As March Madness tips off, Outdoor Life Senior Editor, and resident college hoops junkie, John Taranto offers up his picks for the games and his analysis of what would happen if the actual wild animals represented by some of the teams' mascots were to face the real-life versions of their first-round opponents. Let the dementia begin!.
Lehigh Mountain Hawks
First Round Opponent: Kansas Jayhawks
Game Prediction: I foresee a final score somewhere in the neighborhood of, oh, 112-38. Jayhawks.
Real-Life Prediction: Don’t be fooled just because they have “hawk” in their name; there is no such thing as a Jayhawk in the real world. Bonus points go to Lehigh here for incorporating “Mountain” into their nickname. Nice touch. We’re not talking your run-of-the-mill Hawk here. This guy lives up in them thar mountains.
Northern Iowa Panthers
First Round Opponent: UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Game Prediction: Like most 8-9 match-ups, this one is a real toss-up. Both teams like to keep the tempo slow and grind out defense-oriented wins. Look to NIU’s 7-foot center Jordan Eglseder to be the difference here.
Real-Life Prediction: Just how fast can a Rebel run? Fast enough to outrun a Panther? Not likely.
Maryland Terrapins
First Round Opponent: Houston Cougars
Game Prediction: The Cougars are riding a high after their surprising run through the Conference USA tournament, but their luck is about to run out at the hands of the ACC regular season co-champ Terrapins.
Real-Life Prediction: Here’s how I see this going down: The Cougar charges the Terp, the Terp retreats inside his shell. At first the Cougar is confused, pawing at this small, hard dome. But confusion leads to annoyance, which leads to anger. Before you know it he’s found some soft tissue and it’s game over.
Ohio Bobcats
First Round Opponent: Georgetown Hoyas
Game Prediction: Between Greg Monroe, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman, G’Town has far too many weapons for MAC representative Ohio to handle.
Real-Life Prediction: For the sake of this story, I’m willing to overlook the fact that a Hoya is actually a species of tropical climbing plant and not a dog. The edge here has to go to the Bobcat because it is a wild animal and a bulldog is a big, fat, slobbery mess.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
First Round Opponent: Oklahoma State Cowboys
Game Prediction: OSU is one of only two teams to have beaten number-one-overall Kansas this season. They also beat Big XII powerhouses Kansas State and Baylor. Georgia Tech, on the other hand, posted a sub-.500 ACC schedule with losses to Tournament no-shows Miami, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Edge, Cowboys.
Real-Life Prediction: A single Yellow Jacket wouldn’t pose much of a threat to a gritty ol’ Cowboy. A mild nuisance, sure. But say a poke’s horse steps on a ground nest? Well, then all bets are off.
Vermont Catamounts
First Round Opponent: Syracuse Orange
Game Prediction: Despite big man Arinze Onuaku likely not being available for this game, the Orange should have little trouble handling the America East representative. Of course, that’s what ‘Cuse fans thought in 2005, too, when they lost to the 13-seed Catamounts in the first round. Still, Syracuse has as much talent as any team in the tournament and should advance easily.
Real-Life Prediction: Let’s see here: A cagey, athletic wild cat versus a piece of fruit. Next!
Minnesota Golden Gophers
First Round Opponent: Xavier Musketeers
Game Prediction: In the Big Ten Tournament last weekend, the Gophers manhandled the Purdue Boilermakers in the semis before getting embarrassed by Ohio State in the final game. Despite losing to Richmond in the Atlantic 10 final, Xavier enters the Big Dance as one of the hottest teams in the country. I like the up-tempo Musketeers in a rout.
Real-Life Prediction: Xavier has two mascots. D’Artagnan, pictured here, should be able to swashbuckle his way through an entire town of Gophers, golden or otherwise. Xavier’s other mascot, a blue blob known as The Blue Blob (I’m not kidding, you can look it up) doesn’t look like he even knows where he is.
