Who will win the national title?


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North Carolina

Last summer, North Carolina could’ve lost the following players to the NBA Draft — Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Danny Green, and Wayne Ellington. All of them decided to come back.

After getting smashed in the Final Four by Kansas last year, those guys could’ve taken the money and run. They didn’t. Instead, they’re all going to Detroit this weekend, along with the rest of their teammates and head coach Roy Williams to do one thing — win a national title.

The Tar Heels started this season being viewed as world-beaters. Even without the defensive prowess of Marcus Ginyard at its disposal, this team took its game to another level.

Hansbrough may not be the best player in college basketball, but that he stuck around for four years and became the ACC’s all-time leading scorer says a lot about his passion for the game and desire to win.

Lawson returned and became the ACC’s Player of the Year, and had he not suffered a toe injury earlier in the month, North Carolina probably would’ve won the ACC Tournament in addition to the regular-season crown.

Then came the doubters. People who originally picked the Tar Heels, but jumped ship when questions lingered about Lawson’s toe. All he did was exactly what any athlete in his situation would do — deal with the pain for the sake of his team.

Meanwhile, these doubters went ahead with such teams as Louisville and Pittsburgh, neither of which made it to the Final Four. Lawson now looks as good as ever, and North Carolina’s the consensus favorite again.

With Villanova and either Connecticut or Michigan State now being the only two obstacles in the way, there’s no doubt in my mind whether on April 6, the Tar Heels are going to cut down the nets and hoisting their second national title in five years.

Only then will the mission be accomplished for the school with the most NCAA Tournament victories and Final Four appearances of anybody in the history of college basketball.

— by Brendan Stiles


After a thrilling victory over Pittsburgh on March 28, Villanova is headed to its first Final Four since 1985. That year, the Wildcats pulled off the biggest upset in college basketball history by knocking off powerhouse Georgetown en route to winning a national title.

Now they are poised to cut down the nets once again — only this time it won’t come as a shocker. While they haven’t gotten as much hype as other Big East teams this season, they enjoyed an outstanding campaign, amassing a record of 26-7 under national Coach of the Year candidate Jay Wright.

It took a lay-up by junior guard Scottie Reynolds in the most dramatic of fashion against the top-seeded Panthers in the East Regional Final for the Wildcats to punch their tickets to Detroit as well as for people to notice exactly how good they are.

But Reynolds’ late-game heroics weren’t the only thing that allowed Villanova to clinch its fourth Final Four appearance in school history.

Senior forwards Dwayne Anderson and Dante Cunningham also contributed in a big way. Anderson scored a team high 17 points in Villanova’s win. Cunningham, arguably the nation’s most improved player, scored 14 points despite being seemingly overmatched against a tenacious Pitt frontline.

Perhaps the most astonishing statistic was Villanova’s 22-of-23 shooting performance from the free-throw line — but don’t be surprised if the Wildcats continue to shoot the ball well from the charity stripe in the Final Four. They have shot free throws at a tremendous 75 percent clip this season.

Villanova features an array of athletic guard/forward hybrids, which will scare any opposing team this time of the season — especially when its next opponent is North Carolina. The Tar Heels have struggled against athletic guards who specialize in dribble penetration.

If the Wildcats are able to emerge victorious, they will likely get a chance for revenge in the title game against Connecticut. After losing by just six points on the road against the Huskies earlier this season, you know that is a scenario that has the Wildcats licking their chops — or paws.

— by Jordan Garretson


Connecticut is going to win the NCAA national championship this year for one huge reason.

Games are won on the defensive end, and with a guy such as Thabeet in the middle, the Huskies’ backcourt can be shabby at best and still win.

Why? Because even if their man beats them off the dribble, he will have to maneuver his way around the monstrous wingspan of the junior from Dar Es Salaam, one of the single most feared defenders this season. Don’t expect those two injured fingers to keep him from swatting the ball into the 10th row.

While Thabeet controls the defensive end, senior A.J. Price controls the offense. Since team leader Jerome Dyson went down with an injury, Price has picked up the slack, averaging almost 20 points per game.

The reserves also play a huge factor, especially in March (and the beginning of April), when the guy at the end of the bench could go in to make the game-winning shot.

With freshman sensation Kemba Walker, Craig Austrie, and Stanley Robinson in the mix, Connecticut is as dangerous as it has been all year. Walker’s 23 points against Missouri was a defining moment in the tournament, and if he continues at that pace, Michigan State won’t stand a chance.

The Huskies also have the swagger and toughness that come from competing in the Big East, a league chock-full of talent. They made it through that buzz saw, finishing the regular season with a 15-3 record in the Big East.

Last weekend, when UConn beat Missouri, 82-75, the Huskies left their scissors in the first-aid box, instead opting to wait until the championship to take that climb up the ladder.

— by Jake Krzeczowski

Michigan State

Did you know no coach has made more Final Four appearances in the last 11 years than Tom Izzo? Not Jim Calhoun, not Jay Wright, not even Roy Williams — with Kansas and North Carolina. Izzo is the “rizzo dizzo” (real deal) when it comes to coaching at tournament time.

No team in the stacked Big East could slow Louisville’s phenomenal guards nor could they break the Cardinals’ stifling full-court pressure. Michigan State did both.

Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Travis Walton fueled the Spartans’ hyper-aggressive man-to-man attack, limiting Louisville stud Terrence Williams to a feeble five points.

In the post, UConn big man Hasheem Thabeet has made his presence felt through four tournament games, averaging 12.8 points and 11.3 rebounds.

However, judging by his performance against Louisville, Spartan center Goran Suton should be able to hold his own against his 7-3 counterpart.

To make things even sweeter for Michigan State, the Final Four is in Detroit — around a 90-minute drive from East Lansing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Izzo turning this into a basketball remix of “300,” as he defends Sparty from the invading blue-clad armies of the East.

This Final Four also marks the 30-year anniversary of Magic Johnson’s legendary 1979 national championship run with the Spartans — which they made as a two-seed.

Last, there is no possible way I’m the only Big Ten homer in Iowa City. Though Iowa is not involved, I think religiously cheering for the likes of North Carolina or UConn automatically cancels your pledge of allegiance to the Black and Gold. You might as well fly the Union Jack on the Fourth of July.

I know it’s hard to cheer for a team that twice smoked our beloved Hawkeyes — believe me, I’m about as cool with Sparty as I am with Cy — but let’s suck it up and do the right thing by pulling for the team representing our conference — the team that’s going to win it all.

— by Zach Smith

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