You know, I think I've probably been a little rough on Wildcats over the past few years. I'd been running with the "thing that's the same size as a domestic cat and mostly only tries to kill things smaller than it" definition without even considering the Lynx, which is at least somewhat larger, or the Bobcat. Or professional wrestler Wildcat Chris Harris. All completely legitimate interpretations, and there's really no excuse for having excluded those as possibilities to this point.
I’ll just stay over here, thanks. No. It’s not you. It’s me.
On the other hand, no matter what definition of wildcat I'm running with (like, say, the 1986 Goldie Hawn vehicle that was apparently the debut of Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson), the sad truth of the matter is that this wildcat had the poor fortune to run into Western Kentucky and I'm unreasonably excited about Big Red being back in the tournament. Big Red seems to be larger than most of the actual cats, and so probably wouldn't be targeted as prey and that professional wrestler I just found out exists is still a mere mortal. He'll have to sleep at some point, which is when I imagine Big Red will bound joyfully from the shadows to put this match to an end.
Western Kentucky advances
#8 Iowa State Cyclones vs. #9 Connecticut Huskies
Huskies are great. They're big, energetic dogs and I get the feeling that if I ever found myself in the arctic wilderness with a sled and a pack of huskies, I would die immediately because I am utterly clueless about how to handle that situation and they'd run away to safety, but they probably wouldn't be too condescending about the whole experience.
Really, it's remarkable that there exist a number of sports which amount to "tie dogs to mode of transit and have them run", if only for the jargon. Take the opening sentence from the Wikipedia article on "Bikejoring".
"Bikejoring is a dog mushing activity related to skijoring, canicross, and dog scootering."
Oh! Of course! Just like canicross and dog scootering. I'm glad we're all on the same page.
Cyclones, on the other hand, are a destructive force of nature. I was considering counting them out simply because of the recent tornado outbreak that's actually caused a lot of damage across the midwest because tornadoes can go to hell, but wasn't sure how to work around that if this is supposed to be mascot combat.
The solution is somehow a bird with teeth.
That’s where we are as a society.
Happily, Iowa State did that for me, because despite being named the Cyclones, their mascot is a Cardinal named Cy, who's apparently won some National Mascot Awards in a world where that is a thing that exists. As discussed previously, cardinals are certainly not a force of nature. They eat seeds. They're occasionally loud. They're easy to distinguish from the background. If it's mascot vs. mascot, Jonathan the Husky takes this in a walk.
#12 Virginia Commonwealth Rams vs. #5 Wichita State Shockers
I like that after five years of doing this, I’m still finding mascots where I’ve got no idea what the hell they are. The Shockers were last in the tournament in 2006, just before I started doing this, and I’m woefully underprepared with regards to the Missouri Valley Conference. And so here we are.
Apparently, “Shockers” refers to early students shocking the wheat fields, which is what you call harvesting wheat fields if you’re a late 90’s Mountain Dew commercial. I’m going to assume WuShock has got some sort of electrical powers, like a second rate, more wheat-centric Black Lightning.
Black Lightning’s also got much better lapels.
The Rams seem a little mundane in comparison. Sure, they’ve got the big horns and the standing around and chewing grass (though I’m sure they might chew wheat if they had to), and I guess I could twist things around to construe them as some sort of battering ram, but I have no idea what Wichita has in the way of fortified city walls. I do know that I’ll jump on any chance to post a Toasters song.
Wichita State advances.
#4 Indiana Hoosiers vs. #13 New Mexico State Aggies
Good on New Mexico State for actually having a character to go along with the ever-present “Aggie” nickname. Sure, he’s got a jaunty vest and he makes me feel a little like I might have cheated him at poker without realizing it, but he’s present and I don’t have to make up some nonsense about the relative merits of students of Agricultural and Mechanical Colleges.
And what a moustache.
Hoosiers, as ever, are residents of Indiana. For the purposes of this matchup, let’s assume that’s Red Skelton. Now, Vaudevillians are frightening, but look at this. Does this look like the face of someone who’s going to deal well with Tom Selleck, New Mexico Ranger?
I sort of want to make the guy a pie.
Yeah, unarmed Red Skelton isn’t going to fair well here.
New Mexico State advances
#6 UNLV Rebels vs. #11 Colorado Buffaloes
I thought, when I was first looking through the bracket, that this wouldn’t really be a matter of who would win, but how accurate of a shot Hey Reb is behind his awesome, possibly sentient moustache. And then I finally got around to looking up what the actual mascot looks like.
Oh hey, it’s the last thing you see before you die. Terrific.
I’m not sure whether it’s the soulless eyes, or the barely visible yet still threatening teeth, or the goalie gloves. The moustache and hat don’t even come into it. There’s only one true response to Hey Reb. And that is to run as fast as you can. I’m sorry Buffaloes. It’s you or me, and I’ve got matchups to write.
#3 Baylor Bears vs. #14 South Dakota State Jackrabbits
Interesting choice by South Dakota State, loading up on dexterity and putting basically nothing into strength. I guess the goal here would be to stay the hell away from the Baylor Bear until he gets bored and wanders into an active minefield just to feel alive.
The Jackrabbits do appeal to me, not because I’ve ever been to South Dakota, but in that I’m going to presume they were named in tribute to the wooden coaster at Kennywood. But even there, it winds up playing it too safe. Sure, it’s got the lift hill in the middle of the ride and a double dip (without which it’d be a even more toned down version of Racer without the Racing), but if this were a matchup between the Baylor Bears and the South Dakota State Thunderbolts, we’d have a matchup both in the Vengance of Zeus sense and the “Liable to cause internal injuries if you’re sitting on the wrong side” sense. Sadly, that’s not what we’ve got here, and there’s no way a straight up Jackrabbit/Bear fight ends in anything but calls to the next of kin of the rabbit.
#7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. #10 Xavier Musketeers
So the Xavier mascot is this guy.
He’s not actually cheerleading here. He’s just trying to tell anyone who will listen about the great deal he got on those boots.
As far as big foam rubber humans go, that’s actually pretty mild. He’s got puffy sleeves and a big goofy goatee, and he seems to be a French musketeer, which is a shame because the Xavier Redcoats would have filled this matchup with unintended political overtones. Presumably, the guy was selected from a pool of potential musketeers for his prowess in musketing, which is a hard field to get into but pays off with great benefits and the ability to wear culottes in public without getting harassed over it. The Fighting Irish on the other hand, have gone with a leprechaun instead of, say, a big, foam rubber Charles Stewart Parnell. Sure, he’s got that shillelagh, but the musketeer by definition has a musket, and I don’t know if a leprechaun’s abilities include being able to bat musket balls out of the air.
I don’t think that’s part of the package.
#2 Duke Blue Devils vs. #15 Lehigh Mountain Hawks
And we’ve reached the part of the year where I don’t know what the hell to do with Duke. They’re either Australian flowers, French mountain infantry, a jazz band from Oklahoma or depression. Only one of those has any actual combat training, and that one (regretfully) isn’t the one that Count Basie used to be involved with. Mountain Hawks, as near as I can tell, are eagles native to the Indian subcontinent, which isn’t near Bethlehem, PA, but at least they’ve got the decency to be one easily identifiable thing.
They’re also called “Hodgson’s Hawk-Eagle”, which makes me think Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot might be involved, which fills me with glee.
Joel Hodgson, Benevolent Dictator
Just for that, actually, and because there’s a (slight) possibility that the Blue Devils might be a flower, Lehigh advances.