As every college hoops fan knows, the one shining moment of the NCAA Tournament isn't when your favorite team wins. It's when Duke loses. Or perhaps you get your jollies from rooting against some team besides Duke. Well, probably not. But just in case, here's Sports Nut's annual roundup of the evil, repugnant, detestable teams that make March Madness such a joy
Duke University, Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 2 in West Region
If history is our guide, 64 teams in the 2008 NCAA Tournament believe the fans, critics, and concessionaires aren't giving them enough respect. There's one team, though, that thinks the exact opposite. In recent years, coach Mike Krzyzewski, guard- poet J.J. Redick, and forward- faux businessman Christian Laettner have confessed to reporters the terrible burden that the Blue Devils must bear: Duke always gets the other team's best shot. Complaining that you get too much respect, that the NCAA's junior associates have the gall to try to beat you, is the quintessence of Duke basketball. I believe psychologists refer to this as narcissistic personality disorder.
Sure, every team and every hoops fan wants to see Coach Leadership and Ethics bite it. But that's not because Duke is on top of the basketball world—George Mason has reached as many Final Fours over the last six years. No, America's hatred of Duke grows ever-stronger because the program derives so much of its ample self-regard from being hated. It's a vicious cycle of annoyance: J.J. Redick says then-pre-frosh Greg Paulus will be "hated as much as me," an arrogant prediction that makes both Redick and Paulus instantly more loathsome. The most frustrating thing about hating Duke, then, is knowing the program would wither and die if you could just stop paying attention. After all, Duke doesn't play on national television 800 times a year because people want to see Greg Paulus win.—Josh Levin
Baylor University, Big 12 Conference, No. 11 in West Region
Hate is not a word I would use to describe Baylor, the red-brick university conveniently located mere yards from Interstate 35 in Waco, Texas. As any Big 12 alum will tell you, playing the Bears, who hadn't made the NCAA Tournament in 20 years, inspires a different emotion: fear. Fear of losing to a massively inferior opponent, fear of bowing before the runt of the conference. This season, after Texas A&M dropped a five-overtime game to the Bears, the Aggies were serenaded with chants of "worse than Bay-lor!" by opposing fans. The joke was that such a fate was unimaginable.
The Bears' list of vanquished opponents is impressive: Notre Dame, Winthrop, Kansas State, A&M, and, nearly, Washington State. They have a lively squad coached by Scott Drew and powered by guard Curtis Jerrells, who scored 36 points in the A&M game. The rise of the Bears threatens to upset the delicate fabric of Texas sports. Can a 14,000-student Baptist school that until recently "discouraged" dancing on campus really be in the, um, Big Dance? Can Baylor's success wipe away the memories of the sordid murder scandal of 2003? Will all of us Texans have to look at one another and say, "We are worse than Baylor?" The mind reels.—Bryan Curtis
University of Wisconsin, Big Ten Conference, No. 3 in Midwest Region
Everyone bags on Big Ten football, and appropriately so, but the Midwestern brand of pigskin is easy on the eyes compared with Big Ten hoops: a raft of mediocre teams, plenty of flow-restricting physicality, and, all-too-often, Brent Musberger, looking live from Champaign or Iowa City. The most painful Big Ten team to endure is the Badgers, a team that combines brutishness and blandness into an unwatchable goulash.
I blame Bo Ryan, the coach who has created a top program in Madison by installing all manner of defensive tactics while forgetting the game is supposed to be entertainment. To use a soccer analogy, the Badgers always appear to be playing for a draw but manage to get enough muscled-in offensive rebounds from the likes of Brian Butch to get past the league's weak competition. Wisconsin will muck along in the tournament until it runs into a team that knows how to execute a crossover dribble. Until then, I'll be singing my own version of the Badgers' fight song every time they clog up my TV: "Off, Wisconsin!"—Robert Weintraub
Cornell University, Ivy League, No. 14 in South Region
I wasn't sure I hated Cornell at first. The team broke Penn and Princeton's 19-year stranglehold on the NCAA Tournament. That's refreshing. Upon closer examination, however, several hate-stoking facts came to light:
- The team nickname is Big Red. Do you have that annoying jingle in your head yet? How about now?
- Three of the university's colleges receive significant state funding. As a New York taxpayer, I am thus subsidizing a sure loser. I wouldn't mind ponying up for a contender, but having drawn Stanford in the first round, Cornell can't even claim academic superiority.
- The worst hardship the Big Red has overcome this season: prolonged exposure to the team bus. Last week, the AP noted that "[t]he road to the NCAA tournament is especially difficult for Cornell" because players have to "endure long bus trips." Just imagine: Some players had to listen to their iPods for as many as four consecutive hours.
