Smart NCAA Predictions: The 64-Team Nickname Battle

They say this is the year to go crazy with your picks.

Six teams held the No. 1 spot this year, one off the record for most changes in a season. Every time a team seemed poised to make a run, they'd crash and burn in a national TV game, or be upset at home by a no-name school. So everyone keeps guaranteeing that this is the year for true madness, where up is left and down is right and Dick Vitale explodes in a puff of enthusiastic confetti.

Of course, everyone says that, and then they pick maybe a 13-seed in the first round, or a 4-seed beating a 1-seed, then call it a day. Everyone's too scared to really make the leap and pick a truly insane bracket.

Well, maybe not everyone.

This bracket is chosen entirely by a random qualifier: team nickname. With each matchup, I compare the two teams' chosen nicknames* as if they are real entities, decide which one would win in a fight, and advance that team to the next round.

*We're talking about nicknames, not mascots. Could the guy in the Notre Dame costume defeat the sleepy Gonzaga bulldog in a no-holds-barred, death-is-the-only-escape cage match? Let's not pause to imagine it.  

There are worse ways to do this, really. Let's begin.


#1 Kansas Jayhawks over #16 Austin Peay Governors

I was worried that this would immediately lead to insane upsets, but fortunately, some of these low-seeded teams have embarrassingly bad nicknames. Most of the bird-themed teams are going to do poorly in this bracket, because, let's face it, they're birds, but on this one I'm picturing a vicious jayhawk forcing a feeble, egg-faced governor to take cover under an awning, his hands waving in terror in front of his face. 

#8 Colorado Buffalos over #9 UConn Huskies

Look, huskies are good, loyal dogs, but have you seen what happens when you piss off a buffalo?

#12 San Diego State Aztecs over #5 Maryland Terrapins

I'm not gonna spell this one out. It's a vicious, bloodthirsty culture known for their disembowelment rituals versus a pack of turtles. 

Imagine this, but with turtles.

#4 California Golden Bears over #13 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors

Of all the various kinds of warriors, “rainbow” warriors seem pretty close to the least impressive (behind maybe “weekend” warriors). Especially when it turns out to be a fake group, based on a racist attack on Native Americans.

#5 Arizona Wildcats over #11 Wichita State Wheatshockers or  #11 Vanderbilt Commodores

I'm relatively familiar with commodores, and I don't really know what a wheatshocker is (I think it's a way to harvest wheat, or possibly a very dangerous method of creating beer), but I'm pretty sure a wildcat could beat either one of them.

#3 Miami Hurricanes over #14 Buffalo Bulls

Hurricanes are powerful. Cows are dumb. Next.

#7 Iowa Hawkeyes over #10 Temple Owls

I've never been entirely clear – it it just the actual hawk eye that's the mascot? Is their mascot just “good vision?” I guess it doesn't really matter, because they're only up against Hedwig and Pigwidgeon and that dumb know-it-all from Winnie-the-Pooh this round and that's not a tough matchup.

#2 Villanova Wildcats over #15 UNC Asheville Bulldogs

I really don't like how this has been going.

This is starting to make me sad.


#8 Colorado Buffaloes over #1 Kansas Jayhawks

Again, a jayhawk is a bird. I don't care how fierce you paint the logo. It's a bird.

In case it's not obvious from the picture, someone on DeviantArt has a significant amount of time on their hands, by the way.

#4 Cal Golden Bears over #12 San Diego State Aztecs

I would give the edge to the Aztecs, but these aren't just regular bears. They're golden bears. The royalest of bears. If you come for the king, you best not miss. Plus, all of the Aztecs are dead now, and check it: we've still got bears.


#3 Miami Hurricanes over #6 Arizona Wildcats

Massive force of nature that can destroy most of a seaboard versus a mid-sized predatory cat. These are not tough matchups.

#2 Villanova Wildcats over #7 Iowa Hawkeyes

Mid-sized predatory cat versus either a bird or “vision.” The day I see a bird show up and lay a cat at my feet as a present, I might change my mind, but for now: wildcats all the way.


