(1) Kansas JAYHAWKS vs (16) Austin Peay GOVERNORS
A solid matchup, in my opinion. Kansas combines a barely passable bird with a pretty cool one to make a unique mascot. Austin Peay goes the human-with-a-cool-title route, and backs it up with a dude in a top hat and a monocle. Kansas has one of the best cheers in "Rock Chalk!" but Austin Peay doubles down on the class with "Let's go Peay!" Point goes to GOVERNORS.
(8) Colorado BUFFALOES vs (9) Connecticut HUSKIES
Huskies are crazy dogs. They're basically just really nice wolves with beautiful eyes and non-stop energy. Buffaloes are really big and have hundreds of pounds of meat on them, from what Oregon Trail taught me. A pack of huskies against a herd of buffalo is an intriguing battle. If the buffalo were in flight mode, I'm sure the huskies could pick off a weak one. But this is March madness, and those buffalo are looking for a fight. Gimme the BUFFS.
(5) Maryland TERRAPINS vs (12) South Dakota State JACKRABBITS
The tortoise versus the hare, in the first round. You can't make this stuff up. Aesop was a smart dude, and he'd pick Maryland in this bracket to make a point. And so will I. Go TERPS.
(4) Cal GOLDEN BEARS vs (13) Hawaii RAINBOW WARRIORS
Love this matchup. Bears are a pretty common nickname for teams, and you'll see some warriors floating around some colleges. But this is Gold vs. Rainbow. In March. Why they're not playing on the 18th instead of the 17th I have no idea. But leprechauns worldwide are still freaking out at this. In the end I have to say that rainbows are pretty, but the gold at the end is what people are fighting for. And although you are warriors, people are more afraid of bears. GOLDEN BEARS take it.
(6) Arizona WILDCATS vs (11) Vanderbilt COMMODORES/Wichita State SHOCKERS
The play-in games make this a little tricky, as I may have to revise my answers after they're played. However, I have no qualms about calling this one early. Wildcats are pretty bland, while Commodores are great, and even Shockers, named after danged bundles of wheat, are at the very
least unique. Sorry Arizona, but VANDY/WSU moves on.
(3) Miami HURRICANES vs (14) Buffalo BULLS
Miami gets the benefit of having selected a team name that 1) implies that their team will blow you away and 2) is very relevant to their location. The Buffalo Bulls have a toughness-by-association thing going on. They're not the Buffalo Bills, but they're not the Chicago Bulls either. It's almost like cheating. And cheaters don't prosper in my brackets. HURRICANES advance.
(7) Iowa HAWKEYES vs (10) Temple OWLS
Now the Hawkeyes are a fascinating team name. It reminds me of M*A*S*H, which is not a bad thing at all. And yet I have to stop and think: they're not hawks, so are they actually the eyes of hawks? Like, hawk eyeballs? On the other hand, Temple is streamlined. No nonsense, just Owls. Which are pretty cool birds. Go TEMPLE.
(2) Villanova WILDCATS vs (15) UNC Asheville BULLDOGS
Oh geez. Common against common. So let's break it down. Bulldogs are kind of a sorry breed. They've been inbred so much that they're plagued with health issues galore. Wildcats have adapted to their habitats to survive, not to become the animal equivalent of a twelve-toed dignitary. Gotta give it to the WILDCATS.
(1) Oregon DUCKS vs (16) Holy Cross CRUSADERS/Southern JAGUARS
Wow, this will be tough. Ducks are a pretty cool species of bird--work excellently in teams and are tougher than you'd think (I had some in a Thai restaurant once, and my jaw was exhausted). Sadly, I don't think there's a cooler human-with-a-title than the Crusaders. They're on a mission. If they beat Southern in the play-in round, they advance. Otherwise, it's Ducks fighting Jaguars. If the Jags played in Florida, I'd accuse them of ripping off Jacksonville. But they're a Louisiana team, so I think I'll have to give them the edge over the Ducks too. Go CRUSADER/JAGUAR conglomerate.
(8) St. Joseph's HAWKS vs (9) Cincinnati BEARCATS
Like I previously said, Hawks are cool birds. They're birds of prey, and they are designed to wreak aerial havoc, which is what basketball is all about. Cincinnati's mascot sounds like they did a Name-Our-Team Contest, and the Bears and Cats were tied, so they just called themselves the Bearcats. And you know what? It works. BEARCATS for the win.
