Pop Culture

A March Madness Preview for People Who Have Never Watched Basketball All Year and Are Forced Into an Office Bracket Pool


Louisville (1) vs. NCAT (16) or Liberty (16)

Louisville’s famous alumni include Sam Halpern (the dad of Shit My Dad Says), mystery writer Sue Grafton, and NPR’s Bob Edwards. North Carolina A&T boasts Jesse Jackson, Jesse Jackson Jr., and Ron McNair, an astronaut who died on the Challenger. Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell, has produced longtime NFL kicker Jason Elam and several members of Christian rock bands. North Carolina A&T wins this one sitting on their hands.


Colorado St. (8) vs. Missouri (9)

Colorado State is a land-grant college, so it exists due to the efforts of Justin Smith Morrill, one of the founders of the Republican Party. Its mascot is “CAM the Ram.” Missouri was the first public university west of the Mississippi River. Its mascot is “Truman the Tiger,” named after a president who didn’t go to college. Who wins between a misleading fib of appropriation and an animal? Colorado starts its bench players and wins 77-54. Mark it.


Oklahoma St. (5) vs. Oregon (12)

“Bellowing farce mortal farm vomit” – Tarantula, Bob Dylan, p. 5

“That band of immoral teenage hobo jocks helmed by her b-f Rick” – The Orange Eats Creeps, Grace Krilanovich, p. 12

Oregon scores 12 points in the first three minutes and sits on the lead to win 12-5.


Saint Louis (4) vs. New Mexico State (13)

Saint Louis is the patron saint of hairdressers. I was in New Mexico once on a road trip with a filmmaker/actor/writer named George. It was extremely difficult to get a last-minute hotel room because of all the balloons in the sky.

Saint Louis wins 60-51.


Memphis (6) vs. MTSU (11) or SMC (11)

Memphis is the home of Stax Records.

Memphis wins 2,128 to 4.


Michigan State (3) vs. Valparaiso (14)

Don DeLillo wrote a play called Valparaiso. The Verve Pipe are from East Lansing, Michigan. Remember that song “The Freshmen?”

Valparaiso’s team gets on the wrong plane and ends up in Chile, but still wins by an unknown score.


Creighton (7) vs. Cincinnati (10)

Doug McDermott’s 23.1 ppg for Creighton is second in all of Division I basketball, and his perimeter scoring has helped the Blue Jays lead the NCAA in three-point shooting (an astonishing 42.1 percent) while his points in the paint paced his father’s squad to an NCAA-leading 50.8 field goal percentage. They’ve had the same starting five in every game this season, a distinction shared only by Stephen F. Austin, and are matched up against an aggressive Cincinnati team who finished the regular season sixth in the nation in blocked shots. Whoever wins could go on to sweep their bracket.

The game will end in a tie.


Duke (2) vs. Albany (15)

Richard Nixon was known as “Gloomy Gus” when he attended Duke University’s law school. Millard Fillmore worked in Albany when he was New York State Comptroller. Nixon’s daughter married Dwight D. Eisenhower’s grandson. John Quincy Adams once went skinny-dipping with a female reporter. Martin Van Buren called the presidency “anxious and toilsome probation.” Andrew Jackson had a party that served too much cheese.

Duke 59, Albany 42.



Gonzaga (1) vs. Southern (16)

“When shall we three meet again?” – line one of Macbeth

“From Engelonde to Canterbury they wende.” – line 16 of the general prologue of Canterbury Tales

The winner of the Gonzaga/Southern contest will ultimately share the fate of the Plantagenet line of kings.


Pittsburgh (8) vs. Witchita St. (9)

Since 1985, four eight-seeds have reached the Final Four, the most recent being Butler in 2011, and in that time, a number nine seed has never made it that far.

Therefore, Pittsburgh sends its band onto the court, to rest the actual players for the more meaningful games down the road, and while the Pittsburgh band beats Witchita State based merely on statistical probability, the tuba player does show promise with his post presence and transition defense.


Wisconsin (5) vs. Mississippi (12)

Madison, Wisconsin has produced the bands Garbage and Killdozer. There’s a fantastic bookstore in Oxford, Mississippi called Square Books, and a wonderful gift shop called Amelia Presents run by a woman named Erin Kirkpatrick. I bought a globe from her that was almost confiscated at the Hoover Dam. Who smuggles things in a globe? I guess I look the part.

Wisconsin wins 49 – 43.


Kansas State (4) vs. Boise (13) or La Salle (13)

You were right when you said you can’t always get what you want
You were right when you said it’s a hard rain’s gonna fall
You were right when you said were still running against the wind
Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone
You were right when you said this is the end

— “You Were Right,” Built To Spill, of Boise, Idaho

Kansas State still wins.


Arizona (6) vs. Belmont (11)

You know when people check out the “legs” of a glass of wine? Really the only thing you can tell by looking at those is the alcohol content. High-alcohol wines, like American Rhone varietals, say, have thicker, slower-moving legs than Burgundies or whites.

I went wine tasting outside of Tucson once and had a Super Tuscan-style blend that I thought wasn’t bad at the time.