#4 Cal Golden Bears over #8 Colorado Buffaloes

I was trying to figure out the average weights of these two animals, and that's when I discovered: golden bears don't even exist. They're just something that California made up. The only evidence I could discover for them was this.

All I'm saying is, here's just no way a buffalo is beating a mythological bear, even if that bear only seems to exist as a docile pet from a family movie.

#3 Miami Hurricanes over #2 Villanova Wildcats

We just went over this like, a second ago.


#4 Cal Golden Bears over #3 Miami Hurricane

Look, if a hurricane comes, you can board up your windows, store some water, maybe even sandbag your lawn. If a determined, supernatural golden bear comes for you... that's just it, guys. That's the ballgame.


#16 Holy Cross Crusaders or #16 Southern University Jaguars over #1 Oregon Ducks

It doesn't matter if it's the crusaders or the jaguars. Literally anything can beat a duck. It's a duck. They can be beat by these guys:

#9 Cincinnati Bearcats over #8 St. Joe's Hawks

Fun fact: Bearcats do not exist. They're just a sports nickname for a meek-looking mammal known as the binturong.

Not that it matters. The very concept of a bearcat can beat a hawk.

#5 Baylor Bears over #12 Yale Bulldogs

Don't picture it. It'll make you sad.

#4 Duke Blue Devils over #13 UNC Wilmington Seahawks

Now, here's where things get tricky. We don't really know what a “blue devil” is, what it does, what its powers are. We only know that it's mischievous, it travels in disguise, and it sometimes carries a pitchfork.

We always fear what we don't understand.

#11 University of Northern Illinois Panthers over #6 Texas Longhorns

I don't care about the length of their horns, this is still a vicious predator versus a cow. A majestic cow, sure, but a cow.

14 Green Bay University Phoenix over 3 Texas A&M Aggies

“Farmers fiiiiiiiiiighhht! Farmers fight!” Yes, the school whose mascot is agriculture, who is represented by a docile collie who is literally the highest ranking officer on campus, is taking on an invincible bird. You can't destroy a phoenix by fire, but you know what you can destroy? Everything else.

By the way, if you want a flabbergasting read, you can study up on Reveille IX, the revered Texas A&M collie, known as “the first lady of Texas A&M,” who must be addressed as “Miss Rev, ma'am” by freshmen cadets, and who for some reason has her own cell phone.

If you want to know why I mock you sometimes, Aggies, this is why.

10 Virginia Commonwealth Rams over 7 Oregon State Beavers

You can draw the most aggressive version of these that you want, it's still a horned sheep versus a shy marsh creature whose hobby is building wood igloos.

Is it just me, or does that beaver look terrified? Do your job, Oregon State graphic designers! Strike extremely vague fear into the hearts of your opponents!

2 Oklahoma Sooners over 15 Cal State Bakersfield Road Runners

Look, “Sooners” are not impressive. They're just a bunch of people who broke the law in order to steal land during the days of the American land rush. But they're facing a bird under a foot tall, which is the “largest cuckoo in the Americas.”

What's more, in all of recorded history, not a single one of these ever has painted a convincing tunnel onto the side of a concrete wall.


#9 Cincinnati Bearcats over #16 Holy Cross Crusaders or #16 Southern University Jaguars

By the way, the bearcat Wikipedia is fascinating. It probably couldn't beat a real crusader or jaguar, but I'm giving it the point anyway, because I'm entranced by the possibilities of this omnivorous, nocturnal bear-weasel.

How do I get one of these as a pet?

#4 Duke Blue Devils over #5 Baylor Bears

This where things get tricky. As we learned from the Oscars this year, it's awfully hard to beat a bear.

But a blue devil must have powers outside of this world, it can't be defeated by a simple lumbering carnivore. Blue devils are going to keep moving on until I find something that seems its match.

#14 Green Bay University Phoenix over #11 University of Northern Illinois Panthers

Yet again, it's an invincible bird. I once saw it defeat a basilisk in that Harry Potter movie, and basilisks are no joke. No way it loses to a simple panther.

2 Oklahoma Sooners over 10 Virginia Commonwealth Rams

Ruthless, land-stealing frontiersmen versus sheep. It's only a question of how long it is before they eat the sheep.


