There’s a reason to hate each of the 65 teams in this year’s NCAA tournament. (Yes, even you, Alabama A&M —bless your little heart!) Kansas always chokes in big games. LSU’s uniforms are too purple. North Carolina State’s coach is ugly. Your ex-girlfriend went to Utah State.
“Sports Nut” understands that the casual fan doesn’t have time to figure out which schools are just mildly annoying and which are fatally flawed. For the six of you who don’t choose sides based on which team you bet on, here are our choices for the 11 most despicable, loathsome, vile institutions in the 2005 tourney. If you keep snapping your fingers, they’ll all lose in the first round. (Disclaimer: Loss guarantee does not apply to teams that play each other in the first round.)
Duke University, Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 1 in Austin Region Led by sore-losing, ref-haranguing coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke has long been a hotbed of whininess, but junior J.J. Redick is the first Blue Devil to publicly elevate it to an art form. In recent profiles in Sports Illustrated, on ESPN, and probably in Cat Fancy, the whey-faced shooting guard revealed that when abuse from opposing fans becomes too heavy, he escapes by composing verse. “No bandage can cover my scars/ It’s hard living a life behind invisible bars,” he writes in one tear-stained stanza.
When the non-existent bars start closing in and the bandage-defying scars get itchy, J.J. need only look down the bench to find kindred souls. Blue Devil assistant coaches Steve Wojciechowski and Chris Collins understand. They too had crew cuts and held their wrists perpendicular to the ground after every made basket.
While players like Luol Deng, Elton Brand, and Corey Maggette go on to demi-stardom in the NBA, it’s the scrappy, high-strung little guards who come back to Coach K’s side to form a living endowment of faux defensive intensity. Around 2008—when pro defenders have finished demonstrating that Redick can’t deploy his robotically perfect shooting stroke when he’s guarded—look for the once-great collegian to take his curdled hoop dreams back to Durham and join them. Don’t worry, young fella. There will always be a clipboard for you at the end of the bench at Cameron Indoor Stadium. And it will say “J.J.” in big, blue, puffy letters.—Josh Levin
University of Kentucky, Southeastern Conference, No. 2 in Austin Region Why should you pull against Kentucky? The long, racist legacy of famed coach Adolph Rupp. The legions of diehards from the hills who have never been on campus. The metronomic pummeling of the football-obsessed, no-name Southeastern Conference—quick, name a player on any other team. The clichéd calls for head coach Tubby Smith’s head after every loss, no matter how meaningless. The continued worship of Rick Pitino, even though he now runs the hated Louisville Cardinals. Tubby’s death stare after every turnover and dumb shot, an affectation that inspires Dick Vitale to nominate him for the Pantheon of Great Coaches because of his “intensity.”
But all that’s only mildly nauseating compared to the most repulsive part of UK basketball: Ashley Judd, superfan. It’s one thing for celebrities like Jack Nicholson and Spike Lee to flaunt their wealth courtside during a pro game. But watching the aging ingénue don pigtails to prove she can relate to the commoners of the commonwealth is just sad. First, she punishes us with dreck like Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Now, she pollutes UK telecasts because TV directors can’t resist endless cutaways of Wynonna’s sister. Yeah, yeah, she knows her basketball. She also dated Michael Bolton. Let’s not go nuts glorifying her critical reasoning skills.
If Kentucky wins the title, Judd will probably try to shoehorn Tubby Smith into the role of Big Daddy in her next dinner-theater production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Let’s hope Duke or Syracuse eliminates Chuck Hayes and Co. If the Wildcats go all the way, my stomach might never recover.—Robert Weintraub
Syracuse University, Big East Conference, No. 4 in Austin Region
Jim Boeheim is a single-minded dweeb. If you cut open his shiny, bald skull and looked at his brain under a microscope, you would see that the neurons are permanently frozen in a 2-3 zone. Every day at breakfast, while he reads the morning papers, he sucks the air out of two fresh basketballs using a custom-made straw. Then he bathes in basketball holy water, hauled into his home from wells in Springfield, Mass. Afterward, he flosses his teeth with a basketball net. He smiles in the mirror, and his mouth squeaks like a gym. His false teeth are carved from the same wood as the floor of the Carrier Dome.
