Out of Bounds

A month where sports go to die, February offers a meaningless array of spring training games and NFL free agency news. The only thing left to comfort sports fans in this cold and depressing month is the possibility that LeBron James might drop 50 points on the Knicks.

Yet with March comes a month devoted to school pride, bracketology and madness - March Madness. As the NCAA tournament gets into full swing, sports fans finally can have something to look forward to.

This past weekend fans saw the once 64-team field of the NCAA tournament cut down to its final four.

On Saturday, No. 1 ranked Connecticut beat No. 3 Missouri 82-75, despite the dark cloud of the alleged recruiting violation scandal. Meanwhile, No. 3 Villanova upset No. 1 Pittsburgh by two points with an exciting last-second shot by Scottie Reynolds to win 78-76.

On Sunday, college basketball powerhouse No. 1 North Carolina beat Blake Griffin and his No. 2 Oklahoma team by 12 points to advance to its record 18th Final Four appearance. Earlier that same day, No. 2 Michigan State upset the top ranked Louisville Cardinals 64-52 to extend their bid for a national championship.

Now all eyes turn, with brackets in hand, to next weekend's semifinal matchups of Connecticut against Michigan State and North Carolina against Villanova.

Next Saturday's Connecticut/Michigan State game will not only put two talented teams, but two national championship coaches against each other.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo started off this decade with a championship in 2000, while Connecticut's Jim Calhoun is looking for his third national title after winning in 1999 and 2004.

Despite Izzo's motivational skills, a slight edge must go to UConn, who is playing as hard as anyone in the nation, led by a talented group of players including 7-foot-3-inch Hasheem Thabeet and senior guard A. J. Price. The game should be close, especially since Michigan State practically has home court advantage playing in their home state - a rarity in the tournament. When the dust clears I see Connecticut coming out on top, but not by much.

The North Carolina Tar Heels have been favored most of the year with charismatic senior Tyler Hansbrough leading the charge. Hansbrough returned for his senior season specifically to win a national championship, and he along with guard Ty Lawson will make it very hard for Villanova in next Saturday's matchup.

One thing that Villanova does have going for them is that they're playing in a low-pressure environment, as people will most likely pick the top-seeded Tar Heels.

In the end, North Carolina will likely prove too much for Villanova and advance to their fifth national title game.

The Final Four will start this Saturday with Michigan State versus Connecticut at 6:07 p.m. and North Carolina versus Villanova on CBS at 8:47 p.m.

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