4 Duke Blue Devils over 9 Cincinnati Bearcats

Look, if a blue devil can beat a bear, it can certainly beat a bear-weasel. Next.

2 Oklahoma Sooners over 14 Green Bay University Phoenix

This one is tougher, but I just think that a group of people who hid in the dirt for a week for the privilege of stealing Oklahoma are going to be determined enough to find a way to defeat a bird, never mind its lack of mortality.


4 Duke Blue Devils over 2 Oklahoma Sooners

That said, they're still not beating whatever a blue devil is.


#16 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles or #16 Farleigh Dickinson Knights over # 1 North Carolina Tar Heels

Either one of these things would beat a tar heel, because a tar heel is – and I mean no disrespect by this – one of the dumbest nicknames in sports. It's supposedly based on North Carolina's proud military history, and the university has a page explaining its possible origins. Both of the theories listed are utter rubbish, but the first one is just an affront to humanity's intellect. “One story hails back to the Revolutionary War and the troops of British General Cornwallis... some say the clever North Carolinians dumped (tar) in the river to slow down the invading army.”


a. No one has ever referred to a group of North Carolinians as “clever.”

b. There's no chance anyone actually did this.

c. Even if they had done it, which they didn't, it absolutely would not have worked.

So, I'm assuming that “tar heel” is actually some racist term that North Carolina is trying to whitewash. For shame, North Carolina. Even South Carolina finally took down that flag.

8 USC Trojans over 9 Providence Friars

Notable warrior friars: Friar Tuck, probably a hedgehog or something from the “Redwall” books that I'm forgetting.

Notable warrior Trojans: all of them.

#12 Chattanooga Mocs over #5 Indiana Hoosiers

The “Moc” was originally for water moccasin, which is terrifying, and one would figure it to be capable of a good Final Four run. However, they've retconned the “Moc” to be based on a mockingbird now, and their mascot is a bird called “Scrappy Moc,” named after “famed” Chattanooga football coach A.C. “Scrappy” Moore, who is definitely a real person and not someone that Chattanooga made up.

All of Chattanooga should be embarrassed by this, and I would send them out in the first round for this ridiculous decision, except that they're matched up against the Hoosiers, whose name means “Indiana resident,” a term that comes from an 1833 poem by John Finley (the least impressive of the John Finleys on Wikipedia) called “The Hoosier's Nest.” That is simultaneously the least-baller and most-Indiana thing ever.

#13 Stony Brook Seawolves over #4 Kentucky Wildcats

Yet another loss by a team of wildcats, as they're defeated by the Stony Brook Seawolves. What's a seawolf? Well, it's unclear. It could be another word for sea lion, which would lose to wildcat. It could also be named after a terrifying, bottom-feeding fish, whose pictures are the stuff of nightmares. 

A battle between that and a wildcat would probably be a tie, since I don't think they could find a neutral field to fight on.

Still, there are some good possibilities: they could be named after a Jack London book (“The Sea-Wolf!”). Or a number of different submarines. Or a whole class of submarines! Or a British naval missle! Or a Charles Bronson movie! Or a 70's arcade game! Or an indie rock band formed a decade after the college re-nicknamed themselves! (this last one is unlikely)

Now, this decision is not without its uncertainties: Does their college sounds like a strict boarding school a young boy would be sent to in a British children's novel? Yes. Is their mascot named “Wolfie the Seawolf?” Sadly, it is. Do they have a terrible fight song? I'm not certain, but it's entitled “We're The Red Hot Seawolves,” so almost unquestionably yes.

There are a few marks against the team, but not anything that's going to hurt them in the opening round. We'll find out how they hold up going forward.

#11 Tulsa Golden Hurricane/#11 Michigan Wolverines over #6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Either one of these teams would be a winner over Notre Dame, since their logo is just a pugilistic drunk leprechaun, which scares nobody.

#3 West Virginia Mountaineers over #14 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

Oooh, this one is real comparison shopping. Similar identities, but I have to pick the mountaineers, who seem like they might have a more diverse skill set than the lumberjacks. I mean, cutting lumber is just a job, you know? These mountaineers know how to survive.