(5) Baylor BEARS vs (12) Yale BULLDOGS
I spent some words ragging on bulldogs for being too pitiful to take on a wildcat. Now imagine a wildcat in tank form. BEARS all day.
You remember how in old video games, you'd fight the weak bad guys at first, and then when you moved on in the game, they just recycled the sprites but changed the color so you knew they were tougher? Say hello to the Blue Devils: This Time, They're Not Red. In the other corner are the Seahawks. Like regular hawks, but seaworthy. They're not from Washington, so I don't think they ripped off Seattle, but it doesn't quite do it for me, you know? This one belongs to the BLUE DEVILS.
(4) Duke BLUE DEVILS vs (13) UNC Wilmington SEAHAWKS
(6) Texas LONGHORNS vs (11) Northern Iowa PANTHERS
Here's a pretty decent match. Panthers are a little more specific than Wildcat, but it covers more than just a Cougar. Longhorns are a specific breed of cattle, and an iconic one at that. It's a wonderful representation of Texas as a whole. Now what about Panthers and Iowa? Let's take a look at a population map and, oh...I see.
I'm gonna say the Panthers' chance of winning is also severely reduced. LONGHORNS win.
(3) Texas A&M AGGIES vs (14) Green Bay PHOENIX
Aggies. A pretty rampant nickname among agricultural colleges. I've never really bought into its coolness. But man, the Phoenix? Not even multiple Phoenixes. Phoenices? Google says Phoenixes. Due to Greek origins apparently. Anyway, that's pretty sweet to take the cool bird idea to mythological levels. And +100 points for not calling yourselves the Packers. Let's go PHOENIX.
This is a pretty powerful matchup. I would've hoped to see something of this level in the Sweet Sixteen or so, but the selection committee is a harsh pantheon. The Beavers are a fantastic mascot: it seems pretty unique and a pretty cool animal. The Rams are not as unique, but still a wicked cool mascot. So I had to see just how unique these names are. And it turns out a lot of the technical institutes also claim the Beavers as a team name. The Rams have a lot of overlap, but not quite as much. So I'm actually gonna have to call it in the favor of the RAMS. Tough break, Beavs.
(2) Oklahoma SOONERS vs (15) CSU Bakersfield ROADRUNNERS
This one is nerve-wracking. The Sooners are named after the people who pretty much settled Oklahoma (well, re-settled...this is a bracket post, so I won't go too much into the dark episodes of American history), and they play a big part of Oklahoman pride. But man, roadrunners. I'm a New Mexico native, and we love our roadrunners. But for a Cali team to claim them, it's on that fine line between emulation and appropriation. But Google tells me they do indeed live in Southern California, which makes it more okay. So my super-biased pick is the ROADRUNNERS.
(1) North Carolina TAR HEELS vs (16) Florida Gulf Coast EAGLES/Farleigh Dickinson KNIGHTS
So we've got the Eagles, which is a cool bird, but a bit overplayed. We've also got the Knights, which is a cool title, but also a bit overplayed. Then we've got the Tar Heels. Unique for sure. I had to look up the origin for the stories. The official UNC website offers two stories: one is the British during the Revolutionary War, when they would march through the forests and get pine tar on their boots. Then there's the Civil War, when North Carolina soldiers, fearing desertion of their comrades, threaten to put tar on the bottom of their boots to keep them in their positions. Both cool stories, but you know what they have in common? Both of those sides lost. It's a bad precedent Carolina. Game goes to EAGLES or KNIGHTS.
(8) USC TROJANS vs (9) Providence FRIARS
This is our first actual person-on-person battle. Warriors vs. holy men. Soldiers vs. monks. The men of Troy vs. the men of God. It seems like one is more favored, except I'm pretty sure the Trojans lost their war. All it takes is one wooden horse, and their defense falls apart. I'm taking the FRIARS and not looking back.
(8) Indiana HOOSIERS vs (9) Chattanooga MOCS
Oh great, now we're going into made-up word territory. It's a well-known fact that no one really knows what a Hoosier is, but I have to admit that it plays a big part of Indiana's identity. And the Mocs, as it turns out, have a mocking bird for a mascot, so we're sticking with that. His name is Scrappy. And I like scrappy teams. Indiana does not have a mascot. Just a made-up word. MOCS advance.
(4) Kentucky WILDCATS vs (13) Stony Brook SEAWOLVES
Wildcats at an immediate disadvantage. Then I look at Seawolves and think, "Um, wolves don't even live NEAR the sea, let alone IN it." Then I Googled a seawolf, and I guess it's a fish? Named for having powerful teeth with which it crushes and grinds its prey. Pretty hardcore. Wildcats do eat fish, but if you put a wildcat in the ocean, that thing is helpless to the manic jaws of Stony Brook. I pick the SEAWOLVES.