- When discussing the team in print or conversation, it appears mandatory to mention that sophomore guard Ryan Wittman is the son of Randy Whitman. Which raises an inevitable question: Who is Randy Wittman?
- Not a single player on the Cornell roster is enrolled at the university's storied school of hotel administration. It's bad enough that a team that lost to Bucknell is in the dance. But you're telling me that none of these guys are availing themselves of H ADM 437: Anheuser Busch Seminar in Quality Brewing and Fine Beer? Come on, Jeff Foote, you could have been the world's first 7-foot bellhop!—John Swansburg
Western Kentucky University, Sun Belt Conference, No. 12 in West Region
Cornell isn't the only Big Red in this year's tournament. That's also the name of the most soulless mascot in all of sports, a sort of backwoods cousin to Grimace who devours children on behalf of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Others are perhaps uglier; some are racially gauche. But Big Red? Not to go all Thorstein Veblen here, but Big Red—the "All-American mascot," as the school would have it—is nothing but a great big goggle-eyed tribute to consumerism. Consider: Big Red was born in 1979, the brainchild of one Ralph Carey, a public-relations student at Western Kentucky and future ad executive who, according to one account, fashioned his mascot after various Hanna-Barbera characters. (Hanna-Barbera, it bears noting, was a low-rent, corner-cutting cartoon production company that never drew a tree it didn't repurpose.) The result was the sort of anodyne red blob that might've been fished out of a Sesame Street dumpster and run through three focus groups. So bereft is Big Red of any defining characteristic that an Italian media company, owned by Silvio Berlusconi, could steal it wholesale, essentially admit as much, and still beat back the copyright suit. Big Red is now a tireless shill. He is a fixture on ESPN commercials and makes about 225 public appearances a year. Cough up $50 an hour, and he'll devour your children on their birthdays. Carey once said that the mascot represented "the spirit, the energy of a sporting event." Well, that and Nike, whose shoes Big Red has worn faithfully since 1979. All-American, indeed.— Tommy Craggs
University of Texas, Big 12 Conference, No. 2 in South Region
"We're scheduled to come play Arkansas next year, and if the fans don't treat us well, we're not going to come," Texas coach Rick Barnes proclaimed to the local media as his team prepared to play its first-round NCAA Tournament game in North Little Rock, Ark. "We've got enough money here we can buy our way out of it. So, they'd better be good to us."
This weekend, I'm counting on my fellow Arkansas fans to tell Barnes where he can stick his gigantic sack of money. How nice of the Texas coach to remind civilization, and a new generation of Hog supporters, how good it feels to hate on the 'Horns. It felt good to stomp No. 1 Texas 42-11 in Fayetteville in 1981, it felt good to ditch the old Southwest Conference for the SEC ("Let Texas play with themselves," it was said at the time), and it felt good to eat a publicly roasted steer before each year's Texas game. Of course, that fanfare applied only to football, which in Texas (and Arkansas) remains king. The fact that Barnes is brandishing the cash earned by the Texas football team is downright adorable. Unlike his basketball program, the Longhorns' football program, at least, has managed to buy itself a title.—Sam Eifling
West Virginia University, Big East Conference, No. 7 in West Region
Some great collegiate cheers give even nonpartisans goosebumps. Rock Chalk, Jayhawk. The UCLA eight-clap. Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer. But "Let's Goooooo! Mountaineers!" is not one of them. Especially when it comes from a visiting crowd of ill-tempered, well-liquored Larry the Cable Guy aficionados. Some background: On Feb. 12, 2006, West Virginia rolled into D.C.'s Verizon Center. My Hoyas had beaten Duke. They'd beaten Notre Dame. They'd beaten Pitt. And then they got Pittsnogled. The most annoying 6-foot-11 player in Big East history scored 15 in the second half, and victory in hand, the cheer rolled sickeningly through the arena. At least under coach John Beilein, you had to admire the Mountaineers' scrappy personnel and his embrace of the same 1-3-1 zone I ran in 6th-grade CYO ball. But now that the 'Eers have hired Bob Huggins, slime bucket of slime buckets, they're about two classes of juco recruits away from obliterating any lingering shreds of self-respect. As for Kevin Pittsnogle, I've made my peace. As a lesser-known cheer goes: That's all right, that's OK, we'll get your wedding pictures someday.— Mike DeBonis
University of Arizona, Pacific-10 Conference, No. 10 in West Region
Arizona will play in its 24th straight NCAA tournament this week, the longest active streak. That's one too many. In the last three weeks, the Wildcats are winless against everyone but Oregon State, a historically awful bunch of losers that hasn't put up a fight since challenging the Washington Huskies to a duel in a hotel parking lot.
