04/01/09 — Opinion -- Tar Heels are a different team

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Opinion -- Tar Heels are a different team

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on April 1, 2009 1:46 PM

Two wins from a fifth national championship, North Carolina is far removed from its 0-2 start in Atlantic Coast Conference play and the belief that the Tar Heels were inept defensively.

After watching opponents shoot 45 percent or better in each of its four losses, North Carolina has held its first four NCAA tournament foes to 77 points or less.

In two of those four losses, the Tar Heels were torched for 30-plus point performances by Wake Forest's Jeff Teague and Maryland's Greivis Vasquez. North Carolina has yet to be burned by a similar individual performance in the tournament while allowing just two 20-plus point efforts.

Despite the absence of arguably their best defender, Marcus Ginyard, the Tar Heels have forced double-digit turnovers in each of their first four tournament games.

While Tyler Hansbrough was held to only eight points in North Carolina's Elite Eight meeting with Oklahoma, the Tar Heels allowed just 60 points as the Sooners shot 2-for-19 from 3-point range.

Saturday will mark North Carolina's 18th Final Four appearance and the Tar Heels will be the only team in Detroit with players on their roster who have previous Final Four experience.

Follow the leader: Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, perhaps one of the more under-rated coaches in the country, will make his fifth final four appearance in the past 11 years on Saturday.

Every Izzo recruit who has stayed in East Lansing for all four years has reached the Final Four at least once. That's serious selling power while sitting in the living room a starry-eyed high school kid considering Michigan State as a potential suitor.

Before the season began, Izzo wrote the words "Ford Field" -- the site of this year's Final Four -- on a dry-erase board. Now the Spartans will realize the dream of playing just 90 miles from their campus on Saturday night in front of what's sure to be a boisterous sea of green and white.

This season also marks the 30th anniversary of Michigan State's first national championship run spearheaded by Magic Johnson.

With unemployment rates in Detroit skyrocketing and hope dwindling, a Spartans national title could leave folks in Michigan feeling not blue, but green.

Big Boys Only: Four the second year in a row the Final Four has an "adults only" feel with a comfortable absence of a kids table tucked away in the corner.

Last season all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four and Cinderella's noticeably missing once again.

Face it, Cinderella wouldn't make it past midnight with these four teams.

Connecticut overcame controversy and a scrappy Missouri squad to reach Detroit. Villanova knocked off Big East foe and top-seeded seeded Pittsburgh to reach the national semifinals.

Michigan State sent No. 1 overall seed Louisville packing to earn a virtual home game. North Carolina survived Blake Griffin on its way to a record 18th Final Four appearance.

Four big-time programs on college basketball's biggest stage.

Eat your heart out Cinderella.