Know what the NCAA tournament has a lot of? Besides noise and office pools? Nicknames. It’s a buffet.
Some are on the unique side. If it’s Boilermakers, we’re talking Purdue and no one else. Same for the Kansas Jayhawks. Where else but Indiana for the Hoosiers or Illini for the Fighting Illini or Tennessee for the Volunteers or Iowa for Hawkeyes or Arkansas for the Razorbacks? Nothing says TCU like a Horned Frog.
And do we even need to say where the Crimson Tide come from? That nickname, naturally, was born after an Alabama-Auburn football game. But now it belongs to the top-seeded basketball team in the land, Big Al the elephant mascot and all.
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Others are not so unique. There are five sets of Tigers going at it this week — Auburn, Memphis, Missouri, Princeton and Texas Southern. Four brands of Bulldogs — Drake, Gonzaga, Mississippi State and UNC Asheville. Four versions of Wildcats — Arizona, Kansas State, Kentucky and Northwestern.
We have the nether regions represented with the Duke Blue Devils and the Arizona State Sun Devils.
The Weather Channel pair of the Miami Hurricanes and the Iowa State Cyclones.
Both ends of the geography spectrum with the West Virginia Mountaineers and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders.
There are the Marquette and Oral Roberts Golden Eagles but also the Kent State Golden Flashes.
There are a pair of Gaels — Iona and Saint Mary’s. Two different versions of Wolfpack — since North Carolina State goes with one word but Nevada uses Wolf Pack. A brace of Aggies in Texas A&M and Utah State. We have the Ancient Greece Bowl in the first round with the Michigan State Spartans against the USC Trojans.
We have Knights from Fairleigh Dickinson but also Cavaliers from Virginia and Paladins from Furman. The last two meet Thursday and if you use the root definitions of their nicknames it’ll be supporters of King Charles I vs. members of Charlemagne’s court. There are Gauchos from UC Santa Barbara and Musketeers from Xavier and Raiders from Colgate. In the tribute-to-other-civilizations section, here come the San Diego State Aztecs and Northern Kentucky Norse. A little reverence here, please, for the Providence Friars. The NCAA tournament can be like a like a tour of an aviary. Bluejays from Creighton, Redhawks from Southeast Missouri State and a couple of Owls from Florida Atlantic and Kennesaw State. Florida Atlantic got the name because its campus was declared a burrowing owl sanctuary 52 years ago.
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It can also be like hike through a wildlife preserve. The Penn State Nittany Lions, the Montana State Bobcats, the Vermont Catamounts. There are Bears from Baylor and Bruins from UCLA and Bison from Howard and Broncos from Boise State and Lopes from Grand Canyon and Longhorns from Texas and Huskies from Connecticut. A couple of Cougars from Houston and Charleston. Panthers from Pittsburgh, Terrapins from Maryland and Rams from VCU. The San Diego Zoo doesn’t have this many animals.
Anyone left? Ah yes, that poetic masterpiece from the Bayou, the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. No. 13 seed in the bracket, but the Alabama of the field when it comes to nicknames.