#10 Pittsburgh Panthers over #7 Wisconsin Badgers

Badgers are tough, but try to imagine a version of The Jungle Book where Mowgli is trained by a watchful badger, instead. 

That tiger would have eaten him so fast.

#2 Xavier Musketeers over #15 Weber State Wildcats

Look, a wildcat is not going to do well against trained swordsmen, especially when they're known for fighting well in groups:

(as well as for turning to television once their film careers flamed out).


#8 USC Trojans over #16 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles or #16 Farleigh Dickinson Knights

Look, even if the Knights were to have won, you'd still pick a bunch of Trojans over them any day, especially since they're from a school called "Farleigh Dickinson." And let's not even talk about what would happen to the eagles. There's been enough bird-slaughter in this column already.

13 Stony Brook Seawolves over 12 Chattanooga Mocs

Two teams with inventive but questionable nicknames. I'm picking the possibly-submarines over the no-longer-poisonous water snakes.

#3 West Virginia Mountaineers over #11 Tulsa Golden Hurricane or #11 Michigan Wolverines

First off, there's no way that a mountaineer can't handle a wolverine. I'm quite certain. What I'm not certain about is what a “golden hurricane” actually is. It sounds filthy, frankly. I won't stand for it.

2 Xavier Musketeers over 10 Pittsburgh Panthers

This is the exact same fight they had in the last round, basically. So now they're armed and experienced. No way the panthers beat them.


#8 USC Trojans over #13 Stony Brook Seawolves

Unless the Seawolves turn out to be actual missles, I'm picking the Trojans all the way. The Trojans were tough,man.

#2 Xavier Musketeers over #3 West Virginia Mountaineers

Mountaineers are tough, but there's no substitute for really good fencing training. I'd be surprised if they even landed a single axe-blow.

Elite Eight

8 USC Trojans over 2 Xavier Musketeers

The musketeers are loyal, brave, and look awfully dashing in their fancy French raiment, but the Trojans had seven different gods on their side, including Ares, the god of war and Artemis, goddess of the hunt. This is the team to beat, right here.


#16 Hampton Pirates over #1 Virginia Cavaliers/Wahoos

Were Virginia to remain the Cavaliers, I might be tempted to pick them over the Hampton Pirates. Yet Virginia has adopted the nickname of “the Wahoos” or even “the Hoos,” which was originally an insult from rival college Washington and Lee (by the way, if Washington and Lee is your “rival,” you're already playing from behind) but which Virginia adopted as a rallying cry, in the same sort of spirit as “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” I think.

If you type “what is a wahoo” into Google, the first result is this remarkable website, created by a sophomore-level web class in 1997 and un-updated since (by the way, there is no better symbol for Virginia than creating a viewpoint at the dawn of a new era and then seeing no need to update it at any point afterwards). In it, the students explain that while logic will tell you that while a Wahoo is a fish that is capable of drinking twice its weight (again, a very fitting symbol for Virginians), a Wahoo is also whatever you want it to be, which is the nonsense college students say when they're trying to pretend that their time-honored traditions are grand and impressive and not laughably simple-minded. This is also how they get students to join fraternities.

By the way, if you have time, that website is fabulous. It explains how to "dress cool," how not being into working out is an unacceptable concept for Virginia students, and how to go streaking. It's like a college guide written by a pack of Keystone Light.

8 Texas Tech Red Raiders over 9 Butler Bulldogs

Again, bulldogs are adorable, and none more so than the ones Butler have. Look at this thing!

He thinks he's people!

Anyway, I don't know what a red raider is, but it sounds savage. Farewell, bulldogs.

#12 University of Arkansas at Little Rock Trojans over #5 Purdue Boilermakers

Once again, the Trojans are one of history's fiercest armies, and boilermakers are literally just people who make boilers. They have a union and everything. When two sides are fighting to the death, don't pick the side that has the union. Possible exception: the American Civil War.

#4 Iowa State Cyclones over #13 Iona University Gaels

What's a gael? I'm glad you asked. I don't know.