Pittsburg Panthers
First Round Opponent: Oakland Golden Grizzlies
Game Prediction: Oakland is an offensive juggernaut, averaging roughly 80 points per game. Of course, they did this in the lowly Summit League. Pittsburg, meanwhile, comes from the powerhouse Big East. I like the Panthers here going away.
Real-Life Prediction: This would be an epic battle, pitting two of North America’s most ferocious wild critters. Due to its sheer size, I see the Griz outlasting the Panther, but fully expect the bruin to suffer some horrific injuries in the tilt.
BYU Cougars
First Round Opponent: Florida Gators
Game Prediction: Over the past decade, Florida has been one of the nation’s top teams. That isn’t remotely the case this year. The young, inexperienced Gators slumped down the stretch. Expect the Cougars to get over their Tournament hump and avenge two consecutive first-round exits.
Real-Life Prediction: Like the Pittsburgh/Oakland match-up, this fight features two ferocious predators. The Gator’s body armor will allow it to withstand repeated attacks by the Cougar, and once it gets the cat locked in its jaws, this one will be over, but don’t expect a quick, clean victory.
Kansas State Wildcats
First Round Opponent: North Texas Mean Green
Game Prediction: The deep, balanced attack of Kansas State should make quick work of the Sun Belt Conference’s representative. If the Cats can play in control and limit their turnovers, this one could be over by half time.
Real-Life Prediction: The North Texas mascot appears to be some sort of bird of prey, but I’m sorry. Mean Green? On the other hand, what is up with the human arms and legs on the Wildcat? That’s doesn’t seem right. Is it some kind of half-man half-beast, like a centaur? If so, the edge clearly goes to the “Wildcat.”
Kentucky Wildcats
First Round Opponent: E. Tennessee State Buccaneers
Game Predicition: Did you know that a 16-seed has never beaten a 1-seed? Well, it ain’t happening here, either.
Real-Life Predicition: Don’t ask me how a seafaring marauder would find his way to Eastern Tennessee, but if he encountered a Wildcat along the way, I think he’d make pretty quick work of it with his saber. (By the way, we couldn’t find a good photo of the ETSU mascot, so here’s a Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader. Cool?).
Temple Owls
First Round Opponent:
Cornell Big Red
Game Predicition: Upset alert! Although, many folks “in the know” will not consider this to be a very big upset when Cornell topples the A-10 champion. A lot of pundits expected Cornell to be seeded much lower than they are, with one talking head saying on Selection Sunday that he thought Cornell should have gotten a 5 seed.
Real-Life Predicition: I just trashed North Texas for their nickname, and the Ivy League school isn’t getting a pass, either. Their mascot may be a bear, but there is no excuse for the lack of creativity in the name. What are you? Gum? ****As for the showdown, the Owl will attack from the air, and should get in one or two good hits on the Bear, but one good swipe from the bruin’s paw and this one is over.
Wisconsin Badgers
First Round Opponent: Wofford Terriers
Game Predicition: Wisconsin is a well balanced, well coached team who, despite playing an admittedly plodding brand of basketball, could very well enjoy a run to the Elite 8.
Real-Life Predicition: This should be a fun, spirited battle between two high-energy opponents. In the end, however, the Badger would just be too much for the plucky little dog.
Marquette Golden Eagles
First Round Opponent: Washington Huskies
Game Prediction: The Huskies’ Pac 10 Tournament win should be impressive, but the conference was abysmal this year, so, you know, enjoy your hardware. Marquette plays in the deepest, most talented conference in the country, and although they finished in the middle of the pack, they are a superior team to UW.
Real-Life Prediction: The Golden Eagle has the advantage of an aerial attack. As long as it can swoop, deliver a talon blow to the Husky and take off again without getting rocked by a paw swipe, the bird should eventually prevail.
New Mexico Lobos
First Round Opponent: Montana Grizzlies
Game Prediction: Few people outside of the Mountain West Conference have seen New Mexico play this season and therefore they are a vastly underrated team entering the tournament. Montana is a one-man-show–guard Anthony Johnson averaged nearly 20 points per game this season–which won’t be enough to take down the Lobos.
