The No. 15 Detroit Titans were overwhelmed by Kansas in their NCAA Tournament opener, losing by 14 points. In Slate’s mascot death match, however, it was the Jayhawks who never stood a chance—along with every other team the Titans have faced on the way to the Final Four. Even a last-ditch social-media campaign by fans of the South Florida Bulls couldn’t slow these larger-than-life Greek gods. Now they’re on the brink of something Detroit’s actual basketball team could only dream of—a national championship.
First, they’ll have to get past the Montana Grizzlies, who overpowered the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Elite Eight in a classic man vs. beast confrontation. On the other side of the bracket, the Colorado Buffaloes charged past the Iowa State Cyclones by a surprising 80-20 margin. (Buffaloes partisans might have played a role.) They now face the Memphis Tigers, who stunned a Florida Gators team that had gobbled up a different set of tigers just two rounds earlier.
The rules for the fights—five-on-five, in a basketball gym, to the death—are explained in detail here. This is the tournament’s final installment. Our takes on the Final Four and national mascot championship are below. Your votes in the survey at the bottom of the page will determine both the championship matchup and the ultimate victor.
No. 11 Colorado Buffaloes vs. No. 8 Memphis Tigers
This is exactly the type of implausible yet compelling showdown that inspires the mascot death match concept. Male bison can weigh upward of a ton, sport 18-inch horns, and can hit 35 miles per hour in a sprint. In a basketball game, taking a charge is an admirable defensive play. Against a buffalo, it’s suicide.
Bengal tigers, for their part, can weigh 600 pounds, are just as fast, and hold a clear edge in agility and offensive weaponry. They’ll come out looking to attack, and the buffaloes will struggle for footing as they whirl and buck to fend off the big cats. Like a well-coached underdog, the tigers will use full-court pressure, traps, and double-teams to catch their bigger opponents off-guard. In the second round of this tournament, a team of catamounts fell short against a bunch of bulls. But tigers are far bigger and stronger than cougars, and their bites will inflict more damage. As formidable as bison are on defense, they lack the quick-strike ability needed to capitalize on mismatches: When the tigers gang up on one buffalo, the others will be reduced to spectators—or, worse, they’ll launch an ill-advised charge and end up goring one of their own. In a long and gruesome battle, the tigers methodically thin the herd until the last buffalo falls.
No. 13 Montana Grizzlies vs. No. 15 Detroit Titans
If these contests were decided by the teams’ actual mascots, the titans would be a bunch of bobble-headed, gap-mouthed men with brushes on their helmets. As outlined in the introduction, however, this isn’t a tournament of over-caffeinated (or inebriated) college kids in cartoonish costumes—it’s a fight to the death between hypothetical real-life versions of the teams’ nicknames. Under those rules, the Titans—the old gods of Greek mythology, who ruled the heavens and earth until Zeus and the Olympians dethroned them—have been unstoppable. Give the grizzlies credit for tearing through the badgers, commodores, golden eagles, and mountaineers. Their rampage ends here.
No. 8 Memphis Tigers vs. No. 15 Detroit Titans
Not much remains to be said. Like gods throughout Greek mythology, who involved themselves in mortals’ affairs as a way of indulging vanities and settling scores, the Titans have toyed with their puny rivals throughout this tournament without ever being in real peril. As one reader pointed out, the Titans were fortunate that the Olympians of San Diego Mesa College were not eligible for the tournament. It’s also theoretically conceivable that a team of devout monotheists could have beaten them, either by steadfastly refusing to believe in their existence, or by invoking the protection of their own omnipotent deity. As it happened, however, this year’s field included no Friars, Crusaders, or Demon Deacons, so no such metaphysical matchups came to pass. The Titans vanquish the tigers, then celebrate by cutting down the nets, flooding the stadium, setting off volcanic eruptions, and dunking the earth through a celestial hoop.