Welcome back. After a long tournament, the field of sixty-eight teams has been reduced to a quartet of elite basketball programs, placing their legacies on the line for the chance at a championship.
In my opinion, the most beautiful thing about March Madness as a whole is its defiance of rational expectations. Every year, diehard fans pour countless hours of study and years of intuition into creating brackets, and none of them have ever been right. In fact, few make it past even the first round of the tournament. The tourney often delivers outcomes that seemingly have no grounding in the laws of basketball or nature. So,I have decided to give up on legitimately understanding the tournament, as no amount of preparation and sincerity seems to appease the gods of March Madness. Instead, I am predicting the outcome of every game based totally upon which of the two mascots would win in a fight.
This is probably the most straightforward of the mascots remaining. A tiger has stripes and eats people. Tigers have been considered throughout history to be worthy opponents to humankind.
I find that word choice is often indicative of the power of a creature, and this is perfectly represented with tigers. For instance, tigers cannot be simply killed, they must be slain. Next to sharks, they are the most common animal to be described as “man-eating.” Tigers are considered apex predators, meaning there are no creatures who dare to threaten them.
To understand how well a cavalier would fight, we must first understand exactly what “cavalier” means in this context. Initially, one would expect the word to mean “cavalryman,” as the school’s logo includes two crossing sabres and the school’s actual costumed mascot is a swashbuckling swordsman on horseback.
However, the team is actually named for the historical Virginia Cavaliers, who were simply English colonists in Virginia who supported King Charles I during the English Civil War. Obviously, long-haired seventeenth century English aristocrats dressed in ornate, puffy robes are significantly less likely to handle themselves in a fight than the cavalier portrayed by the school’s branding, so in this case I will recognize the cavalier as a mounted, sword-bearing dragoon.
This should make the Cavalier a difficult opponent for any person or animal, since the horse provides a massive defensive advantage. Not only does the cavalier have increased mobility, but he also now fights from higher ground, making him a more difficult target.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
In this case, a “red raider” is a bandit from the old American frontier, riding on horseback and robbing any defenseless traveler he comes across. Unlike the cavalier, the red raider does not fight with any obligation to some code of honor and will try to win through any means. However, the red raider is not above turning tail and fleeing if things start to go sour.
A significant advantage for the red raider comes from his weaponry. It can be assumed that, like all proper outlaws, this bandit is armed with two pistols, one on each hip. In a one-on-one fight, being the combatant that has a gun is usually advantageous. Expect the red raider to put this to good use.
Michigan State Spartans
For those of you who are unaware, Sparta was arguably the most militarily powerful city in classical Greece. Spartans were known for their strictly regimented armies. They won entire wars through their strategic and organizational dominance, advancing towards their enemy as a solid wall of shields and spearheads.
It will be difficult, however, for a single Spartan to find this kind of success in a one-on-one fight. Without the luxury of military formation, one Spartan soldier is simply a bronze-clad warrior armed with a spear and a shield. While this may be enough to defeat, say, a Washington Husky, the Spartan may find difficulty against stiffer competition
Now that our combatants have been introduced and the concept of basketball has been completely removed from this analysis, the fights should commence.
Auburn Tigers over Virginia Cavaliers
I think the tiger would win this fight simply because the cavalier is thoroughly unprepared to face this kind of opponent. The tiger would immediately pounce on the horse, and the sheer force of the largest cat species in the world would knock the steed over. The very most the cavalier could do is make a passing swipe at the beast while he crashes to the earth, likely wounding a leg under the weight of his horse. Now prone and vulnerable, the cavalier would be helpless against his opponent, slashing aimlessly as the tiger enjoys a meal.
Texas Tech Red Raiders over Michigan State Spartans
This may be the most straightforward fight of the entire tournament. Here we have someone with the two most important military innovations in human history (a horse and a gun) facing someone who has neither of these things. The formula for the red raider is simple: stay a good distance away from the Spartan and fire shots in his direction. Luckily for the raider, his horse allows him the mobility to go near his opponent if needed. This fight would consist entirely of the raider firing while riding in circles around an overwhelmed and overmatched Spartan.
Finally, after countless predatory felines, numerous breeds of dog, several blue-collar workers, and a cyclone have all bitten the dust, we have arrived at the championship fight. Both the Texas Tech Red Raider and the Auburn Tiger have had two days to recover from their previous fights (since the actual basketball teams are given that amount of time). This will likely effect the tiger more than the raider, the latter of whom barely came into any contact with his opponent. The fight is relatively evenly-matched, a worthy championship to punctuate an exciting tournament.
Auburn Tigers over Texas Tech Red Raiders
Earlier, I mentioned that the red raider would be armed with two frontier-era pistols. Well, tigers actually have strong enough hides to resist weaker bullet wounds. In order to avoid the fate of the cavalier, the red raider would have to outrun the tiger consistently. However, if the raider is constantly riding away at a gallop, his accuracy when shooting will certainly be compromised. This fight would come down to whether or not the raider gets a lucky shot on the tiger’s head before the beast inevitably catches his horse (surprise, tigers are faster than horses at top speed). I am not one to bet on a lucky shot, so I predict the tiger would take down the horse, victimizing the raider just as it did the cavalier after a long and exciting chase.
My more-informed friends have told me that March Madness this year was a “boring” tournament. I, on the other hand, have let go of any expectations for whatever purpose the tournament is supposed to fill. True, the stated purpose is determining the national champion, but I am not convinced March Madness truly does so. In 2014, Connecticut definitely won the tournament, but were they the best basketball team in the country? Probably not. However, those Huskies represent the other purpose the tournament can fill— producing exciting and unexpected results.
In that sense, in order to create these unexpected results, the tournament is formatted in a way that deliberately limits the extent to which its outcomes depend on each team’s ability to play basketball. So predicting the outcomes of games based on something entirely unrelated to basketball, such as team mascots, is simply a further fulfillment of the goals of March Madness. While scores of analytically-constructed brackets represent the logical end of the spectrum, predictions based on imaginary mascot fights represent the chaotic end of that spectrum. And after years of Madness, it has become clear that the tournament walks a line between the two.
This is what I’ve been telling myself to justify spending hours of my life thinking about whether or not a boilermaker would beat a wildcat in a fight.