Michigan State Spartans vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Michigan State Spartans (5-1 SU, 2-3 ATS) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (6-1 SU, 1-4 ATS), 9:00 p.m. EST, Tuesday, December 1, 2009, Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C. TV: ESPN
by Ryno of Predictem.com

Point Spread: Michigan State +3/North Carolina -3
Over/Under: N/A

The main event of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge is also a rematch of the 2009 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, as Michigan State travels to the Smith Center looking for revenge against North Carolina.

The Tar Heels are the reigning national champions, but they have lost a ton of talent since last season. Deon Thompson, Ed Davis and Marcus Ginyard, who redshirted last season, are the only returning players who really played key roles in the national title run. The Tar Heels have a very young team that includes sophomore starting point guard Larry Drew II, 7-footer Tyler Zeller and freshmen John Henson, Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, Travis Wear and David Wear.

Thompson is arguably the star of this team. The senior center is easily one of the best low post players in college basketball. He has an array of post moves, a soft mid-range jumper, good passing skills and very good rebounding ability. Thompson leads the team in scoring with 17.7 points per game to go along with his 8.9 rebounds, second on the team to Davis’s 9.9 rebounds per game.

UNC narrowly escaped with an 80-73 victory over Nevada at home on Sunday night in a game that the Tar Heels were trailing in late in the second half. But they pulled it out in the final minutes. Thompson really carried the Heels offensively with 23 points on 10-for-17 shooting. He also had eight rebounds and three assists. If it weren’t for Thompson’s scoring, the Heels easily may have lost the game. Drew had perhaps his best game of his career with 12 points, including a couple of clutch 3-pointers, 10 assists and only one turnover. Davis dominated as well with 16 points and 15 rebounds. The Heels as a team dominated down low, outrebounding the Wolfpack 44-34. When the Heels have a significant size advantage on their opponents, which will happen the large majority of the time, they are tough to beat. In their one game this season when their opponent matched up well size-wise, they lost 87-71 to Syracuse.

Michigan State has almost all of its key players back from its remarkable run in the NCAA tournament last season. Its only key losses were center Goran Suton, guard Travis Walton and power forward Marquise Gray. The Spartans have lofty expectations this season and started the season with a No. 2 ranking. Their first test was against Gonzaga, a game in which the Spartans were lucky to walk out with a victory. They won 75-71 and proceeded with two easy wins over Toledo and Valparaiso. But then the Spartans ran into Florida in the Legends Classic on Friday, and the Gators pulled out a tight 77-74 win in the final minute of the game. Michigan State bounced back the next day with a dominating 106-68 win over UMass. Against UMass, the Spartans shot 59 percent from the field and an incredible 14-for-22 from 3-point range.

Kalin Lucas, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, is leading the Spartans in scoring with 17.2 points per game. Durrell Summers, Chris Allen and Draymond Green have all been stepping up for the Spartans this season, averaging double digits in scoring. Raymar Morgan and Delvon Roe, both averaging about eight points per game, have been mildly disappointing this season. Both of them need to step up offensively for the Spartans to be successful. Off the bench, Korie Lucious is leading the team in assists with 5.3 per game and only 1.3 turnovers.

North Carolina is 1-4 ATS this season as a favorite. The Tar Heels are 0-4 ATS at home.

Ryno’s Pick: Michigan State has had two games against good competition and the Spartans haven’t played great in either one. They barely were able to get by a weaker Gonzaga team after trailing for most of the game. Against Florida, it was tight throughout the game and the Gators pulled it out at the end. This game could be a tight one as well, as Tom Izzo and Roy Williams, two of the best coaches in college basketball, try to pick up a huge non-conference victory. The Tar Heels have at least picked up wins over Ohio State and Nevada, despite not blowing either team out. The Tar Heels had a challenge in their win over Nevada in which they had to play well down the stretch to get the win. Michigan State is coming off an easy victory over a very weak UMass team. The difference in this game will be the size factor. The Spartans have the likes of Green and skinny freshman starting center Garrick Sherman down low, while the Tar Heels have what is likely the biggest team in the country. Morgan and Roe will have to step up and help out down low, but Thompson, Davis and Zeller will be too much. Take North Carolina -3.