Belmont loses to Arizona, 44 to 53.


New Mexico (3) vs. Harvard (14)

The third song from The Rolling Stones to chart anywhere in the world was “Not Fade Away.” The fourteenth was “The Last Time.” Their best is “Gimme Shelter.” Joel Schumacher’s third film was St. Elmo’s Fire and his fourteenth was Flawless. His best, hands down, is D.C. Cab. Its flaws mirror the flaws in ourselves.

Five members of the Roosevelt family, including Theodore and Franklin Delano, who each attended Harvard, served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy sometime between 1861 and 1954.

This is a close one, but I’m going to say New Mexico, 66-58.


Notre Dame (7) vs. Iowa State (10)

One of the biggest problems we’re going to have in the near future, as it relates to the periodic table of the elements, is a shortage of Dysprosium, which is a metal that helps rare earth magnets preserve their magnetism at high temperatures, and is used, most commonly, in hybrid car batteries.

The U.S. Department of Energy calls Dysprosium “the mineral most vital to clean energy industries yet most vulnerable to supply disruptions.” China, which controls at least 96% of the diminishing supply, also controls the price. In 2003, Dysprosium traded on the London market at US $35.33/kg; the price is now US $5,406.95/kg. There is currently no alternative for what Dysprosium does, and the timeline to develop one is estimated by some to be around 15 years.

Iowa State wins an upset.


Ohio State (2) vs. Iona (15)

When we were kids, I managed to convince my younger brother that Stand and Deliver was the sequel to La Bamba.

The secret trilogy: Seven, Up, and 7 Up.

Ohio State defeated Wisconsin on St. Patrick’s Day to claim the Big 10 title. Will they beat Iona? This game is going to be so boring, you’ll shit your balls.



Kansas (1) vs. W. Kentucky (16)

Three things:

1. In 1993, my brother saw Nazareth, Blue Oyster Cult, Wishbone Ash, and Uriah Heep play at the same concert for $10.50.

2. Trust me, you don’t want to end up in a situation that feels in your heart like a “seller’s market” for donuts.

3. Now I get it. She’s a “maniac” because she’s dancing like she’s “never danced before.” Like not even one time before.

Kansas takes a 68-0 lead into the locker room and doesn’t come out for the second half and still wins 68-65.


North Carolina (8) vs. Villanova (9)

North Carolina leads the all-time series vs. Duke, 132-104. Current Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose parents are from Poland, has a 39-37 record vs. North Carolina. This time, North Carolina is playing Villanova, which was closed during the Civil War and had a building called Alumni Hall turned into a military hospital. Many current and former students and staff believe this building to be haunted by ghosts. Grover Cleveland paid a Polish immigrant named George Benninsky $150 to fight in the Civil War for him. Benninsky died of sepsis in Alumni Hall while being treated for a leg wound. A ghost-hunting club in L.A. meets at a place called Duke’s. There is a town called Grover in Cleveland County, North Carolina.

Villanova loses 132-104 after leading 39-37 at the half, and it will all make perfect sense.


VCU (5) vs. Akron (12)

Also, vintage isn’t quite as big a deal among California wines like it is in Europe, mostly because the Californian climate is far more consistent. There may be differences in the expression of a varietal from year to year, but rarely are there “bad” years.

VCU could put their clothes on backwards and win this one.


Michigan (4) vs. South Dakota State (13)

Michigan point guard Trey Burke is the Big Ten player of the year and a finalist for the Wooden Award, which goes to college basketball’s national player of the year. South Dakota State point guard Nate Wolters, who scored 53 points in a game on February 7th, is also a Wooden finalist, averaging 22.7 points and an astonishing 5.6 boards per game from a position not known for rebounding.

In the old days, Trey and Nate would’ve competed against each other in log-rolling, or a varmint hunt, or a knife fight, or would’ve just shot each other in the face. And the Wooden Award may have been something wooden, like a piece of wood, or maybe a horse or a wagon wheel or the love of a woman in Dodge City. Or if they were real lucky, the prize would be enough wheat to feed your entire family through the cruel, biting winters in Michigan and South Dakota.

But now, this weird game we invented to wear out young men so they don’t kill each other feels oddly low-stakes in a time of central heating and widely available food sources.


UCLA (6) vs. Minnesota (11)

The domestic airports in New Zealand are a breeze. Minnesota, after starting the season 15-0, finished 20-12. They have a terrible record outside of Minneapolis, losing to some extremely bad teams on the road. Trevor Mbakwe flashed dominant post presence when he shut down Indiana’s Cody Zeller, but that was at home.

The band Semisonic is from Minnesota. That line “this room won’t be open until your brothers or sisters come” is where their bar/maternity room analogy gets uncomfortably clumsy. Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love went to UCLA. His dad slept with Brian Wilson’s wife. I guess I just wasn’t made for these times.

UCLA wins 60 – 49.


Florida (3) vs. Northwestern St. (14)

The rhythm section for R.E.M. was almost two people named Kit Swartz and Paul Butchart. However, they didn’t show up for band practice, so Michael Stipe and Peter Buck found two replacements named Bill Berry and Mike Mills. Bill Berry left the band in 1997 and retired to his farm in Georgia with millions and millions of dollars. Show up to practice, kids.

