Detroit Michigan State has been itching for this do-over since December.
Not only is the NCAA title at stake when the Spartans play North Carolina on Monday night, Michigan State will be trying to avenge that 35-point beatdown the Tar Heels laid on them four months ago. It was the most lopsided loss for Michigan State since 1996, Tom Izzo’s first year as coach.
“We got embarrassed,” Kalin Lucas said after the 98-63 loss in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, also played at Ford Field.
Oh, how things have changed.
The Spartans (31-6) are an inspired bunch these days, playing for their third national title and the pride of their downtrodden state.
Few places have been hit harder by the economic crisis than Michigan, Detroit in particular, and folks are desperate for something to rally around, even if only for a few hours. The Spartans have been happy to oblige, knocking off not one, but two No. 1 seeds to get to the NCAA title game.
And now comes another in North Carolina (33-4). It will be the fifth meeting between the Tar Heels and Spartans in the NCAA Tournament, and North Carolina won the first four.
“I hope we were a ray of sunshine, a distraction for them, a diversion, anything else we can be,” Izzo said after the Spartans ran over Hasheem Thabeet and Connecticut in an 82-73 upset Saturday night. “We’re not done yet.”
The Spartans were a weakened bunch when they played the Tar Heels back in December. Center Goran Suton was out due to a knee injury, and Michigan State was playing its fourth game in a week. They managed to stay with Carolina early, but had fallen behind by 14 at the half and were thoroughly outmatched in the second half.
But Suton is back — way back. He led the rough-and-tumble Big Ten in rebounding, and was picked as the most outstanding player of the Midwest Regional after averaging a double-double in the first four games.