(6) Notre Dame FIGHTING IRISH vs (11) Michigan WOLVERINES/Tulsa GOLDEN HURRICANES
Let's get this out of the way: I love the Irish. The people, not necessarily the team. They've got such an amazing culture, a beautiful country, and they've generated some of the best authors and poets of the English language. And when they're drunk enough to fight (which is all the time), they're very formidable. Then we look at the Wolverines. A pretty tenacious creature to be sure. But I would have to give the Irish the edge, as they're fighting. The wolverine could be sleeping for all we know. And the Golden Hurricanes? Pssh. You're in Oklahoma. Try the Golden Tornadoes and come back next year. FIGHTING IRISH all the way.
(3) West Virginia MOUNTAINEERS vs (14) Stephen F Austin LUMBERJACKS
OH MAN! My testosterone levels are skyrocketing just looking at this match-up! Two muscular outdoorsy dudes, with righteous beards! One of 'em's got a musket and an animal skin on his head! The other's got a plaid flannel shirt and big ol' axe! So manly! But you can't take an axe to a musket fight, sadly. MOUNTAINEERS get this one.
(7) Wisconsin BADGERS vs (10) Pittsburgh PANTHERS
Badgers are a pretty cool animal. I approve. And Panthers, Panthers...I think we've seen this one before, right? Let me see...oh yeah.
(2) Xavier MUSKETEERS vs (15) Weber State WILDCATS
Man with weapon. Generic critter. Seems simple enough. MUSKETEERS move on.
(1) Virginia CAVALIERS vs (16) Hampton PIRATES
This is a great matchup. The gallant swordsmen facing off against the gritty seadogs. It's a centuries-old battle, and I'll admit it's close. However, I do think the Cavs have a little cooler title, so my decision weighs in their favor. The HOOS of Virginia win their first game.
(8) Texas Tech RED RAIDERS vs (9) Butler BULLDOGS
Another Bulldog team, huh? I don't see them winning against a gun-toting maniac from Texas. GUNS UP.
(5) Purdue BOILERMAKERS vs (12) Arkansas-Little Rock TROJANS
Hmm. Boilermakers is a pretty outstanding nickname. Imagine all those sweaty, sooty guys with their heavy tools. They're tough. And I'm sure they know how to build a wooden horse. There's your Achilles heel, Trojans. Yeah, that analogy sucks in context. Oh well. BOILER UP.
(4) Iowa State CYCLONES vs (13) Iona GAELS
The Cyclones have a pretty cool name. It's unfortunate that there are, in fact, no cyclones in Iowa. Knowing this, they made their mascot some kind of angry bird in a tornado. Kinda weird. But Iona is the Gaels. That is a beauty of a nickname. It sounds like a strong wind, but it doesn't have to fake anything because it's actually an ethnicity. It works, so I'm going GAELS.
(6) Seton Hall PIRATES vs (11) Gonzaga BULLDOGS
Bulldogs again?! Stop it already! PIRATES win.
[distant sound of exasperated screaming]
(7) Dayton FLYERS vs (10) Syracuse ORANGE
The Flyers are such a cool mascot. It ties into Ohio's place in aviation history, and it makes their logo look applicable and straight-up fun. The Orange have made it very far in previous brackets of mine. It is very difficult to beat a color, and a cool color at that. However, my current feelings are in favor of the FLYERS.
(2) Michigan State SPARTANS vs (15) Middle Tennessee BLUE RAIDERS
A tricky proposition here. I like the Spartans a lot, and although they kinda sorta lost their most famous battle, it ended up helping their side win the war. But picking Middle Tennessee sets up a potential Elite Eight match-up of the Blue Raiders vs the Red Raiders. Destiny has never been so obvious. The BLUE RAIDERS win.
PART 1 RECAP
At the end of the first half of my bracket picks, it appears that I have selected three 16-seeds to win. When not even one 16-seed has ever beat a 1-seed in the history of the tournament. Needless to say, my bracket is retroactively busted, and I haven't even gotten past the round of 64. But this is America, and I have the freedom to fill out my bracket however I want, and the glorious diversity of our nation demands that not all brackets be taken seriously. So here I submit the first half of my mascot showdown. I'll post Part 2 on Wednesday, after the play-in games are done.