Hello loyal and new reader(s)! Today I’m aiming to score higher ratings by discussing my favorite part of the most entertaining postseason in all of sports: the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament, a.k.a. March Madness. The annual single-elimination tournament begins tomorrow with the fairly recently introduced First Four round before turning on the jets of the 64-team bracket that we all break the office toner budget to print out copy after copy of on Thursday. (Save some trees and do it digitally; it’s easier and greener.)
Starting in 1939, the tournament began at the behest of the National Association of Basketball Coaches as the brainchild of Ohio State University coach Harold Olsen. Ironically, Olsen’s Buckeyes lost the inaugural championship to the University of Oregon. (Fortunately for Ohioans like myself, the Bucks returned the favor to the Ducks in this year’s first-ever College Football Playoff Championship. Take that Oregon! It only took us 76 years to get back at you!) Prior to the 1939 essay titled March Madness by Illinois b-ball referee Henry Van Arsdale Porter, the madness of this month only pertained to weather, but thanks to the likes of broadcaster Brent Musberger who used the term to describe the court chaos in the 1980s, the tournament was christened with its now-signature name.
Now whether you’re a professional basketball analyst, casual fan, or aren’t sure what a basketball looks like and are currently wondering if it’s the one that shaped like an egg with pointy ends and thrown really far by Peyton Manning, your odds of predicting the most correct bracket picks are about the same. Warren Buffet routinely offers like half his fortune for a perfect bracket submitted to his website (which costs somewhere around a dollar per submission) because he knows the odds are against it. In fact, they are extremely against it, like less than 1 in 9.2 quintillion. Or 1 in 5.7 quintillion. Or 1 in 128 billion, depending on who you ask. Either way, it’s unlikely you’ll get a perfect one. Nevertheless, you can still fare quite well compared to the masses, especially if you call the right upsets and get more teams in the later rounds. I’ll just be satisfied if I don’t lose all my Final Four teams in the opening round.
The reason it’s not called March Mellowness is because upsets and surprises are so rampant they’re expected, yet you can never quite anticipate which ones will be the mind-blowing buzzer beaters and which will be an easy breezy cruise by Kentucky (possibly a lot of them this year). There are a few trends that are noteworthy (#16 seeds have never beaten a #1 seed; at least one #12 seed almost always beats a #5 seed; all four #1 seeds have only made the Final Four once), but for the most part it’s anyone’s guess who will win. Did anyone outside of the Connecticut community predict UConn’s National Title run last year as a #7 seed? If they did it was because they root for UConn or like huskies, and they were probably pleasantly surprised to see them win. Not to say last year’s UConn team was bad, just unexpected. That’s the other thing: thanks to the freedom of players to leave for the NBA Draft after only one year of college play, year by year teams can be wildly different. Perennial powers like Kentucky can often make deep runs with a completely different team because they recruit the top talent, but that doesn’t automatically grant them the title – even this year when the Wildcats are undefeated (although they’re still my pick).
So if filling out a bracket in a serious context is such a crapshoot, why only fill it out in a serious context? While I measure myself on how well or terrible my “for real” bracket does (this is all I measure myself on… I promise – no really!), I most enjoy my Coin-Flip bracket of random 50-50 chance, and most especially enjoy the Mascot Bracket I make with my friends. What is a Mascot Bracket? It’s a bracket where you look at the mascot of each team and advance the one you like best for reasons such as aesthetic, originality, most impressive costume construction, or simply how fucked up it is and how funny it looks because of it. For best results, factor in the complete history of each school’s mascot. For example, the Ohio State Buckeyes, the favorite team of my friends and I, usually goes pretty far each year, but not because of our love for the team, but our love for Brutus Buckeye. Who can say no to an anthropomorphic nut from the state tree of Ohio? Okay sure, he’s not the funniest looking mascot out there, it looks like he’s got a Joker-esque “why so serious” scar on his mouth, and if you look at those eyes long enough you feel the nut stare back at you (I believe it was Neitzsche who said that). However, I did say to include the complete history and if you take one of the earlier Brutuses into account… well, you be the judge. Those googly eyes get me every time. Other perennial favorites for this style of bracket are the Western Kentucky Hilltopper, Big Red; the St. Louis University Billiken; the Wichita State Shocker, WuShock; the University of Kansas Jayhawk; Xavier University’s special secondary mascot, the Blue Blob, whom they whip out for games against rival Cincinnati; the Cal Golden Bear, Oski; and the Stanford University Cardinal tree-thing, the design of which is ever-changing because each student who is chosen to be the tree makes his or her own costume. The results are always hilarious. These are the best that are eligible, yet there are some that sadly cannot count because they are either not officially recognized by their respective universities or the school’s are not in Division I and unable to qualify for the tourney. This unfortunately counts out the likes of Dartmouth’s Keggy the Keg and Rhode Island School of Design’s Scrotie the Scrotum.
While March Madness inevitably infects all facets of our social sphere with brackets to determine the champion of every conceivable thing, the Mascot Bracket is the reason I really look forward to the NCAA tournament, as well as the reason I continuously root for St. Peter’s University to get back in it. I gotta see that Peacock make a comeback!
Thanks for reading! Enjoy the madness to come on the court and good luck to your favorite team. (I can honestly say this because Michigan didn’t make it in! Suck it Wolverines!) Also be sure to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow with as little incident as possible. Call a cab, have a DD, pack onto the Rapid next to the guy who looks the least nauseous, or stay home with friends and jam out to U2 with a Guinness in hand. And remember when you roll into work hungover Wednesday that you only need to be less fucked up than the next guy.
Erin Go Bucks,