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Who has the edge?

Compiled by JOANNE KORTH and BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 3, 2000


THREE-POINT SHOOTING

Michigan State is converting a higher percentage in the NCAA Tournament -- 36 to 33 -- but cannot match Florida's number of three-point threats. The Spartans have Morris Peterson and A.J. Granger, a combined 18-for-41 in the tournament, but beyond that it's an oddity. Mateen Cleaves has nine threes in the tournament, but four came in a 4-for-7 effort against Utah in which the Utes dared him to shoot. Florida has eight legitimate three-point threats, led by Brett Nelson and Teddy Dupay, a combined 18-for-42. Even defensive specialist Major Parker is 4-for-6 in the tournament.

EDGE: FLORIDA

* * *

FREE-THROW SHOOTING

Florida has earned more trips to the free-throw line (129-105) but the Spartans are shooting a better percentage (79-72), led by Peterson's 100 (16-for-16). The Spartans' liability is Andre Hutson, who is 17-for-26. The Gators' liability is forward Donnell Harvey at 11-for-20, but even 80 percent career shooters Kenyan Weaks and Brent Wright struggled against North Carolina in the semifinals. Weaks was 1-for-4, including a pair of technicals, and Wright 2-for-4.

EDGE: MICHIGAN STATE

* * *

DEFENSE

Michigan State is ninth in the country in scoring defense at 58.5 points a game, a number that drops to 52.4 in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans play aggressive man-to-man and contest nearly every shot. But Florida's defense extends the entire length of the court. The full-court press not only forces turnovers, it disrupts opponents' half-court sets because it eats so much of the shot clock and forces teams to hurry. The Gators also do a good job switching and helping in their half-court man-to-man, where center Udonis Haslem is always ready to draw a charge.

EDGE: FLORIDA

* * *

REBOUNDING

Florida has gotten much better this season with the addition of Harvey, whom North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge called the best offensive rebounder the Tar Heels have faced. Of his 29 rebounds in the tournament, 12 are on offense. Versatile swingman Mike Miller leads the team with an 8.6 average, and Haslem and Wright scrap their way to 4.8 each. But Michigan State leads the nation in rebounding margin and holds a 6.2 advantage over opponents in the tournament. The Spartans rebound from every position, which means guard Charlie Bell -- whose 5.6 tournament average is second on the team -- could come up big on offense if Florida's guards cheat away for the fastbreak.

EDGE: MICHIGAN STATE

* * *

BENCH

Michigan State is deeper than most teams Florida has faced in the tournament -- namely Duke and North Carolina -- and will bring three quality players off the bench. Problem is, that still may not be enough. Those three -- Mike Chappell, Jason Richardson and Al Anagonye -- have scored 34 points in the tournament. Florida's five-player bench has scored 175, with little drop-off in talent from the starting five. Nelson was a member of the East Region all-tournament team and led the Gators with 13 points against UNC.

EDGE: FLORIDA

* * *

COACHING

Florida's Billy Donovan has made remarkable progress since taking over a program "bankrupt of talent" four seasons ago. His recruiting energy is unrivaled and he has proven to be a solid bench coach and motivator. He deftly shuffles 10 players in and out of the lineup, knowing just what combination works best in any situation. Michigan State's Tom Izzo has done nothing less, not only leading the Spartans to the Final Four last season, but bringing them back this season. This will be the first championship game for either coach, but Izzo has a smidgen more big-game experience.

EDGE: MICHIGAN STATE

* * *

INTANGIBLES

Florida insists its youth -- one senior, two juniors, four sophomores, four freshmen -- is not a factor this late in the season. And so far, the Gators have been pretty convincing. But it's hard to ignore the experience and senior leadership of Michigan State. Cleaves came back for his senior season to win the national championship, and he has delivered hsi team to the title game. The Spartans' starting lineup: three seniors and two juniors, a rarity in college basketball these days. In the closing minutes of a close game, that will make a difference.

EDGE: MICHIGAN STATE

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