Time again for March Madness, and let's be honest, outside of Duke, Ohio State, Texas and whoever that Jimmer kid plays for, most of us really have no freaking idea which teams to pick in our brackets. Sure, we could go straight seeds, but that never works, and it's dull besides. We could go team colors, or mascots, or some arcane system of directional-school weighting, but those are about as reliable as having a goat make your picks. (Also a valid strategy.)
So, since we're a celeb-obsessed culture, why not go all-in on that route? Sure, some of our best-known celebrities, like Charlie Sheen and Miley Cyrus, have never seen the inside of a university. But just about every single school in this year's tournament has at least one celebrity you've heard of, and here we'll run 'em at each other head-to-head. (For the purposes of this, “alumni” is defined as “anybody whom Wikipedia shows once attended classes at your school, whether or not they graduated.”)
There's no rhyme or reason here; this isn't who's tougher or better-looking or whatever. It's purely gut feeling. And in the case of universities with large celebrity contingents, we've looked to the gutter rather than the clouds -- the reality TV stars over the Nobel prize winners, for instance. It's far more fun that way. And away we go ...
East play-in game:
16. UT-San Antonio: Michelle Beadle, co-host of ESPN SportsNation
16. Alabama State: Deelishis, winner of season 2 of Flavor of Love
Verdict: Deelishis was a star on a show where someone actually defecated on the floor. Michelle Beadle co-hosts a show with Colin Cowherd. Yep, Deelishis in a rout. Play-in games … gotta love 'em.
East play-in game:
12. University of Alabama-Birmingham: 2010 U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell
12. Clemson: 2009 U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover
Verdict: When you're thinking great Irish golfers, you naturally think Birmingham, Alabama. McDowell is one of the best golfers in the game -- he took down Tiger Woods head-to-head in December -- and gets the nod here.
Southwest play-in game:
11. USC: Writer/director/producer Judd Apatow
11. VCU: Actor Stephen Furst (Flounder from “Animal House”)
Verdict: This is a case of generations colliding, as Flounder is the spiritual father of Apatow's army of
horny misfits. But “Anchorman,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Superbad” and all the rest are too much
for poor Flounder. Apatow it is.
Southeast play-in game:
16. UNC-Asheville: Kenny George, 7-7, tallest in NCAA history
16. University of Arkansas-Little Rock: Charlie Daniels (no, not the “Devil Went Down to Georgia” guy), Robert Palmer (no, not the creepy necrophiliac-dancers singer)
Verdict: Yeah, uh … this is undoubtedly the weakest game in the entire tournament from a celebrity
perspective. George was a beast, and that's good enough to get him past UALR's well-known names.
East Regional Second Round
1. Ohio State: Author Harlan Ellison
Verdict: Ellison is quite possibly the surliest man alive. He was kicked out of Ohio State after allegedly fighting with a professor who criticized his work; he claims he's since mailed a copy of everything he's ever published to that professor. Deelishis, meanwhile, may have once thrown a book at someone. Ellison takes it.
8. George Mason University: Political strategist Karl Rove
9. Villanova: Actor Bradley Cooper
Verdict: Cooper showed some skills in working out of tough situations in “The Hangover” and “The A-Team,” but that was Hollywood. Rove would snack on him for an appetizer.
5. West Virginia University: Actor Don Knotts
Verdict: Always bet on Barney Fife. Sure, he's as likely to shoot his own foot as a wrongdoer, but he's a bug-eyed bulldog in pursuit of his man.
4. University of Kentucky: Coach Pat Riley
13. Princeton: Actor Jimmy Stewart
Verdict: Stewart went back in time to see how his life would be different without him around in “It's A
Wonderful Life.” Pat Riley cannot conceive of a world without him as its master. Advantage Riley.
6. Xavier: John Boehner, orange-hued Speaker of the House
11. Marquette: Actor Chris Farley
Verdict: Boehner cries at the drop of a hat. Farley doesn't find that “funny” or “particularly manly” or “appropriate for a national leader.” Farley wins.
3. Syracuse: DJ/TV host Dick Clark
14. Indiana State: DJ Bubba The Love Sponge
Verdict: Dick Clark was one of the driving forces behind the creation of radio as we know it today, and
Bubba the Love Sponge damn near drove it to extinction. Winner: the world's oldest teenager.
7. Washington: Musician Kenny G
10. Georgia: Actor Josh Holloway
Verdict: Kenny G has convinced audiences for decades that he's a serious musician. That's a long con that "Lost's" Sawyer could only dream of. G: money.
