Where: RCA Dome, Indianapolis
When: 9: 18, tonight
TV: Chs. 13, 9
How they got here: Michigan State received an automatic bid by winning the Big Ten tournament for the second straight year, and Florida received an at-large bid for the second straight year. The Spartans, the only top seed to advance past the Sweet 16, routed No. 16 Valparaiso in the Midwest Regional first round, 68-35, and then needed second-half rallies to defeat No. 8 Utah, 73-61; No. 4 Syracuse, 75-58; and No. 2 Iowa State, 75-64. The fifth-seeded Gators edged No. 12 Butler, 69-68, on an overtime buzzer-beater by Mike Miller. They then upset No. 4 Illinois, 93-76; No. 1 Duke, 87-78; and No. 3 Oklahoma State, 77-65, to win the East Regional.
Conference records: Michigan State was 13-3 in the Big Ten, earning a tie of the regular-season title with Ohio State. Florida finished 12-4 in the Southeastern Conference, tied with Tennessee and Kentucky for the Eastern Division regular-season title.
Rankings: Michigan State was ranked No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll behind Duke; Florida was No. 13.
Coaches: Tom Izzo is 119-48 in five seasons at Michigan State. Billy Donovan is 78-48 in his fourth season at Florida, 113-68 in his sixth season overall.
NCAA tournament records: Michigan State, which is 28-13 in 14 tournament appearances, is making its second trip to the championship game, winning in 1979. Florida is 14-6 and in its seventh appearance. This is the Gators' first title game.
What Michigan State has to do to win: The Spartans need Mateen Cleaves to get them past the press and into the frontcourt, where they have to finish their breaks. They have to maintain the best defense of the tournament, since Florida can't press after missed shots. An encore performance by Morris Peterson, who scored 20 points against Wisconsin, could carry State to the title.
What Florida has to do to win: The Gators must cause turnovers and create easy chances offensively. Because Michigan State's half-court defense is effective in shutting teams down, the Gators need to keep the tempo high.
Bottom line: Florida has more players, but Michigan State's starting five is better, more mature and hungrier. The Spartans have had this game as their focus since losing to Duke in last year's Final Four, and Izzo is 11-0 in the tournament as the favorite. They seem destined for their first national title since Magic Johnson.
Seeds for thought
Fifth-seeded Florida can become the fifth team seeded fourth or lower to win a title: No. 4: Arizona, 1997 No. 6: North Carolina State, 1983; Kansas, 1988 No. 8: Villanova, 1985
Record 29-7 31-7
Avg. Pts. 84.1 73.7
Opp. Avg. Pts. 68.3 58.5
Margin 15.8 15.2
FG Pct. .481 .472
Opp. FG Pct. .417 .392
3-Pt. FG Pct. .364 .374
Opp. 3-Pt. FG Pct. .323 .301
FT Pct. .707 .735
Rebound Margin 5.4 12.2
TO Diff. 3.2 -0.8
Avg Steals 10.0 6.6
Avg Blocks 3.9 2.7
Pub Date: 4/03/00