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The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Northern Star Sports Staff predicts the ‘Final Four’

University of Illinois fifth year guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) celebrates with graduate student guard/forward Marcus Domask (3) at the end of the Big Ten Championship game Sunday. Shannon Jr. and Domask are set to lead Illinois against Morehead State University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

The time has finally come for the biggest basketball event of the year: NCAA’s March Madness. Just like the Super Bowl, the Northern Star Sports Staff has returned to its prophetic ways to predict the Final Four of this year’s Big Dance. Join us as we accurately navigate our way through the insanity of March.


No. 3 Illinois vs No. 3 Baylor

No. 1 Houston vs No. 7 Texas

Honestly, I picked Illinois purely for my Illini fandom. Part of me truly believes guards Terrence Shannon Jr. and Marcus Domask can lead Illinois to the promised land, but head coach Brad Underwood has undermined his superstars in years past. Illinois has failed to advance past the Round of 32 in the last three years.

Shannon Jr. was named the Big Ten Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after scoring 102 combined points in his past three games. If he continues his scorching streak AND receives help from his supporting cast, I believe the Fighting Illini have a fighting chance.

I love the matchup between interstate opponents Houston and Texas. Houston has been one of the best teams in the country all year, finishing with a 30-4 overall record. After losing the Big 12 Tournament to Iowa State, they still boast one of the strongest rosters in the country.

I like Texas upsetting teams like Kansas and Creighton. I don’t know why, but I do. Go Longhorns.


No. 1 UConn vs No. 1 North Carolina

No. 3 Kentucky vs No. 4 Kansas

While March Madness offers a promise of opportunity to colleges across the country, a short list of powerhouse programs should continue to dominate the tournament in 2024.

Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina are three of five schools in history to reach the Final Four 15 or more times. All three have semi-finals appearances dating back to the 1940’s and all have made it within the past nine seasons.

UConn didn’t make a Final Four until 1999 but has since accumulated six semi-finals appearances and five championships, including last season’s victory.

All four prestigious programs have maintained a high standard of success this season, earning top four seeding in each of their respective regions.

Great players come and go in college sports, but the great athletic programs tend to stay rooted near the top.


No. 1 UConn vs. No. 1 North Carolina

No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Kansas

I have the No. 1 Huskies winning the East region. The defending NCAA champs are poised for another deep tournament run. Led by graduate guards Cam Spencer and Tristen Newton the Huskies will reach their second straight Final Four.

In the West region, I like the No. 1 Tar Heels to advance to the Final Four. This team is loaded with experience with graduate forward/center Armando Bacot and senior guard RJ Davis leading the way and is ready for a deep tournament run.

Led by standout freshman guard Rob Dillingham and fifth year guard Antonio Reeves, I believe the No. 3 Wildcats will conquer their recent NCAA tournament woes and win the South region to reach their first Final Four since 2015.

I like the No. 4 Jayhawks to come out of the Midwest region. Senior center Hunter Dickinson leads Bill Self’s squad. After an early tournament exit in 2022-23, the 2021-22 NCAA champs are ready for a deep run.


No. 4 Auburn vs No. 1 North Carolina 

No. 4 Duke vs No. 4 Kansas

Out of the 64 teams competing within the March Madness tournament I believe Auburn, North Carolina, Duke and Kansas will reach the Final Four. 

North Carolina has 21 Final Four appearances, Duke has 17, Kansas has 16 and Auburn has one. Every team has won the tournament except Auburn. 

Led by junior forward/center Johni Broome, Auburn is 13th in the NCAA in scoring offense this season. The Tigers also have a deep and balanced roster, averaging 34.1 bench points per game – 4th in NCAA. 

North Carolina also had a top-25 offense this season, charged behind 21.4 points per game from senior guard RJ Davis. UNC proved they can beat high-level programs following a 6-2 record against top-25 teams this season. 

Duke provides a balanced offense with all five starters averaging more than 10 points per game. Sophomore center Kyle Filipowski leads Duke in scoring averaging 17.1 points per game.

Kansas had 7 top-25 wins including a 78-65 victory over No.1 seed Houston. If Kevin McCullar Jr. and Hunter Dickenson are healthy the Jayhawks will be a tough team to stop. 