2. UNC: Comedian Lewis Black
15. Long Island University: Disposable pop culture correspondent AJ Benza
Verdict: Black sputters more than Daffy Duck after gum surgery, but even his spittle is enough to blow
Benza off the stage.
West Regional Second Round
1. Duke: Author/man-about-town Tucker Max
16. Hampton: Actress Wanda Sykes
Verdict: One of the Internet's most arrogant clowns went to Duke? What are the odds of that? Wanda Sykes has a voice that could cut glass, but that's still better than a personality that curdles your soul. Sykes it is.
8. Michigan: QB Tom Brady
9. Tennessee: QB Peyton Manning
Verdict: Well, well, well ... look here, it's another matchup of the NFL's two greatest current icons. And, yet again, we give Brady the nod … this time because of the hair.
5. Arizona: Newscaster Geraldo Rivera
12. Memphis: Actor/politician Fred Thompson
Verdict: Say what you will about Rivera, he throws himself into his work, as opposed to Thompson, who always looks like he'd rather be watching a football game, beer in hand. Rivera takes it.
4. Texas: Matthew McConaughey
13. Oakland: David Hasselhoff
Verdict: Unhinged naked bongo playing or unhinged rant about hamburgers? What's your pleasure? We like burgers better.
6. Cincinnati: George Clooney
11. Missouri: Jon Hamm
Verdict: Funny how these matchups bring together similar figures from different generations, isn't it?
'90s leading man Clooney could have taken '10s leading man Hamm, but right now? Don Draper takes down Dr. Doug Ross, easy. And then takes his identity.
3. UConn: Moby
14. Bucknell: Gbenga Akinnagbe (Marlo's right-hand-man Chris Partlow on The Wire)
Verdict: As with Clooney, Moby suffers because the '90s are, well, over. Plus, never ever bet against "The Wire."
7. Temple: Bill Cosby
10. Penn State: Toby Flenderson, Human Resources Rep., Dunder-Mifflin Paper Co.
Verdict: Sure, Toby is a television creation, but at this point, so's Cosby. Let's give Toby the nod, if only because it'll drive Michael Scott insane.
2. San Diego State: Carl Weathers
15. Northern Colorado: Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, the guy who landed that plane in the Hudson River Verdict: Normally we'd go with a legitimate hero like Sully, but he's going up against Apollo Creed AND Chubbs! That's a tough match for even a real hero. Weathers wins.
Southwest Regional Second Round
1. Kansas: Don Johnson
16. Boston University: Howard Stern
Verdict: Now here's a heavyweight battle. Both are icons whose best days are behind them, but Stern's reach and influence gives him the slightest of edges. Bababooey to you all.
8. UNLV: Jimmy Kimmel
9. Illinois: Hugh Hefner
Verdict: Another outstanding matchup. Kimmel is the funniest late-night talk show host around, but Hefner is Hef, man. No contest.
5. Vanderbilt: Country music star Dierks Bentley
12. Richmond: Two-sport star Brian Jordan
Verdict: Well, they can't all be Hall-Of-Fame matchups. Bentley is one of the anonymously pleasant country music stars of today. Brian Jordan was a poor man's Deion Sanders, a two-sport star who played football for the Falcons and baseball for the Braves and Cardinals. That versatility gives him the edge here.
4. Louisville: Diane Sawyer
13. Morehead State: Chuck Woolery
Verdict: Huh. Can't say we really care who wins this one. But we give Sawyer the nod, since we're not
actually sure Chuck Woolery is a real person and not a game-show-hosting automaton.
6. Georgetown: Bill Clinton
11. USC-VCU: Judd Apatow
Verdict: Bill Clinton has done the stuff of which Judd Apatow only writes. (What? Apatow wrote a film about brokering peace treaties, didn't he?)
3. Purdue: Neil Armstrong
14. St. Peters: Um ... a whole bunch of notable people, but none you've heard of before.
Verdict: First man on the moon gets the nod in what's effectively a bye week.
7. Texas A&M: Lyle Lovett
10. Florida State: Burt Reynolds
Verdict: Strange-looking country singers who can pull in Julia Roberts get plenty of juice, but going up against The Bandit? No chance. Burt wins going away.
2. Notre Dame: George Wendt, actor (Norm on “Cheers”)
15. Akron: Jim Tressel, Ohio State head coach
Verdict: It's a dog-eat-dog world, and while Norm may be wearing Milk-Bone underwear, Tressel is wearing a vest that protects him from dogs, bullets, radiation and pesky NCAA rules committees. Tressel it is.
