If you’ve read our mascot death match roundups for the tournament’s first and second rounds, you know the rules by now. We’re imagining real-life fights between the mascots representing this year’s NCAA Tournament teams—five-on-five, to the death, in an enclosed gym. In the real tournament, the Baylor Bears eliminated the Colorado Buffaloes in the second round. In our tournament, the buffaloes trampled the bears, with 60 percent of our readers picking the big vegetarians. In other second-round highlights, the tigers nipped the Spartans, the gators chomped the tigers, and the golden eagles clawed the bulldogs. Now that we’ve reached the Sweet 16, almost all of the matchups are compelling: There are no immobile buckeyes or billikens left in this field. Here’s how we see the next eight matchups shaking out. Cast your votes in the survey at the bottom, and we’ll run down the Elite Eight next week.
No. 8 Iowa State Cyclones vs. No. 13 New Mexico State Aggies
A quick refresher: In general, Aggies are people employed in agriculture; aggies in the New Mexico State context are mustachioed Old West types who used to wield pistols but have been reduced to twirling lassoes. Cyclones in general are low-pressure systems characterized by inwardly spiraling winds; cyclones in the Iowa State context are tornadoes. In a battle of things that spiral in the air, we’ll take the 100 mph winds over the lazily arcing ropes.
No. 11 Colorado Buffaloes vs. No. 2 Duke Blue Devils
Weighing up to 2,000 pounds, buffaloes are a tough out. They outran runnin’ rebels in the first round and treed bears in the second. These Blue Devils, meanwhile, have an even better weapon than horns: guns. Still, these WWI-era French soldiers’ weapons aren’t automatic, and neither is their victory here. Dropping a trophy bull when it’s just standing around is easy enough, provided your firearm is of sufficient caliber. (It can also be done with smarts and planning: Before the introduction of the horse, Plains Indians would herd buffalo off of cliffs.) But our death match assumes all contestants are angry and motivated, and a sudden buffalo charge is no joke. Since bison are endemic to North America, Les Diables Bleus have little experience with the beasts and might not know just where to aim. They could try to press their flowing blue capes into service until the buffaloes tire, though that’s exceedingly risky. Our guess is that they’re likely to draw on their experience fighting in mountainous terrain and will stake out positions in the bleachers from which to snipe. Not all will survive, but at least one or two will survive to kill the last of the herd.
No. 8 Memphis Tigers vs. No. 5 New Mexico Lobos
As the wolf is to the wildcat—the lobos defeated Davidson’s felines in the second round—the tiger is to the wolf: bigger and beastlier. Wolves are renowned for their teamwork, though, and might use the death match equivalent of the Princeton offense to perplex and outflank their more athletically gifted opponents. Their best strategy might be for three wolves to isolate and attack one tiger while the other two keep the remaining cats at bay. But even three wolves would have a hard time bringing down a tiger, which might weigh twice as much as the trio combined. If they do manage to kill one, they’ll be wounded and fatigued, while their next tiger target will be fresh. In a bloody war of attrition, the tigers get the last roar.
No. 14 BYU Cougars vs. No. 7 Florida Gators
Informed by this video of a tiger getting the drop on a crocodile, we picked Missouri’s tigers to prevail over these American alligators in the second round’s most-ferocious matchup. But our readers, in their wisdom, were not swayed by an isolated data point and sided with the larger and better-protected reptiles by a 52-to-48 margin. (The gators’ win also, felicitously, precludes a tigers vs. tigers standoff in the regional final.) If the gators can snap up the world’s largest cats, they can also handle the cougars, who weren’t seriously tested in earlier battles with Marquette’s golden eagles and Colorado State’s rams.
No. 9 Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles vs. No. 13 Montana Grizzlies
If the venue were the Grand Tetons, this would be a draw—the eagles could simply soar away. But this tournament’s rules privilege fight over flight. The bears ground the eagles with a swipe of the paw, and it only gets grizzlier from there.
No. 3 Florida State Seminoles vs. No. 10 West Virginia Mountaineers
In a matchup that evokes one of American history’s most brutal chapters, a team of white frontiersmen with rifles takes aim at a group of under-equipped Indian warriors. The real Chief Osceola owned a gun, but per Florida State’s controversial mascot, these Seminoles have horses but not firearms. On a swampy battlefield, the horses might give the Indians the edge. On hardwood, though, hooves are a liability. Gunpowder wins the day.
No. 16 Vermont Catamounts vs. No. 12 South Florida Bulls
What a fight. Mountain lions routinely kill and eat calves, but a full-grown bull is another matter. According to this field guide to mountain lions, “reports of mature cattle and horse kills should be viewed with skepticism,” since cougars rarely kill animals weighing over 500 pounds. Cougars beware: Bulls can weigh more than a ton. It’s not quite the same, but this video shows a male buffalo driving off lions as they try to pilfer a calf. (With great effort, a team of five lions eventually brings down the big bull—but only because he’s isolated and outnumbered.) Floridian cattle may not be quite as sturdy, but nor are Vermont catamounts as fierce as their African cousins. The bulls charge on.*
No. 14 Belmont Bruins vs. No. 15 Detroit Titans
As noted in victory over the boilermakers, titans aren’t immune to trickery. But these ancient Greek gods are smarter than the average bears. Stronger, too.
Correction, March 27, 2012: This article originally referred to “New Hampshire catamounts” in a section about the Vermont Catamounts. (Return to the corrected sentence.)