All of which is my way of saying that I’m a Georgetown fan. This year, for the seventh time in the last eight years, the Hoyas won’t be in the NCAA tournament. I don’t know how much longer I can carry on the rivalry without Georgetown making the dance—I’m running out of ways to mock the bionic Boeheim and his perennially successful teams. There he is now, walking courtside with a cane. I hear it’s made out of Rony Seikaly’s femur.—Felix Gillette
University of Cincinnati, Conference USA, No. 7 in Austin Region Outlaw basketball programs exist because outlawry pays. Once a school gets known for off-court monkeyshines and low academic standards, that reputation becomes a recruiting tool. Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV teams set the standard: At one time or another, various Runnin’ Rebels soaked in a hot tub with a notorious gambler, bought cocaine in full view of a local news team, and got free airfare on planes chartered by casinos. They also played exciting, freewheeling basketball, went to four Final Fours, and won a national championship.
Red-faced and leather-lunged Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins has the recruit-the-delinquents routine down. The Bearcats’ police blotter is filthy with domestic violence arrests and the graduation rates are indistinguishable from zero. All that’s missing is the fun, the talent, and the victories in March.
While Tarkanian always loaded up on flashy scorers, Huggins has a thing for surly big men. Perhaps because Cincinnati is in Cincinnati, the Bearcats play a grindingly ugly game, with teams built around muscle-bound power forwards with bad attitudes and even worse shooting touch. Huggins’ formula produces teams poised between junior college and the CBA. Against quality opposition, their offensive ineptitude always does them in. The Bearcats are the wankstas of the NCAA, would-be thugs who crumple under pressure.
Since 1996, Cincinnati has made it past the second round just once. If Nick Van Exel is the finest citizen your program has ever produced, you can’t settle for edging out Tulane for the Conference USA regular-season title. When the Bearcats join the Big East next year, there won’t be any more weak teams to push around. Losing in the tournament will be a thing of the past. You can’t lose if you don’t make it in the first place.—Josh Levin
Stanford University, Pacific-10 Conference, No. 8 in Austin Region
Why, yes, I did know that Tiger Woods went to Stanford. Yes, and John Elway, too.
Forty-seven Olympic medals from 1990 to 2002? And 71 team championships since 1980? And 14 Nobel Prize winners? You really are good at counting.
What’s that? Did you mention your SAT scores? Yes, you did. Several times. Why am I smiling? It’s just so cute how much you like to talk about them.
No, I haven’t seen you play this year. Sorry.
No, no, don’t tell me. Let me guess. You have a white guy with very important hair? Is he named “Casey” again? And how many “Academic All-Americans” do you have?
It’s going to be so hard for you on Sunday, won’t it? When Duke beats you? That must really hurt—like when your frat brother stole your girlfriend? Fifty weeks a year, you tell yourselves you’re the only great school with great sports—and then the Blue Devils show up. Yes, I know you won an NCAA title—just like Duke. But wasn’t yours in 1942?—David Plotz
University of Vermont, America East Conference, No. 13 in Austin Region Vermont has made three straight NCAA tournaments to no end whatsoever. But don’t be so quick to assume the Catamounts are just another Central Florida or Fairleigh Dickinson, a mysterious team from parts unknown that shows up each March despite lacking any discernible hoopin’ ability. There’s something insidious breeding in the Green Mountain State. The Vermont Catamounts have reached the incubation stage of Gonzaga syndrome.
Pissant conference? Yup. Stealthily nestled in remote corner of the United States? Can’t get much remoter. Phalanx of interchangeable, floppily coiffed white guys? Oh, yeah. Scarily fawning media attention? Of course—the Vermont basketball program is “what college athletics is truly about at its core.”
