Still, give the Spartans the proverbial "puncher's chance" in this one. MSU is playing 'lights out' defense and if that trend continues, they have a shot at tilting several key matchups in their favor tonight against heavily favored North Carolina.
Here's the way GSN see the key matchups that will affect the outcome of this contest.
The injury to MSU's Idong Ibok (dislocated elbow) affects this matchup more it appears at first glance. Ibok, a 7-footer, would have given North Carolina's Hansbrough (18.1), a different look and five more fouls but he's out for the season.
Still, MSU's Naymick has been one of the Spartans top defenders and was robbed of a position on the Big Ten's All-Defensive team. Naymick must avoid early foul trouble and stay on the floor while continuing to do a good job of picking his spots against Hansbrough, the Tar Heel's top scorer.
MSU may also attempt to run physical forward Marquise Gray into the mix to bump against the Tar Heels big man but Ibok's presence will be missed.
ADVANTAGE: TAR HEELS
MSU's experience against UNC's talent
With six freshman in the playig rotation, the Tar Heels have suffered from mental lapses due to inexperienced players in key roles. While Michigan State relies heavily on freshman forward Raymar Morgan, State is an experienced team that starts four upper classmen and has been through NCAA battles.
MSU needs junior guard Drew Neitzel to rise up and improve his scoring while providing a settling influence. Sophomore Travis Walton has grown into the point guard role and is making fewer mistakes. While Naymick and sixth man Goran Suton have reduced their mental errors and are playing solid basketball.
For North Carolina, senior forward Rayshawn Terry is the man providing the veteran leadership, but there's no question the Tar Heels firepower comes from inexperienced players.
Brandon Wright vs. Marquise Gray
Brute force meets brute force with a scoring touch. While MSU's Gray has improved steadily under the tutelage of former Spartan power forward Antonio Smith, he's no match for the inside post moves of Wright, the Tar Heels second leading scorer. However, if the Spartans can pound the boards, a Tar Heels weakness and get Gray out on the break, look out. Gray's power dunks can be demoralizing to the opposition.
ADVANTAGE: TAR HEELS
Raymar Morgan vs. Rayshawn Terry
With Neitzel in sort of a mini funk, Raymar Morgan has picked up the slack, hitting the 15 footer, slashing to the basket and powering dunks past the opposition.
Morgan will be contested by the senior Terry who will likely try to push him further off the block and out of his comfort zone. Morgan will have to put the ball on the floor and use his quickness to try expose his slower, more physical opponent.
Look for Terry to try to back down the lighter, quicker Morgan on the other end of the floor and get him into foul trouble. This is one of the key matchups of the evening.
Tom Izzo vs. Roy Williams
Izzo takes a back seat to no one when it comes to getting his team ready to play a key basketball game. The Spartans do not have the talent or the depth that the Tar Heels have, but MSU will come to play and leave it all on the floor, thanks in large part to the motivational tactics of Izzo.
We got a chance to ask Izzo if he still had a few buttons that he could use to motivate his players.
"I've got a couple in my hip pocket," laughed Izzo. I didn't want to use them all up, you never know when you've got to pull out something."
Look for the buttons to be pushed tonight in an attempt to win several key matchups that could push the Spartans to another Sweet Sixteen appearance.