Southeast Regional Second Round
1. Pitt: Mike Ditka
16. Kenny George
Verdict: George is nearly 8 feet tall, but he could be 80 and he still wouldn't stand a chance against Hurricane Ditka.
8. Butler: Kurt Vonnegut
9. Old Dominion: Jimmy Carter
Verdict: Wow, this is a lot more serious than we meant it to be, but in this case, Carter gets the nod
over Vonnegut. And so it goes.
5. Kansas State: Kirstie Alley
12. Utah State: Chris Cooley, Washington Redskins
Verdict: Two “Cheers” stars in one bracket? What are the odds of that? Cooley pulled an accidental
Favre -– photographically speaking -– and Kirstie Alley hasn't been relevant in, well, ever. Can we declare no winner? No? Alley, then.
4. Wisconsin: Charles Lindbergh
13. Belmont: Brad Paisley
Verdict: Historical icon versus gunslinging country guitarist. These brackets are weird. But we go with Lindbergh, even though he never wrote anything as catchy as “Ticks.”
6. St. John's: Ron Artest
11. Gonzaga: Bing Crosby
Verdict: Crosby would find Artest's antics unseemly. Though I would pay good money to see these two duet. (Not live, obviously.) We'll go with Crosby.
3. BYU: Stephanie Meyer, “Twilight” author
14. Wofford: Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers
Verdict: Meyer writes about goofy evil in her “Twilight” books. As one of the NFL owners, Richardson embodies goofy evil. Meyer with the agonizing nod, because at least she's not costing us football next year.
7. UCLA: James Franco, Oscar host and actor, “127 Hours”
10. Michigan State: James Caan, actor
Verdict: Squinty Oscar host versus surly old-school Hollywood icon. We take Sonny Corleone; he'd have scared that rock into moving rather than cut his own arm off.
2. Florida: Tim Tebow, football messiah
15. UC-Santa Barbara: Morgan Freeman, actor
Verdict: Tebow has a good relationship with God, but Freeman has played the Voice of God. Winner.
East Regional Semifinals
Harlan Ellison (Ohio State) vs. Karl Rove (George Mason): Rove wins this one, but oh, does Ellison make it known what a horrific miscarriage of justice and the public trust his defeat is, so much so that even Democrats start to sympathize with Rove.
Don Knotts (West Virginia) vs. Pat Riley (Kentucky): Come on. Knotts slips on Riley's hair cream and knocks himself unconscious.
Chris Farley (Marquette) vs. Dick Clark (Syracuse): Dick Clark never saw anything as terrifying on “American Bandstand” as Farley in a Chippendale's outfit.
Kenny G (Washington) vs. Lewis Black (UNC): The rage and fury sputtering from Black would be amazing to behold, and would terrify Mr. G. Black is back.
West Regional Semifinals
Wanda Sykes (Hampton) vs. Tom Brady (Michigan): Brady is absolutely unstoppable, no matter how much sass Sykes throws up in his way.
Geraldo Rivera (Arizona) vs. David Hasselhoff (Oakland): Geraldo takes big chances, but he's often wrong. Whenever Hasselhoff ventures into the world of entertainment, he's so, so right.
Jon Hamm (Mizzou) vs. Gbenga Akinnagbe (Bucknell): Partlow got himself busted and is doing life for Marlo's crimes. You can't catch Don Draper that easily.
Toby Flenderson (Penn State) vs. Carl Weathers (San Diego State): Poor Toby. His run of good luck ends here. Perhaps he and Apollo can take one last run on the beach.
Southwest Regional Semifinals
Howard Stern (Boston U) vs. Hugh Hefner (Illinois): We salute Stern for his decades of service to adolescent-minded adult men. We salute Hefner even more for his near-century of service to same.
Brian Jordan (Richmond) vs. Diane Sawyer (Louisville): Hmmm. No clear winner in this one. We go with Sawyer because she may have been involved in Watergate, and that's cooler than Jordan batting behind Mark McGwire during Steroidgate.
Bill Clinton (Georgetown) vs. Neil Armstrong (Purdue): There aren't many jobs that trump “president,” but pointing to the moon and saying, “I've been there” is one of them.
Burt Reynolds (Florida State) vs. Jim Tressel (Akron): Sure, they both skated on legal charges against them, but Reynolds could have gotten the NCAA to offer him a condemnation, not a meaningless little suspension.
