Brackets? We don’t need no stinkin’ brackets!

Both of our fearless Final Four experts have picked Villanova and Virginia, so it’s up to the Tar Heels, Blue Devils, Spartans and Boilermakers to see who wins the third annual Shield Final Four challenge


The Blue Devils faithful went nuts when the Dukies battled the Tar Heels on Feb. 14, 2001. Now the two teams will help decide who wins the Shield Final Four Challenge. Photo by Max Masnick, posted to Flickr. Reposted with permission.

Julie Robertson and Steven Tibbetts, Fearless Final Four Prognosticators

It’s an annual tradition three years running. An intrepid male staff member goes toe-to-toe with lifelong college basketball fan and Shield editor Julie Robertson to see if he can pick more Final Four teams than Julie. We make it harder on the prognosticators by having them lock in their predictions BEFORE Selection Sunday. It takes a real sports expert to pick the Final Four without BRACKETS. In 2016, Ben Brown took the challenge. In 2017, it was Miles Hansen. Each of these worthy challengers graduated to avoid having to battle Julie a second time. Now, junior upstart Steven Tibbetts is stepping up to accept the challenge.  Here are Julie and Steven’s picks.


Villanova head coach Jay Wright speaks at the Philadalphia victory parade after the Wildcats won the 2016 NCAA men’s basketball championship. Photo by Jared Piper, Philadelphia City Council. Posted to Flickr. Reposted with permission.

VILLANOVA: Once again, this northeastern powerhouse is making it to the top of the AP poll, taking its stand at No. 3. This team will inevitably be in the NCAA Final Four in my opinion because of its dominant play. It can be fairly argued, however, that this team lacks depth. That could come to haunt them come tournament time. If just a couple of their players get hurt, the Wildcats could tire in the long run. If the team can avoid injuries, however, Jalen Brunson, the nation’s top college player averaging a blistering 19.1 points per game, could prove to be unstoppable. Their head coach, Jay Wright, knows how to make his team work in tough situations, and that’s a big advantage in the NCAA tournament.

Virginia has a dominant defense that can crush other teams.

— Julie Robertson

VIRGINIA: Virginia has recently come out on top of the AP polls. It is easy to understand why the team can easily hang with the typical powerhouses this March Madness season. Virginia has a dominant defense that can crush other teams. Head coach Tony Bennett makes defense a priority. They also have the power to put up big numbers against their opponents and can go for long runs and score points in bunches against any team. The lead scorer Kyle Guy averages 14.3 points per game, followed by Devon Hall who averages 11.7 points and 4.3 rebounds. Also averaging double figures is Ty Jerome (10.5 points per game). With these  dynamic players, Virginia is sure to make the Final Four. 

Tom Izzo’s Spartans were seeded No. 1 in the Big Ten tournament but a loss in the semifinals to hated rival Michigan may have ended any hopes Sparty had for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Photo by Flickr user, MGoBlog. Posted to Creative Commons. Reposted with permission.

MICHIGAN STATE: Despite Michigan State’s off-the-court issues this season, the Spartans have still proven they are a force to be reckoned with this March. Tom Izzo is making sure that his team is ready for an NCAA tournament appearance with star players such as Miles Bridges who is putting up 16.8 points per game. Nick Ward is also averaging 13 points per game, and Cassius Winston is close to that mark at 12.5 points per game. Once Michigan State gets going, it’s offense can be unstoppable which is what makes it dangerous and a compelling choice to make it all the way to the Final Four in San Antonio.

DUKE: As much as it pains me to put Duke in my Final Four bracket, I cannot ignore the talent that this East Coast team has. Year after year, powerhouse players are produced out of Duke’s basketball program that win big games done and ensure that the Blue Devils are in the hunt for an NCAA championship. Top players Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley III each put up over 15-22 points per game. Duke is able to stay balanced offensively and defensively which makes them very compelling choice to make it to San Antonio even though I will be rooting against them.


Can Roy Williams and the Tar Heels defend their national title? A 74-69 victory over Duke in the ACC tournament semifinal is a sign that they might. Photo by Flickr user, Kevin813. Posted to Creative Commons. Reposted with permission.

