No. 1 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 16 LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds
It’s conceivable that a less-disciplined band of ancient fighters could be frustrated by the blackbirds’ small size and aerial agility. Spartan hoplites, however, were among history’s best-trained combatants, raised from birth to be killing machines and prohibited from any trade but war. They’ll spear the blackbirds and eat them for a snack.
No. 8 Memphis Tigers vs. No. 9 St. Louis Billikens
The billikens, elfin charm dolls with pointy ears created by a St. Louis schoolteacher in 1908, are a delightful anomaly in the macho world of sports mascots. The tigers will eat them.
No. 5 New Mexico Lobos vs. No. 12 Long Beach State 49ers
Participants in California’s gold rush of 1849 were a rowdy and lawless bunch, but pans and pickaxes won’t be enough to beat back a pack of hungry wolves. The 49ers also won’t be able to buy their way out of this one, as gold is less valuable to the lobos than delicious prospector flesh.
No. 4 Louisville Cardinals vs. No. 13 Davidson Wildcats
The cats couldn’t believe their good fortune when this tournament draw was announced.
No. 6 Murray State Racers vs. No. 11 Colorado State Rams
The Kentucky-based Racers’ logo indicates that they’re jockeys on horseback, or perhaps—casting aside anthropocentrism—thoroughbreds burdened with jockeys. This is a tough one to call, as both contestants are sturdy but neither possesses intimidating weaponry. Yes, rams have horns, but they have a tendency to curve in the wrong direction. This YouTube video gives a sense of just how boring a horse vs. ram standoff could be. Assuming the horses’ dainty riders can dismount, however, they could probably wrestle the rams into submission.
No. 3 Marquette Golden Eagles vs. No. 14 BYU Cougars
Golden eagles are no yardbirds. With a 6-foot wingspan and powerful talons, they’re capable of snatching up small cats and even mountain goats. Unfortunately for these birds of prey, cougars are not small cats; adult males grow upward of 7 feet long. After lunching on a merry band of Gaels in the play-in round, they’ll track down and eviscerate the eagles for dessert.
No. 7 Florida Gators vs. No. 10 Virginia Cavaliers
One of the first round’s marquee matchups pits skilled 17th-century swordsmen loyal to King Charles I against the swamp’s apex predators. Gators are usually shy around people, but when they do attack, it’s with surprising speed: Despite growing 12 feet long and weighing up to 800 pounds, American alligators can move as fast as humans over short distances. Cavaliers are at their best on horseback, but their mounts will surely bolt from this confrontation. Once on foot, the cavaliers will need all of their fencing skills to parry the gators’ lunges. And imagine their disconcertment when they land their first clear thrust, only to find it repelled by the reptiles’ tough, armor-plated skin. Stabbing at the animals’ mouths may seem a wise alternative, but alligators bite with a force that has been measured at 2,125 pounds—the weight of a small truck. The gators won’t come away unscathed, but when it’s over, the Kings of the Everglades will have the king’s loyalists in their bellies.
No. 2 Missouri Tigers vs. No. 15 Norfolk State Spartans
Another elite matchup. If the entire Spartan Army could join the fray, they could rely on their superior organization and tactics to corral, confuse, and spear the tigers. Over the centuries, humans have reputedly killed tigers by blinding them with birdlime, booby-trapping bamboo bridges, or setting fires to drive them into nets. But all of these strategies take more time and preparation than a TV timeout. In an impromptu five-on-five battle, even the staunchest ancient soldiers are no match for the world’s largest predatory cats, which stretch 11 feet from head to tail, weigh 600 pounds, and have three-inch-long canine teeth. This is a case where horses or guns would have really come in handy.