But nothing about the anemic Wildcats, not even the team's (non)graduation rate, reeks as much as the behavior of Lute Olson, Arizona's longtime coach. Olson bailed on the team for "personal" reasons right before the season, then had the gall to haunt the program all year like an overzealous ombudsman. When he later invented new "personal" reasons, even devoted locals had to wonder why state taxpayers were footing the bill for the absent coach's $750,000 salary. If that weren't enough, the Silver Fox erased this bizarre story's only silver lining by announcing last week that he's returning to coach next season. I'm guessing that beleaguered interim coach Kevin O'Neill made like Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt, when he rolls over in bed, glares at his wife, and asks, "Who is this old woman living in my house?" She dies shortly thereafter. Let's hope Arizona exits just as gracefully this weekend.—Chris Park
University of Georgia, Southeastern Conference, No. 14 in West Region
It's tough enough to deal with UGA's obnoxious, thin-skinned fans during football season. Now, thanks to a miracle run to the SEC Tournament title, the Athens contingent has something else to crow endlessly about. Because a tornado rendered downtown Atlanta unfit for frivolity, the Dawgs did the deed in the home gym of its arch-enemy, Georgia Tech. Suffice it to say, Hotlanta will never hear the end of it.
Georgia fans are so self-righteous, they probably believe the twister (which I heard but didn't see, if you're curious) was sent by the Lord hisself to facilitate the unlikely championship. I prefer to blame Tennessee and Vanderbilt, the conference's two best teams, for gazing toward the bigger tournament that starts this week, thus helping a team that won four conference games all season win four in three days and the SEC's automatic tourney bid.
I'd have liked the Bulldogs' chances if the NCAAs had started Monday. Georgia is like the kid who gets on an ungodly hot streak and makes 30 straight free throws before mom makes him come home. When he heads back out after dinner, the magic is gone, and it's brick after brick after brick. By Thursday afternoon, when the Bulldogs take on Xavier, reality will have set in. That'll shut up those Georgia fans—at least until next month's spring football game.—Robert Weintraub
American University, Patriot League, No. 15 in East Region
At opposite ends of the 20th century, bookending those happy days when the school acted as a supposed front for the CIA, American University found itself thoroughly beset by noxious gasbags. I refer, in the first instance, to the containers of Lewisite and mustard gas buried at the fringe of campus after World War I. On the tail end, I refer, of course, to John Feinstein. There are many fine reasons to root for American, out of the Patriot League, not least because this will be the program's first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. But I can't, in good conscience, cheer for any team that inspires Feinstein, America's Favorite Sportswriter™, to inflict his prose on the reading public, especially the sort found in The Last Amateurs, Feinstein's 5,897th book. The book is nominally an account of the Patriot League's 1999-2000 basketball season; the real subject, however, is Feinstein himself, who is sad that he can longer watch major college basketball—with its "win-at-all costs mentality" and "pampered players"—and pretend he's 8 years old. Now, it is not American's fault that Feinstein fashioned the school and its fellow conference members into some ridiculous last redoubt of athletic purity, full of intelligent young men playing for "glory and honor" (as opposed to the kids in Conference USA, who, as we all know, play for hookers and cocaine). But the die has been cast. American University: Basketball that's good for you. Cheering for the Eagles now is like cheering for Brussels sprouts and condoms.— Tommy Craggs
University of Southern California, Pacific-10 Conference, No. 6 in Midwest Region
There was a time when I hated Tim Floyd for mere incompetence—when Chicago Bulls GM Jerry Krause plucked him from Ames, Iowa, to rebuild a soon-to-be Jordan-and-Pippenless franchise. After compiling a 90-231 NBA record, Floyd returned to college, where his loathsomeness sprouts from seamier endeavors. While USC's mysterious acquisition of prep star O.J. Mayo generated some under-the-breath muttering, I'm willing to believe Floyd's not-really-believable story: that Mayo essentially turned up on his doorstep, having recruited himself. But forget about O.J. Mayo—there's a much more important recruiting scandal going on at USC. The Trojans have spent one of next year's scholarships on Romeo Miller, a mediocre 5-foot-10 point guard better known as wee rapper Lil' Romeo. "The more buzz you can create, the more news stories you can create, the better served you are as a program," Floyd told the Wall Street Journal, explaining why he recruited Master P's hoops-impaired kid. USC and Tim Floyd must be stopped now, before they destroy college basketball for good. Your 2012 NCAA title game: Jonathan Lipnicki and USC vs. Stanford's superstar guard Miley Cyrus.— Mike DeBonis