March Madness is certainly crazy this season when you consider this: In the first round, there is a dog vs. cat game, a tortoise-and-hare game and mythical characters abound. Alas, though, there is no first-round catfight.
That said, the most popular single mascot is the bulldog -- five are represented -- and there are also four varieties of bovines and two kinds of raiders (red and blue). So, without further ado, here's a quick-hit look at the bracket by mascot:
Fly, Fly Away: Seven teams have bird mascots in this tournament -- nine if you count the mythical Phoenix from Wisconsin-Green Bay and the made up Kansas Jayhawk (combination blue jay and hawk). Either way, birds are the most well-represented animal group in this year’s field: Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners, Iowa Hawkeyes, Oregon Ducks, St. Joseph’s Hawks, Temple Owls and UNC-Wilmington Seahawks. It may be relevant to note that one of these birds -- the roadrunner -- can’t fly, which doesn’t bode well for No. 15 Bakersfield, which opens against No. 2 Oklahoma in the West. And, as a side note, yes, the seahawk is a real bird -- it’s more commonly known as an osprey.
Woof, Meow: The most popular mascot in the field is bulldog -- Butler, Fresno State, Gonzaga, UNC-Asheville and Yale -- though the wildcat is a close second with four entrants. Three of the four wildcats -- Arizona, Kentucky and Villanova -- have won it all. So Weber State, a No. 15 seed that opens against No. 2 Xavier in the East, finds itself in good company.
Butler Blue II: This bulldog deserves his own entry. Blue II was catapulted to fame in 2010 when Butler made a run to the Final Four and Blue II became the first four-legged fan (who isn’t a service animal) allowed to watch games. The NCAA had denied Blue II’s access to Butler’s opening-round games, citing a rule prohibiting live animals at games, but when the bulldogs got to the Final Four, well, a special exception was granted. Blue II appeared on several national morning shows and was written about extensively. He made a second appearance the following year when Butler advanced to the Final Four in Houston. Blue II retired in 2013 and was replaced by Blue III, whom II helped train.
Dog vs. Cat Game: With the amount of dogs and cats among the mascots, it is amazing that only one first-round game -- No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 UNC-Asheville features a dog-cat match-up. While mascot-style picking tells you to choose the Bulldogs, it’s tough to pick against the traditionally successful Wildcats in this situation.
The Tortoise and the Hare: Remember the fable? Slow and steady wins the race? That’s probably going to be true in this case, as the No. 12 South Dakota State Jackrabbits take on the No. 5 Maryland Terrapins. Though the 12-5 matchup is prone to upsets, the Jackrabbits will probably wear themselves out long before the Terrapins are done.
Bovine Bonanza: Yep, four-legged, cloven-hoofed farm animals are also a dominant theme among mascots. Go figure. Oddly, all four bovines are on the left side of the bracket -- No. 8 Colorado Buffaloes and No. 14 Buffalo Bulls in the South and No. 6 Texas Longhorns and No. 10 VCU Rams in the West.
Rise of the Phoenix and a Little Mythology: As noted above, Wisconsin-Green Bay is nicknamed the Phoenix, making it one of only three pretend creatures in the tournament. Stony Brook's Seawolf is a made-up sea creature thought to bring good luck to those lucky enough to glimpse it. The third pretender? Duke's Blue Devils. That said, there are also two characters from Greek mythology in the field -- the Trojans (USC and Arkansas-Little Rock) and the Spartans (Michigan State). If the pundits are right, by early April we’ll find that the Spartans were stronger.
Hear Me Roar: OK, so there won’t be any real lions or tigers, or bears, for that matter, at the NCAA tournament sites, but a remarkable number of schools have live mascots. We all know about USC's Traveler and Oklahoma's Welsh ponies, Boomer and Sooner, none of who will be at the tournament, but there are plenty of small, live mascots among teams in the field. Temple boasts Stella the Owl, who lives at a zoo, but makes appearances at football games, while UNC boasts its ram, Rameses.
But the teams with the most manageable mascots are those with dogs. Yale has had a series of bulldogs named “Handsome Dan” while Texas A&M has had a long line of rough collies named “Reveille.” Among the other dog-themed schools, the UConn Huskies introduced Jonathan XIV in January 2014, UNC-Asheville revived its live-bulldog mascot tradition in 2009 with Rocky I and Fresno State introduced its latest mascot, a bulldog puppy named Victor E. Bulldog III in January 2015. Gonzaga discontinued its live-dog mascot program in the 1980s.
Will any of them join Butler’s Blue as a tournament regular? We'll see.