March Madness: What a Win Means for UNC or Michigan State

The men's basketball tourney comes down to a matchup between 2 historic schools.

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So it's all come down to this: Michigan State University vs. the University of North Carolina for the championship in the 2009 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament. Both schools rank among the nation's most historic: North Carolina, founded in 1789, is America's oldest public university, while Michigan State, founded in 1855, was the country's first agricultural college. As they prepare to tip off on Monday night, both schools are looking to use their basketball success to boost their community profile.

The timing of the return to the championship game could hardly be better for Michigan State. It essentially gets the home-court advantage because the game will be played in Detroit. According to the State News, the Michigan State student newspaper, an estimated 5,000 Spartan fans partied along the Detroit riverfront Saturday night after the Michigan State victory over the University of Connecticut. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the classic championship showdown between Earvin "Magic" Johnson's Spartans and Larry Bird's Indiana State Sycamores. That match, won by Michigan State, remains the most-watched college game of all time.

A victory for Michigan State this year would do much to boost morale in a state that has been hard hit by the recession. On campus, the budget crunch is having an effect on students and programs. For example, Michigan State already has placed an admissions freeze on its music therapy major. Michigan's governor, Jennifer Granholm, has proposed a tuition freeze, but the details of how effective that will be depend largely on how much the state ultimately receives from the federal stimulus package.

For the Tar Heels, the championship game is a chance to prove that their domination of Michigan State when the two teams met earlier this season was not a fluke. If it's possible to underestimate North Carolina basketball, such was the case this year as colleges from the Big East conference—Pitt, UConn, Louisville—dominated the hoops talk and championship predictions. A Tar Heel win would give a huge boost to a campus that thrives on basketball. That becomes clear on Franklin Street whenever there's a basketball triumph: It turns into a sea of Carolina-blue body paint.

Carol Frey contributed to this article.