You probably think that Vermont will die of natural causes before the bug can take hold. After all, local heroes Taylor Coppenrath and T.J. Sorrentine will graduate this year and beloved coach Tom Brennan is set to retire after 19 years in Burlington. Get real. When Gonzaga’s first wave of tourney darlings—guards Quentin Hall and Matt Santangelo and coach Dan Monson—left town, the small Jesuit school got stronger, expanding its recruiting territory and corralling higher national rankings. Soon, the all-powerful Catamounts will be shaking down New Hampshire, Maine, and Quebec for every teenager over 6-feet-6. They’ll become overrated, then underrated, then overrated again. They’ll be called “plucky.” I hate pluck.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For Gonzaga syndrome to progress, the school has to make the Sweet 16. If Vermont loses in the first round, they’ll never threaten us again: America, meet the next Fairleigh Dickinson.—Mike DeBonis
University of North Carolina, Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 1 in Syracuse Region As a flatlander, I typically root against the entire Atlantic seaboard, or, when I’m in a more expansive mood, everyone east of the Mississippi and west of the Rockies. Picking just one team out of 65 to root against is normally a challenge. But this year I’m focusing my hate.
Watching Roy Williams lead North Carolina to a national championship after he tortured my beloved Kansas Jayhawks for 15 seasons would ruin my favorite time of the year. I watched Roy cry when he lost in the second round as a No. 1 seed to UTEP and to Rhode Island. I watched him cry when he lost, five times, to the eventual NCAA champion. I watched him cry when he went home to coach his alma mater. I don’t want to watch him cry as he cuts down the nets for the first time with somebody else. Instead, I’d like to watch him cry as he does something else he’s never done in his coaching career: Lose in the first round. Cry, Roy, cry, in shame and humiliation, as your team is felled by the 13-18 Oakland Golden Grizzlies.
If Roy and the Tar Heels do make a title run, I hope they meet Eddie Sutton and Oklahoma State in the championship game. It would be a matchup of the Marty Schottenheimer and Chuck Knox of college hoops—a Thunderdome battle to determine the Best Coach Without a Title. At tip-off, Sutton and Williams would be tied with 40 tournament wins and no championships. And when the buzzer sounds, Roy will be alone, the Winningest Loser of them all.—Chris Suellentrop
Villanova University, Big East Conference, No. 5 in Syracuse Region Twenty years ago this April, Villanova pulled off one of the greatest upsets in tournament history. The Wildcats beat seemingly invincible Georgetown and Patrick Ewing thanks to once-in-a-lifetime shooting and the lack of a shot clock.
Villanova’s victory was a crushing blow for aficionados of the thuggish game gradually perfected by Ewing, Michael Graham, et al. For hardcore hoopsters, the brutality of John Thompson’s charges came as a much-needed counterpoint to Magic Johnson’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” approach in L.A. The Hoyas transcended race, winning fans with resolutely unattractive play that destroyed opponents’ will. Media criticism only boosted Georgetown’s punk rock standing. So, when they lost the title to a team straight outta Pleasantville it was enough to make you think the world had lost its way.
Clearly, head coach/mafia don look-alike Rollie Massimino made a deal with the devil—Lucifer surely was familiar with the Catholic school. After the apocalyptic upset, things went downhill fast in Philly. Point guard Gary McLain admitted he was high on cocaine during the Final Four and the team’s visit to the White House. Massimino left town in 1992, only to be forced out of jobs at UNLV and Cleveland State after a string of ethically challenged, loss-filled seasons.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats continue to pay off that contract with Beelzebub. In the two decades since their Satan-fueled upset, Villanova has advanced past the second round only once. Their debt still hasn’t been repaid. Let’s go, New Mexico.—Robert Weintraub
Texas Tech University, Big 12 Conference, No. 6 in Albuquerque Region The only Texas Tech alumni I can name other than me played football or shot Ronald Reagan. Lubbock was a wondrous place to eat meat or hear a band, but uglier than a group “before” shot from The Swan. There’s a reason all the postcards show Buddy Holly or a bale of cotton. Lubbock is flatter than whichever Olsen twin doesn’t eat and has all the greenery of the moon. Even the sky gets ugly this time of year. The winds kick up loose topsoil from the South Plains cotton fields and everything—cars, teeth, blondes—turns the color of dry dirt.
