers?

But just a second. Won’t the guys in white be playing for something, too? That might be overlooked, amid the Spartans’ love-in going on at Ford Field.

Sunday was the day to inspect North Carolina for motivations. Find out what torch the Tar Heels carry, as they get in the way of Michigan State’s Hollywood ending.

“You know, if we’re playing against the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan, they outnumber us,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I do realize they have a cause. Well, we also have a cause. We want to win the national championship, period, the end.

“And if you would tell me that if Michigan State wins, it’s gonna satisfy the nation’s economy, then I’d say, ‘Hell, let’s stay poor a little longer.’ ”

Said UNC center Tyler Hansbrough: “I’m not looking at it as anything else but us playing Michigan State. All that other stuff is nothing that I’m paying attention to. It all boils down to playing for the national championship for both teams.”

Besides, this recession does not stop at Lake Erie. There are people hurting in Greensboro and Rocky Mount and Asheville, in North Carolina, same as there are in Flint and Pontiac and Battle Creek in Michigan.

Here in the last act, the main thrust of this NCAA Tournament has evolved in strange ways.

It was presumed to be a Big East showcase. But the national championship game has come, and the Big East has no more teams involved than the Ivy League.

Who would have ever predicted here on Dec. 3, as North Carolina ran Michigan State into the Detroit River 98-63, that they would meet again on the same stage in April? And when they did, the story line would have Michigan State turning into the 300 Spartans defending Thermopylae, and North Carolina into the invading Persians of King Xerxes?

“We got embarrassed,” said Michigan State leading scorer Kalin Lucas said after that December loss in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, also played at Ford Field.

Michigan State was exhausted (fourth game in seven nights), injured (Goran Suton was out and Delvon Roe was hurting) and not playing near its current level back then, though the coach figures if the Spartans had been in better shape, they still would have lost by 20.

“If we play good and they play good, we’re losing. That’s the way I look at it,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I mean, I don’t look at that in the negative. They are the best team in the country and have earned that ranking probably over the last year and a half.”

So the Spartans are desperate to win, surrounded by tens of thousands of admirers, and it makes a wonderful television promo.

Back in 2005, Hansbrough was at the national championship as a North Carolina recruit and stayed around to watch those Tar Heels cut down the nets. He noticed, as he said Saturday night, “how much a championship changed their lives.

“It’s been something that has been on my mind since I’ve been here.”

And this is his last chance, a constant All-American with enough awards to fill Ford Field but not the title that will validate his legacy nationally – fairly or unfairly – and leave no arguments for his detractors.

He has stayed long enough to be hallowed – and hated.

“I just want to win the national championship,” Hansbrough said. “I could care less if people say I’m a good player or a bad player.”

Think UNC’s Danny Green’s emotions won’t be radioactive Monday night?

Danny Sr. is here, finally free of prison and the parole rules that prohibited travel. For two years, to his son, he was only an occasional voice on the phone or name on a letter. Young Danny’s sophomore and junior seasons sped by, with no father to share the moments.

“For him not to be there made me grow up and become a man . . . quicker than I wanted to,” said Green. “He’s out there, for me anyway. I can see him. For him to be there means a lot.

“I know he’s proud of me, whatever happens.”

Monday, Danny Green could win a national championship with his father watching. When it is over, you will need a stopwatch’s tenths of seconds to measure how quickly Danny’s eyes go to the stands.

Meanwhile, Williams could match Dean Smith in titles.

Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington and Hansbrough and Green could complete the risky journey that began when they decided to wait for the NBA.

Lawson mentioned Sunday that he was playing this game in his dreams as a child “on my Fisher-Price court.” Green said it has been a fantasy for years.

“Now that we’re here, we can’t be kids anymore,” he said. “We have to be adults and focus on the game.”

The prize is in sight, and the Michigan State Spartans feel a raging fire to get there.

Monday night, they won’t be alone.



Michigan State (31-6) vs. North Carolina (33-4), 6:07 p.m. Monday. TV: CBS Radio: 790 AM

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