Real-Life Prediction: Lobo is Spanish for wolf. Hmmm. Seems like I’ve heard something recently about Montanans having problems with wolves. If we’re talking one Wolf versus the Grizzly, I’m taking the bear. A pack attack would be a different story.
Clemson Tigers
First Round Opponent: Missouri Tigers
Game Predicition: Clemson plays ferocious defense, but so does Missouri. This one will come down to who can handle the opposing pressure best and hit their open shots when they have them. With a gun to my head, I’ll take Clemson, but I really have no idea.
Real-Life Predicition: Tiger vs. Tiger. On paper this should be a tight battle, but look at the crazy eyes on the Clemson mascot! He’s clearly insane. Then we have Missouri’s mascot, who looks like a sad, nervous Chester Cheetah, but without the shades. Not only would I expect the Clemson cat in a walk, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he proceeded to eat Chester afterward.
Morgan State Bears
First Round Opponent: West Virginia Mountaineers
Game Predicition: Fresh off the first Big East Tournament championship in the school’s history, West Virginia enters the Big Dance full of confidence and looking to continue their stellar run of late. Da’Sean Butler and company should receive little resistence from Morgan State.
Real-Life Predicition: As I’ve said in years past, mascots with guns will always be favored against animal mascots. But if the Mountaineer misses his first shot and has to reload his outdated firearm, the Bear should have enough time to make his move
California Golden Bears
First Round Opponent: Louisville Cardinals
Game Predicition: This is the one and only case in which I think a Big East team will be upset in the first round. Although Louisville were responsible for half of Syracuse’s losses this year, they are a flawed defensive team, and Cal has the ability to score in bunches, as they showed in the Pac 10 Tournament final against Washington.
Real-Life Prediction: No way a little a songbird can take down a big ol’ Golden Bear (although, what’s with the cardigan? You look like my grandfather), but what’s stopping the Cardinal from just flying away? I’m calling this one a horribly boring stalemate.
Old Dominion Monarchs
First Round Opponent: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Game Prediction: Yet another battle-tested Big East stalwart vs. yet another mid-major wannabe. With big man Luke Harangody back in the line-up for the Irish, they’re once again at full strength.
Real-Life Prediction: The Monarchs’s mascot is a lion. Get it? Monarch? King of the Jungle? I don’t think the Fighting Irish would stand much chance, and the fact that it’s the day after St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t bode well, either. (It’s okay, I can make a drunk Irish joke. I like whiskey.)
Baylor Bears
First Round Opponent: Sam Houston St. Bearkats
Game Prediction: Baylor is a sexy pick for the Final Four in the weak South Region. They have one of the best backcourt tandems in the country, both in skill and name (Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn), and a tremendous shot blocker in Ekpe Udoh. Sam Houston is no slouch, but the smart money is on the Bears
Real-Life Prediction: Alternative and not very creative spellings of a little known Southeast Asian viverrrid mammal are grounds for disqualification. Point, Bear.
Richmond Spiders
First Round Opponent: St. Mary’s Gaels
Game Prediction: One of Richmond’s major deficiencies is rebounding, both offensive and defensive. St Mary’s big man, Omar Samhan, averages nearly 21 points and 11 rebounds per game. Could he be the difference maker in this game? I say yes.
Real-Life Prediction: I guess the Gael mascot is a knight, but he kind of looks like a space invader and his name is Gael Force 1. Alright, this is just bizarre. Let’s move on before the children have nightmares. I’m giving the win to the Spider, venomous or not.
Villanova Wildcats
First Round Opponent: Robert Morris Colonials
Game Prediction: Villanova scuffled a bit down the stretch and could use an easy first round game. Luckily for them, they’ll get just that against the “glad to be here” NEC representative.
Real-Life Prediction: Another generic Wildcat, huh? So uninspired. At the same time, the Colonial isn’t exactly putting the fear of God into anyone. Let’s go with the kitty here.