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Is Michigan State Really The Underdog?

I'm as much of a sucker for heart-warming, underdog sports stories as the next guy, but can we please stop with the one about how if Michigan State beats North Carolina tonight for the National Championship, it will save the world--or at least Michigan's battered economy?

First off, yes, Michigan does have the highest unemployment rate of any state, at 12 percent. But, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment picture in North Carolina is also bleak: In fact, at 10.7 percent, it's actually the fourth worst in the country. What's more, South Carolina--which is home to a lot of UNC hoops fans (since the presence of a men's basketball team at the University of South Carolina remains an unverified rumor)--has the nation's second worst unemployment rate of 11 percent. So, if you take into account the unemployment rate in the Carolinas as a whole, Michigan doesn't exactly have a monopoly on misery.

Second, from a purely economic standpoint, I think you can make the case that Michigan State's presence in the Final Four has actually hurt the state of Michigan. While Detroit hotels and restaurants were expecting an influx of tourist dollars from the fans of all four Final Four teams, they've only gotten them from three of those team's fanbases since, presumably, most Michigan State fans are eating and sleeping at their homes. That's why people who really care about Michigan's economy were rooting for Louisville--with its legion of fat cat boosters--to beat Michigan State in the Elite Eight.

Finally, there's this little matter of Michigan State's basketball team, which, in the popular imagination, has suddenly morphed into Hickory High. And yet, Michigan State isn't exactly your classic underdog. Tom Izzo has established such a record of dominance at the school that, since he became the coach there 13 years ago, every player that he's had for the full term of their eligibility has gone to at least one Final Four. What's more, Michigan State, according to NCAA stats from 2007, spends significantly more money on its basketball program ($6,407,390) than UNC spends on its hoopsters ($5,632,518). As for the fact that Carolina wiped the floor with Michigan State just a few months ago, I have a two-word explanation: Goran Suton! The Bosnian Bomber was out with an injury for that game, and you have to figure he's worth at least 36 points to the Spartans.

All of which leads me to believe that if you really want to root for the underdog tonight, you should be rooting for UNC. Besides, as I pointed out a few weeks ago, it's the patriotic thing to do. Go Heels!

--Jason Zengerle