No. 3 Illinois vs No. 2 Arizona 

No. 1 Houston vs No. 3 Creighton

Illinois was a decision made more with my heart than my brain. Despite winning the Big Ten Championship, this team is all over the place. If they play at their max potential, I think they can do it, but that’s a big if. 

Arizona averages 15.7 more points per game than their opponents and has been a dominant offensive force all season. If senior guard Caleb Love delivers in the tournament, they will go far. 

Led by senior guard Jamal Shead, the Big 12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, Houston has the potential to make it far in the tournament. They were the regular season champions from the Big 12 and have the skill to beat even the most talented teams.

Creighton holds a 14-6 regular season record in Big East play, despite playing in a good conference against other very good teams. They have a powerful offense with three point shooting that can beat out strong defenses.


No. 2 Iowa State vs No. 1 North Carolina

No. 3 Kentucky vs No. 1 Purdue 

In the East/West championship showdown, I have six-time NCAA champion North Carolina facing off against Iowa State. UNC has a rich history of March Madness dominance, remaining at the pinnacle since the era of former head coach Dean Smith and boasting the most NCAA Tournament victories. 

Despite a single Final Four appearance in program history, Iowa State is making its third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance for the third time in program history and is two years removed from a Sweet Sixteen berth. 

Another decorated program in Kentucky pulls off an upset over Houston to advance to the Final Four in my bracket. Kentucky has the best all-time winning percentage and the most NCAA titles. They’ll run into another No. 1 seed in Purdue. Purdue has dominated the Big Ten scene for the better half of its history and much like Iowa, made the Sweet Sixteen just two seasons ago. 


No. 1 UConn vs. No. 3 Illinois

No. 1 Houston vs. No. 2 Marquette

My devotion to basketball may be underwhelming, I can’t discount defending champion UConn in any bracket. The Huskies remain as stingy as ever after holding its opponents to an average of 64.4 points per game this season.

Facing UConn for the right to play for the title will likely be the Fighting Illini of Illinois. The newly-crowned Big Ten champion, Illinois is set to go dancing with the country’s eighth-best offensive production, averaging 84.4 points per game.

Over in the South region, I envision Marquette making enough waves to join the ranks of the last four teams standing. Though the Golden Eagles don’t stand out in any statistical categories on a nationwide scale, they’re my Cinderella of the Final Four if the bar is set at the No. 2 seed.

Rounding out my projected Final Four is my pick for this year’s national champion – the Houston Cougars. The Big 12 runners-up boast the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense and have the postseason experience to back up what should be a breakthrough to championship glory.


No. 2 Iowa State vs. No. 1 North Carolina

No. 11 NC State vs. No. 3 Creighton

NC State is going to be the big Cinderella run of this tournament. They ran through the ACC en route to an ACC Championship, winning five games in five days. The Wolfpack’s momentum will carry over into the tournament, leading them to the Final Four. 

Creighton has had many deep runs in the NCAA tournament in the past few years and its prior experience will help it win its Final Four matchup versus NC State.

Iowa State has been one of the best and most consistent teams in the nation to end the season, and it capped off its season with a Big-12 Championship. The Cyclones are efficient on offense and have a strong defense and they will make a deep run in this year’s tournament.

North Carolina is one of the most storied programs in college basketball, and following a disappointing performance in the ACC Tournament, the Tar Heels will bounce back with a tournament run that ends in the Final Four.


No. 4 Duke vs No. 4 Kansas

No. 3 Illinois vs No. 1 North Carolina

North Carolina is one of the big favorites in the tournament as they have dominated consistently throughout the season. The team has a lot of history and wants to continue that by winning this year’s championship.  

Duke is a huge contender for this year’s NCAA Tournament as they have a current record of 15-5 showing the capability of making it to the Final Four. Their offense has been effective on the court this season which could be effective in their run in the playoffs. 

As for Illinois they have a current record of 26-8 overall and a 84.4 average points per game. And with the likes of Terrence Shannon Jr. who has been frequently scoring points in his recent games and all season on the team it can bring them a spot in the Final Four. 

Kansas has the potential to make it far if they have their players fully recovered and healthy. Although they have injuries they are a team filled with a lot of history and could possibly shock everyone in this tournament. 

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