Florida, tied at the half, pulls away to win 100-49.


San Diego St. (7) vs. Oklahoma (10)

Roger Miller (known for his songs “King of the Road,” “Dang Me,” and “You Can’t Rollerskate In A Buffalo Herd”) and Sheb Wooley (known for the song “The Purple People Eater” and roles in High Noon and Rawhide) are both from the small town of Erick, Oklahoma. The Roger Miller museum in Erick sells magnets with Roger Miller quotes on them. One of them is on my dad’s fridge, next to a magnet from the Minnesota Fish Consumption Advisory. Their number is (800) 657-3908 if you’re interested in learning more about which freshwater fish varieties taste better and have fewer pollutants.

Oklahoma wins in an upset.


Georgetown (2) vs. Florida Gulf Coast (15)

The thing about Andrew Jackson’s cheese party is that he decided that the only way to get rid of a 1,400-lb. block of cheddar is to invite 10,000 people to the White House to help him eat it. This they did, but they also trampled it into the carpeting and smeared it on the drapes and furniture. The smell of cheese lingered in the White House for years.

Vice President Martin Van Buren and New York Governor William L. Marcy each received 750-lb. wheels of cheese from the same guy, a dairy farmer named Thomas Meacham. Van Buren didn’t know what do with his. Marcy has a playground in Brooklyn named after him. There’s a band named after the playground.

This game has already happened. The result: The entire Georgetown team dropped acid and woke up in vomit and beer in a banana bin. A jackrabbit raised his folded ears. An oriole sang like an orange, his breast full of worms, and his tail clawed the evening like a hammer.



Indiana (1) vs. Long Island U, Brooklyn (16) or James Madison University (16)

Example of passive voice: Indiana is coached by Tom Crean, the brother-in-law of the Harbaugh brothers, who coached against each other in the Super Bowl. Brooklyn makes me remember Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Now there was a mensch, nearsighted and psychopathic. His life seemed to ask everyday, “When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?”

Indiana takes on both teams and wins 95-49-43.


North Carolina State (8) vs. Temple (9)

Still waiting patiently for “Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League.”


UNLV (5) vs. California (12)

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are common all over the world. It’s a hardy cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc that has existed since the 1600s. It is said that Robert Mondavi invented the name “Fume Blanc” for his Sauvignon Blancs because he didn’t believe Americans could pronounce or spell “Sauvignon.” Mondavi also invented “Super Tuscans” when he blended Sangiovese, the leading grape of Tuscany, with dominant Bordeaux grapes like Cab Sauvignon and Merlot instead of the usual Chianti blending grapes Canaiolo and Malvasia bianca. The results can be expensive.

UNLV, 62-55.


Syracuse (4) vs. Montana (13)

The fourth Beatles single to chart anywhere in the world was “From Me To You,” in 1963. Their thirteenth was “Twist and Shout,” in 1964.

In 1964, Sean Connery, as James Bond in the movie Goldfinger, says: “My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!”



Butler (6) vs. Bucknell (11)

Butler made it to the championship game in 2010 and 2011. Bucknell is the winner of the Patriot League Conference Tourney. Butler didn’t win its conference title, losing to Saint Louis. Butler’s home city is Indianapolis. The National Basketball League of the 1940s had a team called the Indianapolis Kautskys. The league also included the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, the Chicago American Gears, and the Minneapolis Lakers. The Minneapolis franchise eventually moved somewhere else and was never heard from again.

Bucknell pulls this one out, 48-47.


Marquette (3) vs. Davidson (14)

William Gates, one of the two young basketball players featured in the film Hoop Dreams, played for Marquette. Davidson had a nice run in 2008 when Stephen Curry was playing for them. Marquette is in Milwaukee, home of a spy-themed restaurant called Safe House and a museum designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava. Calatrava has designed bridges all over the world. His bridges look extremely similar to each other. Mix it up, son!

The Violent Femmes are from Milwaukee. I saw them play at a horse track once. They are tireless men somewhat older than myself!

Marquette loses this one because they forget what 8 is for.


Illinois (7) vs. Colorado (10) in Texas

Sufjan Stevens, from Michigan, wrote songs about Illinois. John Denver, from New Mexico, wrote songs about Colorado. WHY GOD WHY?

That’s why this battle can only be settled in one place: The one place big enough. TEXAS.


Miami (FL) (2) vs. Pacific (15)

According to the University of Cincinnati, the odds of flawlessly predicting a March Madness bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808.

Nothing to be done. I’m beginning to come around to that opinion. All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying, Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle.

Miami’s size in the post will overpower Pacific’s balanced scoring attack to win 67-59. Mark it.

J. Ryan Stradal's writing has also appeared in Hobart, The Rattling Wall, The Rumpus, Midwestern Gothic, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and The Nervous Breakdown, among other places. He also volunteers with students at 826LA, helps create products and materials for the Echo Park and Mar Vista Time Travel Marts, works in TV, and co-produces the literary/culinary series Hot Dish. His name has appeared one time in the credits of a feature film.