Mike Ditka (Pitt) vs. Jimmy Carter (ODU): Can Habitat for Humanity-built homes stand up to Hurricane Ditka? We say no.
Kirstie Alley (Kansas State) vs. Charles Lindbergh (Wisconsin): This has to be the most bizarre matchup of this round. We go with the American hero, though if Alley wins “Dancing with the Stars,” she might get the nod.
Bing Crosby (Gonzaga) vs. Stephanie Meyer (BYU): “Twilight” vs. “White Christmas.” Actually, even emo vampires would have made “White Christmas” a much better song.
James Caan (Michigan State) vs. Morgan Freeman (UC-Santa Barbara): This is a legitimate debate. We give the nod to Morgan Freeman because he was Easy Reader on the Electric Company way back
when, and that's cooler than Caan's stint on “Las Vegas.”
East Regional Semifinals
Karl Rove (George Mason) vs. Pat Riley (Kentucky): Both oversaw the rise of a near-dictatorial power, but Riley got the championships. If Rove had put Dwyane Wade in W's Cabinet, this might have gone a whole different way.
Chris Farley (Marquette) vs. Lewis Black (UNC): Farley's hard-partying ways ran out his string early. Black has moderated himself enough to stay alive. I think we have a clear winner: Farley.
West Regional Semifinals
Tom Brady (Michigan) vs. David Hasselhoff (Oakland): The Hoff had all these gorgeous women around him on “Baywatch,” but never seemed to close the deal. Brady, meanwhile, apparently closes multiple deals at once.
Jon Hamm (Mizzou) vs. Carl Weathers (San Diego State): Wow, this is a tough one. Hamm gets the nod only because nobody under the age of 30 really knows who Weathers is anymore.
Southwest Regional Semifinals
Hugh Hefner (Illinois) vs. Diane Sawyer (Louisville): You've got to go with the dude wearing the silk smoking jackets. How important is the news, anyway?
Neil Armstrong (Purdue) vs. Burt Reynolds (Florida State): One is an American icon, the idol of millions, a hero to an entire generation. The other just walked on the moon. Burt it is.
Southeast Regional Semifinals
Mike Ditka (Pitt) vs. Charles Lindbergh (Wisconsin): Once again, a national hero vs. a pop-culture immortal. And once again, we go with the crowd-pleasing (well, Chicago-pleasing) choice: Ditka over the flyboy.
Stephanie Meyer (BYU) vs. Morgan Freeman (UC-Santa Barbara): Because everyone thinks young people are morons and would like to make a buck at their expense, we give the nod to Meyer, who did just that.
East Regional Finals
Pat Riley (Kentucky) vs. Chris Farley (Marquette): Interesting dichotomy of choices here. Though Riley gets the win because he'd throw money at Farley and get him to play the low post for Miami. At least you know Farley would cry tears of rage.
West Regional Finals
Tom Brady (Michigan) vs. Jon Hamm (Mizzou): The battle of the handsome gentlemen. Both have risen above their respective stations, but both need their teammates/co-workers. In the tiebreaker,
Hamm gets the nod because Christina Hendricks > Bill Belichick.
Southwest Regional Finals
Hugh Hefner (Illinois) vs. Burt Reynolds (Florida State): The Bandit is fast losing steam, but he's got enough mojo left to hold off Hefner one last time.
Southeast Regional Finals
Mike Ditka (Pitt) vs. Stephanie Meyer (BYU): Hordes of sensitive goth kids who wouldn't know Refrigerator Perry if he sat on them –- and he could, all at once -– give Ms. Meyer the surprise win.
Pat Riley (Kentucky) vs. Jon Hamm (Mizzou): Is there enough hair gel in the world for these two? Riley loses only because he hasn't yet taken the head coaching job at Miami, like we all know he will. Don Draper wouldn't have shown that kind of restraint.
Burt Reynolds (Florida State) vs. Stephanie Meyer (BYU): The Bandit vs. vampires? It would have made an amazing movie, but sadly, not much of a matchup. Meyer continues her improbable run in the NCAA pop-culture finals by defeating Burt.
Jon Hamm (Mizzou) vs. Stephanie Meyer (BYU): And enough is enough. Don Draper is more scheming and amoral than a houseful of pouty vampires. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2011 Pop Culture champion: Jon Hamm!
-- Jay Busbee attended the College of William & Mary, whose alumni include presidents, Jon Stewart and Patton Oswalt, but which has exactly zero NCAA tournament appearances. Ah, well. Follow him on
Twitter at @jaybusbee and contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.