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Arizona State wins NCAA Tournament — just make the Sun Devils fight all the other mascots

By Zach Piatt, Richmond Palladium-Item,

2023-03-14
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RICHMOND, Ind. — The best three-week stretch of the year has arrived. For my money, March Madness is the greatest sporting event ever created, and I believe the meat behind that statement comes from how passionately obsessed we’ve become with whittling 68 teams down to one before the games even start.

I’m talking about brackets. Selection Sunday has been one of my favorite days of the year since I got hooked on watching David Teague and Carl Landry play for my beloved Purdue Boilermakers.

I fill out a few brackets every year, as I’m sure most of you do as well, but there’s one that’s easily the most time-consuming — I legitimately spend multiple hours on it — while also being the most fun. It’s my mascot bracket. For this bracket, I decide every game based on which mascot I believe would win in a fight.

And before you ask, yes, I’m about to take you through my thought process for all 67 matchups in this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. But before I do, a quick breakdown of my system:

The first thing I do with each team is look at their nicknames and mascots (yes, they are different things). The nickname is what comes after the school name. The mascot is what runs around the court during timeouts to pump up the crowd. In most cases, they’re the same, but there are some that contrast. For example, Ball State’s — my alma mater — nickname is the Cardinals, and its mascot is Charlie Cardinal. However, Alabama’s — this year’s No. 1 overall seed — nickname is the Crimson Tide, but its mascot is an elephant. In these cases, I use the mascot as my fighter. There are also matchups where both teams have the same mascot, so I compare the two and decide which one looks more intimidating.

Got all that? I’ll walk you through it regardless.

First Four

Disclaimer: I despise the First Four. I don’t think it makes sense, and I’m a firm believer that the tournament doesn’t officially start until the Round of 64. But in a bracket like this, these games matter.

16) Southeast Missouri State Redhawks DEF. 16) Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders

I would have picked Texas A&M-CC if it still had its mascot from a couple years ago. That guy had a warrior-like islander mask and was much more intimidating than the spring-breaker of a mascot it is now. Redhawks move on.

11) Pittsburgh Panthers DEF. 11) Mississippi State Bulldogs

This is an easy one. A panther beats a bulldog. This isn’t Spike beating up on Tom from “Tom and Jerry.” This is Spike’s son, Tyke, getting mauled by Bagheera from “The Jungle Book.” I won’t spend as much time explaining the obvious ones going forward.

16) Texas Southern Tigers DEF. 16) Fairleigh Dickinson Knights

I was going to pick the Tigers without question before I realized Fairleigh Dickinson’s knight is like the chess piece, so a horse. Either way, I think a tiger wins. That horse may be able to run away, but it can’t run forever.

11) Arizona State Sun Devils DEF. 11) Nevada Wolfpack

You’re quickly going to realize I’m terrified of what a deathmatch with a devil would look like; Richmond would easily win my Wayne County mascot bracket. I did this same thing for The Ball State Daily News four years ago, and the only thing to beat a devil was a flying stone demon (gargoyle). The Wolfpack doesn’t stand a chance.

See? Fun stuff imagining these battles. And I’m sure some of you are already disagreeing with me. I’ll keep the explanations brief for the rest.

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Round of 64

South

1) Alabama Crimson Tide DEF. 16) Southeast Missouri State Redhawks

This is one of those rare occasions I talked about, the exact example I used, actually. An elephant is going to snatch a hawk right out of the sky.

9) West Virginia Mountaineers DEF. 8) Maryland Terrapins

We’re not dealing with one of those alligator snapping turtles. This is one of the few times I give man enough credit to beat animal.

12) Charleston Cougars DEF. 5) San Diego State Aztecs

It looks like a friendly cougar, but it’s still a cougar. I don’t care what kind of weapons the Aztecs have, they’re not winning.

13) Furman Paladins DEF. 4) Virginia Cavaliers

Paladins are “legendary” knights with metal armor. So, we’re looking at two guys with swords, but only one has armor. Easy enough.

11) North Carolina State Wolfpack DEF. 6) Creighton Bluejays

Do I need to explain at all? I won’t for ones like this later.

3) Baylor Bears DEF. 14) UC Santa Barbara Gauchos

Gauchos are cowboys. Have you seen “The Revenant?”