The Iona University website is a little vague on the subject, but it seems to refer to someone of Irish descent who is a “spunky character,” which I assume means a drunk. The fact that the school's motto is “fight a good fight,” which I think is also the motto of most of Dublin's pubs, would seem to support my theory.

Anyway, unless you're Bill Paxton in Twister, it's usually pretty easy to avoid a cyclone, but if there's any group I trust not to manage it, it's a group of drunk, belligerent Irishmen.

#6 Seton Hall Pirates over #11 Gonzaga Bulldogs

There are dead dogs everywhere. What have we done?

#3 Utah Utes over #14 Fresno State Bulldogs

Oh, god, they're whimpering in agony. It's like the end of every coming-of-age novel brought to life.

#7 Dayton Flyers over #10 Syracuse Orange

The generic movement wins over the rhymeless color. Not a powerhouse struggle here.

#2 Michigan State Spartans over # 15 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

What are “blue” raiders? How are they separate from “red” raiders? Why are there so many color-based teams in this bracket?


#8 Texas Tech Red Raiders over #16 Hampton Pirates

These are similar groups, and I give the red raiders a victory only because of the air of mystery about them. Why are they red? What is their history?

The Wikipedia explaining the name of this mascot is flabbergastingly unhelpful, noting only that in 1925, a writer suggested that Tech should name themselves the “Dogies,” explaining that "a Dogie is a calf whose mother died and is forced to look out for itself" and "If ever anything had to rustle for itself, it was West Texas and Tech College.” I assume the man was then drawn and quartered in the streets for having the dumbest ideas in sports history, at least until Skip Bayless showed up.

#12 Little Rock Trojans over #4 Iowa State Cyclones

Other gods supporting the Trojans include Eris, the goddess of discord and strife. These guys meant business.

I think they can handle a Iowan cyclone.

3 Utah Utes over 6 Seton Hall Pirates

I had assumed that a group of pirates could take down the Utes, as the Native American group is primarily known for establishing early peace treaties with settlers, and still resides in the Colorado-Utah area. But it turns out the Ute warriors were bananas. They would get wildly dehydrated in sweat lodges before battle, paint themselves and their war horses in bright colors, then ride out and perform daring and complicated maneuvers on horseback while using a combination of lances, knives, guns, tomahawks, and clubs. Their women had a celebratory dance called the “Lame Dance” to show how hard it was for them to carry all the loot they were capturing back to camp. This crew was not messing around.

2 Michigan State Spartans over 7 Dayton Flyers

Do I really need to explain why I think a group of elite warriors would be capable of defeating a pack of poorly-constructed airplanes?


12 Little Rock Trojans over 8 Texas Tech Red Raiders

Also on Team Trojan: Scamander, river god and possible Pokemon. These guys are just stacked.

#2 Michigan State Spartans over #3 Utah Utes

We talked about the fight skills of the Utes, but the Spartans are a whole other level. Spartan men would marry at 20 but wouldn't be able to live with their families until they were 30. Their wives would hand them their shields and say “either come back with this, or upon it.” So, these guys took this pretty seriously.


#2 Michigan State Spartans over #12 Little Rock Trojans.

Look, the Trojans were pretty good, but they were fooled by a wooden horse, and that's got to count against you on some level. I mean, they woke up one day, their enemies were gone, and there was a wooden horse sitting out there, and no one asked any questions. This is just bad decision-making on every level.


#4 Duke Blue Devils over #4 California Golden Bears

In the case of the possibly-mystical bears against the oddly-colored devils, you gotta go with the group that has the power of Hell behind it.

#2 Michigan State Spartans over #8 USC Trojans

By the way, the group that left that horse out there to fool the Trojans?

The Spartans. Never forget.


2 Michigan State Spartans over 4 Duke Blue Devils

We're all the way to the championship game, and we still haven't determined the power of the blue devils, and what their skillset is. Meanwhile, I've seen 300 at least twice, so I'm pretty well versed in the abilities of the Spartans. Those guys were game day players, and I trust them when it comes to showing up for this free-for-all.

Congrats, guys.