No. 4 Michigan State meets No. 9 North Carolina for early-season title (Nov 26, 2017)
Two of the greatest coaches in college basketball history will square off in the championship game of one of the biggest college basketball tournaments ever Sunday when No. 4 Michigan State faces ninth-ranked North Carolina in the championship game of the Victory bracket of the Phil Knight 80 Invitational.
Michigan State's Tom Izzo will be looking for his first victory against a Roy Williams-led North Carolina squad. Williams has had the huge edge in the series, posting a 9-0 record.
North Carolina (5-0) is led by Luke Maye -- a sudden favorite for the National Player of the Year -- Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson. Michigan State (4-1) has one of the best players in the country in Miles Bridges while Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson Jr. make up a dynamic duo down low.
Maye has arguably been the best player of the tournament, averaging 24 points and 13 rebounds per game. His ability to shoot outside with his smart post game has proven too much for opposing defenses to handle.
"The young man is really, really intelligent and he's finally starting to play basketball with his brain involved too," Williams said.
Maye will be challenged by the duo of Ward and Jackson Jr. as both players are athletic enough to come out and guard Maye at the three-point line yet also big enough to not be bullied down low.
Berry struggled with his shot in Friday's 87-68 win against Arkansas in the second round. But his ability to attack and get to the rim allowed him to get to the free throw line, where he shot 7-of-8. Pinson doesn't shoot much but he's the glue guy for the Tar Heels, coming up with a near triple-double against Portland and then shutting down Arkansas' Daryl Macon in the next game.
"We have so many guys that can score," Maye said. "Theo and Kenny (Williams) and Joel are all capable of hitting shots, getting to the basket. It's really tough to guard all four of us at the same time."
The Tar Heels will have their hands full when they attempt to slow down Bridges and unsung star Cassius Winston. Winston was phenomenal in Michigan State's 77-57 win over UConn on Friday, finishing with a career-high 28 points on 12-of-15 shooting. His elite quickness allowed him to break down defenders and attack the rim or create space for open jumpers.
"It's the best I felt in a little while. I had that confidence that things would fall and everything was happening. I felt really good out there," Winston said. "It's crazy. There's nothing like that. You feel like everything you throw up could go in."
Bridges is the wild card.
He missed the tournament-opener with a sprained ankle but returned against UConn. Although he only scored six points, he did play 17 minutes and shot 3 of 4 from within the three-point line.
"I just don't know where we are quite yet with Miles," Izzo said. "He's going to be fine but he's not going to be Miles that he was, yet."
With Bridges healthy, the Spartans are a completely different team.
They're a lot more balanced offensively because he bridges that gap between Winston and the guards with Ward and Jackson Jr.
These teams last met in 2013 when the Tar Heels dominated then-No. 1 Michigan State 79-65.