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Tar Heels facing more than Spartans in title game

DETROIT (AP) — The bracket says North Carolina vs. Michigan State.

At times, though, the Tar Heels may feel like they’re going up against something more than just another basketball team.

From the coach on down, the Spartans (31-6) know a win in the NCAA title game on a court 90 miles from their campus won’t fix the state’s economic freefall, won’t put anybody back to work. But there will be 72,000 people in Ford Field, site of the Final Four, come Monday night. Most will be rooting for Michigan State.

And winning, as they say, can be contagious.

“When you go through hard times, you pray for something to get you out,” Spartans guard Travis Walton said. “I’m sure they didn’t pray for Michigan State to get to the Final Four or the national championship game, but they probably have been praying to have things to take their mind off of it.”

Michigan ranks 51st out of 50 states (and District of Columbia) in the latest unemployment figures. Detroit is the hub of an auto industry on life support, a civic symbol of an economic system that has come off the tracks.

That’s the backdrop for a game in which Michigan State finds itself a 7 1/2-point underdog against a Carolina team that has “national champs” practically inked across its uniforms.

Remember, this is the team that some thought could go undefeated this season when Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green all decided to return after a bad loss to Kansas at last year’s Final Four.

Undefeated was never on coach Roy Williams’ list of goals. Winning a championship, though? Always.

“If you thought it was easy, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Williams said. “It’s college basketball. There hasn’t been an undefeated team since ’76, and there have been some really, really good teams. I think this year there were eight or 10 teams or 12, I haven’t studied it, that could be playing Monday night.”