To outsiders, a “dust storm,” as townies call these brown-outs, sure seems like a trailer for Armageddon. From what I read last year about the new basketball coach’s dust-up with Texas Tech superiors, the place is a little uglier with Bobby Knight in town. Reports had university Chancellor David Smith chatting with Athletic Director Gerald Myers while both happened to be getting lunch at the same salad bar. As they discussed Knight’s recent behaviors, who bellies up to the same salad bar but the coach himself. Knight didn’t like something he heard over his bed of lettuce, so a public squabble full of all the tired Knightly lo-jinks ensued.
But he’s still the coach. Knight can get away with being Knight only in a one sneeze-guard town. This all reminded me of a road trip early into my college years, when, about 280 miles to the east, I passed a tiny central Texas city called Cool (pop. 162, says the 2000 census). To this day I haven’t heard a better way to nutshell Lubbock than “about 280 miles from Cool.” —Dave McKenna
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Southern Conference, No. 15 in Albuquerque Region At 20-10, the Chattanooga Mocs aren’t good enough to make a Cinderella run in this year’s tournament. They’re also not putrid enough to be lovable losers. What are they, then? An in-depth investigation shows UTC’s identity crisis extends well beyond wins and losses. So confused is Chattanooga’s self-image that for nearly a century the school has snatched aimlessly from a grotesque mascot grab bag filled to the brim with half-realized creatures, ethnic stereotypes, and footwear.
From 1920 to the early 1990s, the second-largest university in the University of Tennessee system * was represented by: a snake; Chief Chattamoc, a singin’, dancin’ Injun conceived by a local “Native American enthusiast”; a shoe named Little Moc; and Chief Moccanooga, yet another happy-go-lucky Indian. In 1996, a 17-person panel made the startling discovery that Chief No. 2 “offended a large number of people.” UTC then asked a design firm to help create a new identity. The result: the most incoherent mess of logos in all of college sports.
Step one: Officially shorten nickname from “Moccasins” to “Mocs,” a punchier if still shoe-related word. Step two: Stretching “Mocs” to wit’s end, replace snake, shoe, and Indian with “Scrappy,” an aggressive mockingbird who doubles as (and dresses like) an old-timey railroad conductor. Scrappy pilots the “Choo-Choo,” an obvious local favorite featuring a “Cowcatcher” to push objects—discarded mascots?—from the tracks. It’s a bird! It’s a train! No, it’s the UT-Chattanooga … loosely related things!
Chattanooga will no doubt lose big to Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAAs. That is, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons—now there’s a mascot that makes sense.—Chris Park
University of Pennsylvania, Ivy League, No. 13 in Chicago Region In the documentary My Architect, Philadelphian Louis Kahn is seen giving his famous lecture about how to converse with a brick—“What do you want, brick?”—to a bunch of Penn students. After the Quakers get trounced by Boston College, I hope they remember Kahn’s words. What does brick want? Brick wants you to go home. And don’t come back until you learn how to shoot.
Not that I hate the Quakers, but Ivy League basketball is a binary sport. I’d rather be watching the Princeton Tigers, or, as I call them, those eating-club losers. The “Princeton offense,” with its emphasis on ball movement, three-point shooting, and backdoor cuts, is the perfect scheme for losing first-round nail biters.
Better yet, the NCAA should get rid of the Ivy League’s automatic bid altogether. I’m sick of these invasive quas-Ivies. After all, as my grandmother used to point out, the only real Ivy League schools are Harvard and Yale. Everything else might as well be Creighton.—Felix Gillette
Correction, March 16: This piece originally and incorrectly included the logo of the Penn State Nittany Lions, not the Pennsylvania Quakers. Correction, March 18:The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is the second-largest school in the University of Tennessee system, not the second-largest in the state of Tennessee. (Return to the corrected sentence.)