7) Missouri Tigers DEF. 10) Utah State Aggies

The best definition I found for an aggie is someone who works on a farm, but that doesn’t matter because Utah State’s mascot is a bull. This would be a good battle, but a tiger outlasts a bull.

15) Princeton Tigers DEF. 2) Arizona Wildcats

Big cat vs. bigger cat. Bigger cat wins.

East

16) Texas Southern Tigers DEF. 1) Purdue Boilermakers

A boilermaker is someone who installs and maintains boiler systems. Boiler up, right? I hate to do this, but a tiger is having its way with Purdue Pete.

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8) Memphis Tigers DEF. 9) Florida Atlantic Owls

5) Duke Blue Devils DEF. 12) Oral Roberts Golden Eagles

Even the most golden of eagles isn’t besting a devil.

4) Tennessee Volunteers DEF. 13) Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns

Tennessee’s mascot is a Bluetick hound, and Louisiana’s is a Cayenne pepper. That pepper is going to give that dog some problems when it’s time to go potty, but the dog did eat it, right?

6) Kentucky Wildcats DEF. 11) Providence Friars

A friar is just a religious person. Prayer can only work so much against a wildcat.

14) Montana State Bobcats DEF. 3) Kansas State Wildcats

Bobcats and wildcats are basically the same animal, so I compared the mascots. Montana State is winning that fight.

10) USC Trojans DEF. 7) Michigan State Spartans

We’ve got two soldiers here, but USC’s soldier is on horseback. Advantage Trojans.

15) Vermont Catamounts DEF. 2) Marquette Golden Eagles

A catamount is essentially a cougar, and it will beat an eagle.

Midwest

16) Northern Kentucky Norse DEF. 1) Houston Cougars

In hindsight, I probably should have picked the Cougars — you know, man vs. animal and all — but I thought for so long about this matchup that I couldn’t not choose the Vikings.

9) Auburn Tigers DEF. 8) Iowa Hawkeyes

12) Drake Bulldogs DEF. 5) Miami Hurricanes

This one pains me. The Miami Hurricanes would win the whole thing if they could find a way to have a hurricane mascot. They couldn’t, and they settled on a duck. That’s one of the only animals a bulldog is going to beat.

13) Kent State Golden Flashes DEF. 4) Indiana Hoosiers

IU doesn’t have a mascot, so I assume it’s just one of us out there fighting an eagle. We’re not winning, especially when the eagle is golden.

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11) Pittsburgh Panthers DEF. 6) Iowa State Cyclones

Another one that pains me. The Cyclones would meet the Hurricanes in the Elite Eight and have a battle for the ages, but instead, they’re both out in the first round because Iowa State’s mascot is a cardinal.

3) Xavier Musketeers DEF. 14) Kennesaw State Owls

Xavier has two mascots: a musketeer and a blue blob. An owl would beat a blob but not a musketeer. I used the musketeer as the fighter because it’s the official nickname.

10) Penn State Nittany Lions DEF. 7) Texas A&M Aggies

This team of farmers’ mascot is a Collie, which definitely loses to a lion.

2) Texas Longhorns DEF. 15) Colgate Raiders

West

16) Howard Bison DEF. 1) Kansas Jayhawks

8) Arkansas Razorbacks DEF. 9) Illinois Fighting Illini

These are some dangerous pigs, and they’re going to beat Illinois’ Native American chief in a solid fight.

12) VCU Rams DEF. 5) Saint Mary’s Gaels

A Gael is just a Gaelic-speaker. Saint Mary’s gave him muscles and long hair, but it doesn’t matter against a ram.

4) Connecticut Huskies DEF. 13) Iona Gaels

Iona didn’t even try with its Gael. It just looks like an Amish guy. I don’t care how cute you’re your dog is, it will tear you to shreds if it wants to.

11) Arizona State Sun Devils DEF. 6) TCU Horned Frogs

14) Grand Canyon Antelopes DEF. 3) Gonzaga Bulldogs

10) Boise State Broncos DEF. 7) Northwestern Wildcats

I think a wildcat is just small enough of a cat where a horse could trample it into the ground.

2) UCLA Bruins DEF. 15) UNC Asheville Bulldogs

Round of 32

South

1) Alabama Crimson Tide DEF. 9) West Virginia Mountaineers

Stomp.

12) Charleston Cougars DEF. 13) Furman Paladins

The armor can only do so much.