NORTH CAROLINA: I’m going to start with the team I am most confident in to make the Final Four this year, and the reason I’m so confident in the Tar Heels being one of the last four teams standing is because they have been there the past two seasons. The five Tar Heels who have played the most minutes this year, Joel Berry II, Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, Cameron Johnson, and Theo Pinson, are all juniors or seniors meaning they have already made two trips to the national title game and are looking for a third straight this year. Leading the way is Maye, a junior forward who is averaging 17 points, 10 rebounds, and a block a game, but the other four starters are all averaging 10 plus points a game, so even if one or two of them have an off night, they should still be able to scrape out a wins until the Sweet 16. Though a rocky, nine-loss season will probably leave North Carolina as a two seed and give them a tougher path in the tournament, the Tar Heels’ experience and depth should be able to carry them into the Final Four and possibly farther. In my mind, North Carolina is not only a Final Four team, but the favorite to finish as national champions.

Not only does Villanova have the best offense in all of college basketball, but they are the best team in the nation.

— Steven Tibbetts

VILLANOVA: Not only does Villanova have the best offense in all of college basketball, but they are the best team in the nation. If you thought North Carolina having five players averaging 10 plus points per game was impressive, Villanova has six, led by junior guards Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Brunson leads the Wildcats in points (19) and assists (5) per game, while Bridges averages 18 points, six rebounds and a block. Both Brunson and Bridges have a lot of tournament experience as both were on the Villanova team that beat North Carolina in the national championship game two years ago. Last year though, the Wildcats, who came into the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, were knocked out in the second round by Wisconsin. If Villanova wishes to repeat their success from two years ago and avoid the early round shock from a year ago, the Wildcats must start playing better on the defensive side of the floor. If they can do that, and I think they will, Villanova could find themselves in a championship game rematch against North Carolina from two years.

Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers are the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament, the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, and almost assuredly a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament after they defeated UNC to win the ACC tournament  on Saturday night. Photo by Jerome Carp, posted to Flickr Creative Commons. Reposted with permission.

VIRGINIA: Unlike Villanova, Virginia prides itself on its outstanding defense. Although the team’s offense is the worst among my Final Four picks, the Cavaliers defense is the best in the nation, which has led them to the best record in the NCAA. The Cavaliers love to slow the pace of the game down and keep a bunch of their players close to the rim on defense, a strategy that helped them lose only one conference game this season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the second best conference in the nation. Kyle Guy, Devon Hall, Ty Jerome, and Isaiah Wilkins lead the way for the Cavaliers with Guy averaging the most points (14), Wilkins the most rebounds (6), and Jerome the most assists (4). With a 30-2 record on the year, it’s safe to say Virginia had the best regular season in the nation, but I do worry about how they will fare come tournament time. The slow pace the Cavaliers like to play with makes early-round upsets more plausible. Virginia’s offense is also prone to falling apart every once in a while, like it did in last year’s tournament in a 65-39 loss in the second round to Florida. If Virginia can make it through those first couple of rounds, though, they should be favored against almost every team in the country.

Purdue lost in the Big 10 championship game last Sunday. The team finished second in the regular season and second in the Big 10 tournament. Most pundits have them as a No. 2 seed in the tournament as well. Photo by Flickr user, MGoBlog. Posted to Flickr Creative Commons. Reposted with permission.

PURDUE: I’ve saved my least confident pick for last in Purdue. Although the Boilermakers have four seniors in their starting five and the team has made the tournament in all of the past three years, these players have only made it past the first round once and that was last year when they lost to Kansas in the Sweet 16. This year, however, Purdue looks like they might be ready to make another step forward and make it to the final four. The two Edwards have been impressive for the Boilermakers this year with sophomore guard Carsen Edwards scoring an average of 19 points per game while senior forward Vincent Edwards is racking up seven rebounds a game. Purdue is the type of team that takes care of business against weaker opponents as they have only lost twice this year to unranked competition. You can also expect Purdue to at least be in contention in games when it gets down to the Sweet 16. Of the five games the Boilermakers have lost this year, all of them have been within four points. If Purdue can begin to win some of these close games, they will be able to book a trip to San Antonio for the Final Four.

Who are your picks to make it to San Antonio? Post them here to see if you can beat Julie and Steven. If you want to play fair, though, you need to make your selections before the bracket is announced 5 p.m. tomorrow on CBS.