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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Mascot Madness 2015

The 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is underway.  If you want hardcore harcourt analysis, hit up Joseph Nardone (@JosephNardone) on the Twitter machine or check out on the Interwebs.  If you want an in depth breakdown of the mascots in this year's madness then Banshee Sports is your destination.

The 2015 NCAA Tournament is the best mascot showcase in recent memory.  Out of 68 teams in the field, there are 59 different mascots.  That is the most different mascots since the dawn of this column in 2012.  Wildcats led the way with four entries in the tournament.  Bulldogs were second with three teams.  The only other duplicate mascots were Bears, Panthers, Tigers and Cowboys.  That leaves a lot of room for variety.

It's not just quantity in 2015.  It's quality, too.  Let's take a region by region look.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Midwest Region.  The Kentucky Wildcats are the overwhelming favorites to advance to the Final Four, but in terms of mascots, this is a very deep region.  This region has Bearcats, Boilermakers, Mountaineers, Terrapins, Crusaders and Shockers.  The Manhattan Jaspers, my favorite mascot from the 2014 tournament, are also in this region.  But, this year, I have to give the nod to a familiar power: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  It is hard to get credit simultaneously for tradition and trend-bucking, but Notre Dame finds a way.  Ethnic mascots have gone out of style in recent years.  Especially mascots that perpetrate a stereotype.  Notre Dame doubles down on the image by bringing a real, live, feisty redhead dressed like a leprechaun to represent their school.  The only way to improve on this mascot is to put a potato in one hand and a beer in the other.

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
West Region.  This region lacks the mascot depth of the Midwest, but there are a few solid choices in this group.  Arkansas gets credit for creativity.  Instead of going with a boring "pig" or a slow-sounding "hog," Arkansas makes the same animal sound much more exciting by calling it a Razorback.  For the second year in a row, the Wofford Terriers stake a strong claim for best mascot in their region.  As anyone who follows my Dog Show posts knows, I am a sucker for terriers.  But, I am also a big fan of the "scholar" part of "scholar athlete."  Therefore, I have to pick a mascot that is based on a character from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.  That would be the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.  The chanticleer is one of the primary character in "The Nun's Priest's Tale."

UC Irvine Anteaters
East Region.  Last year, the Providence Friars were the best mascot in the East Region.  The Friars are back to defend their title, but the competition is a bit tougher this time around.  The Great Danes of Albany are a strong contender in the East, but they ran up against a mascot juggernaut in the UC Irvine Anteaters.  Prior to this year's tournament, the last time I saw an anteater on TV, it was in an old Ant and the Aardvark cartoon.  In my opinion, you can never get too much anteater on your picture box.

NDSU Bison
South Region.  The San Diego State Aztecs and the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks each won their region in last year's mascot tournament.  This year, the University of North Florida Osprey had a solid chance to knock both of them off.  It's a unique name, but the image and live mascot they have choosen is substandard.  That left the door open for the North Dakota State Bison to be the best mascot in the South Region.  Bison have traditionally been a favorite mascot at Banshee Sports, and NDSU does a good job with both the sideline and logo versions.

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