11) North Carolina State Wolfpack DEF. 3) Baylor Bears

A single wolf has no chance against a bear, but a whole pack?

15) Princeton Tigers DEF. 7) Missouri Tigers

Missouri’s tiger looks like Hobbes from “Calvin and Hobbes.”

East

16) Texas Southern Tigers DEF. 8) Memphis Tigers

The Texas tiger looks more intimidating than the one from Tennessee.

5) Duke Blue Devils DEF. 4) Tennessee Volunteers

14) Montana State Bobcats DEF. 6) Kentucky Wildcats

Again, basically the same animal. Montana State’s is scarier.

10) USC Trojans DEF. 15) Vermont Catamounts

Again, the Trojans only win because they’re on horseback.

Midwest

9) Auburn Tigers DEF. Northern Kentucky Norse

The Vikings may have slipped past the Cougars but not the Tigers.

13) Kent State Golden Flashes DEF. 12) Drake Bulldogs

One of the only times I’ll have a bird beating another animal.

11) Pittsburgh Panthers DEF. 3) Xavier Musketeers

10) Penn State Nittany Lions DEF. 2) Texas Longhorns

This will be a good battle, but the lion will end up being too quick.

West

16) Howard Bison DEF. 8) Arkansas Razorbacks

12) VCU Rams DEF. 4) Connecticut Huskies

11) Arizona State Sun Devils DEF. 14) Grand Canyon Antelopes

2) UCLA Bruins DEF. 10) Boise State Broncos

Another good battle, but the bruin is just too good. I did get a chuckle out of imagining a horse kicking a bear in the face, though.

Sweet Sixteen

South

1) Alabama Crimson Tide DEF. 12) Charleston Cougars

The elephant is too big.

11) North Carolina State Wolfpack DEF. 15) Princeton Tigers

Again, there’s strength in numbers.

East

5) Duke Blue Devils DEF. 16) Texas Southern Tigers

10) USC Trojans DEF. 14) Montana State Bobcats

This trojan keeps getting bailed out by his horse. I feel like Jesse Pinkman from “Breaking Bad” screaming “He can’t keep getting away with it!”

Midwest

9) Auburn Tigers DEF. 13) Kent State Golden Flashes

10) Penn State Nittany Lions DEF. 11) Pittsburgh Panthers

You’ve got to love a big cat fight. I have a lion beating a panther.

West

16) Howard Bison DEF. 12) VCU Rams

A matchup between the hardest heads in the bracket. The win goes to the Bison based on sheer size.

11) Arizona State Sun Devils DEF. 2) UCLA Bruins

Elite Eight

South

1) Alabama Crimson Tide DEF. 11) North Carolina State Wolfpack

Remember when Dumbo’s mom went on a rampage to protect her son? That’s what I’m envisioning here.

East

5) Duke Blue Devils DEF. 10) USC Trojans

The Trojans’ luck finally runs out.

Midwest

9) Auburn Tigers DEF. 10) Penn State Nittany Lions

Lions don’t even live in the jungle. Tigers are the real kings of the jungle. Plus, they’re bigger and stronger.

West

11) Arizona State Sun Devils DEF. 16) Howard Bison

Again, those devils would scare me if they came up from down below.

Final Four

5) Duke Blue Devils DEF. 1) Alabama Crimson Tide

11) Arizona State Sun Devils DEF. 9) Auburn Tigers

Championship

11) Arizona State Sun Devils DEF. 5) Duke Blue Devils

It felt like this matchup was destined to happen, didn’t it? I could just say I think Arizona State’s mascot is more intimidating or that its yellow color matches my optimistic view of Purdue’s region of the bracket, but this is the championship.

Merriam-Webster has three definitions for a blue devil: a low spirit, a flower and a fish. A sun devil is more commonly known as a dust devil or a whirlwind of sand and dust. That’s all I needed. A sun devil beats any version of a blue devil. Arizona State is my 2023 mascot bracket champion.

See, the First Four games matter in a bracket like this. I’d look like a genius if the Sun Devils actually won.

Let me know which team wins your mascot bracket. I hope you had a good time reading this. If not, I hope it opened your eyes to just how many schools’ mascots are a tiger, bulldog or wildcat.

Zach Piatt is a reporter for The Palladium-Item. Contact him at zpiatt@gannett.com or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.

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