By this point, North Carolina's four factor profile is pretty well known. The Tar Heels are an offensive machine, yet to score below one point per possession in any game this year. The offense works because of an even balance across all four factors: offensive rebounding, taking care of the basketball, shooting percentage, and free throw attempts.
Unfortunately for Michigan State, the Spartan defense only seems capable of taking away one of the four factors from the Tar Heel offense: rebounding.
The Spartans' main weapon is the glass, and limiting the Tar Heels chances will likely be the only way they can slow down the UNC offense.
On the offensive side of the ball, a similar story emerges from the statistics. Michigan State has two main offensive strengths: offensive rebounding and free throw shooting. Since the Tar Heels' main defensive strength is not fouling their opponents, that leaves us again with rebounding.
The key to this game will indeed be rebounding. This is the one edge that Michigan State has on both sides of the ball. If they are to challenge the Heels, they will need to handily win the rebounding battle, both offensively and defensively.
A non-four factor key will be the defensive play of Travis Walton. Walton has been a thorn in the side of every team that the Spartans have played. He held Louisville's Terrence Williams to five points on 1-7 shooting and UConn's AJ Price to 15 points on 5-20 shooting.
Tom Izzo undoubtedly knows that Ty Lawson is the person on which Walton's talents will be best utilized, but can Walton lock down the ACC Player of the Year? If Lawson is slowed by Walton, can he still effectively run the offense? And can the other perimeter Tar Heels take advantage of Travis Walton not guarding them?
The Tar Heels have established their proficiency on offense along with a renewed interest in defense over the past three weeks. They have both the talent and statistical edge coming into the game. In addition, one of the most dominant Tar Heels in recent memory will be playing his last game in Carolina Blue. On the Spartan side, there is the 70,000 person crowd and the underdog mentality. The Spartans also have a tactical advantage, as Tom Izzo has proven he is one of the game's best at instituting game plans by beating defending champ Bill Self, Rick Pitino and Jim Calhoun in the past eight days.
The Spartans will have to play at the peak of their potential to beat the Tar Heels, continuing their outstanding defense and mastery of offensive and defensive rebounding. The Heels have the edge at nearly every position and in three of the four factors. Something unexpected will have to happen tonight to keep the Heels from ending Tyler Hansbrough's college career where it belongs, on top.
Prediction: North Carolina 85, Michigan State 78