Hello, Anteaters: Joffe’s Guide to the NCAA Tournament Teams No One Knows
UC Irvine’s Anteater mascot
For what I believe is only the third time since the beginning of my love affair with the University of Arizona, my beloved team is not going to be dancing this year. On one hand, I’m devastated, but I won’t lie: I’m looking forward to a little more stress-free Vegas trip this year, because I can unequivocally say that we will not get bounced in the first round.
Perhaps this means I also won’t get suspended from Twitter like I did last year after our loss and my ensuing meltdown. It wasn’t pretty. Don’t worry, though, I’ll be there supporting my friends’ schools, which, in a really bad turn of events, means I’ll be supporting … Michigan State and Michigan.
As long as they don’t play each other I might survive, but no promises. After all, we have table minimums to meet, so a meltdown could also be right around the corner.
This year I won’t be able to cheer on last year’s Cinderella, the UMBC Retrievers, who, in case you don’t remember, were the first 16-seed to take out a 1-seed (Virginia).
That’s OK, though, we have plenty of other rando school to fall in love/hate with over the next few weeks. Here’s my handy guide to those very schools. Keep some of these tidbits in your back pocket until the time is right. You’re welcome.
Abilene Christian – Wildcats
Location: Abilene, TX (about 180 west of Dallas)
Appearances last 25 years: 0
This is one of two teams that will be making their first ever appearance in the tourney, sooooo congrats! Thanks to “Operation Varsity Blues,” the Wildcats’ most famous athlete might be Jancen Power, a pole vaulter who was on the team last year.
Who is he you ask? Well if you ask USC, they’ll tell you he’s pole vaulter on their track and field team! Yep this guy’s picture was one of the ones used in the college scandal by some woman in California who needed to pretend her son was an athlete so he could get into school.
It’s not the worst thing in the world that your picture was SO amazing and athletic-looking that it was used (along with $500K) to get into a school. So, yeah, I was never in danger of being used…
Names to know: Jaren Lewis, Jaylen Franklin
Gardner-Webb – Runnin Bulldogs
Location: Boiling Springs, NC
Appearances last 25 years: 0
Interesting information: This is their first ever appearance in the tourney. That’s … about all I can tell you, but at least you know where it is.
Names to know: David Efianayi, Jose Perez
University of California, Irvine – Anteaters
Location: Take a guess
Appearances last 25 years: 1, most recent: 2015
Interesting fact: One time I visited a friend’s older brother at his frat house there. I can honestly say that I have no idea how I possibly managed to talk my parents into allowing me to do this. I have to assume there was a big elaborate lie, but I legit can’t remember, nor can I remember the night so it’s probably for the better.
The best thing I found was that their original mascot, the anteater, was designed after the Playboy Bunny.
There are a lot of sayings the students have used involving licking (’cause the anteaters’ long tongue) and sucking (’cause of its long snout), so it’s probably a good thing they redid the design especially when you have the mind of teenage boy (as I do).
Names to know: Max Hazzard, Eyassu Worku
Prairie View A&M – Panthers
Location: Prairie View, TX (about an hour north of Houston)
Appearances last 25 years: 1. Most recent: 1998.
Interesting (almost) Alum: Mr. T. aka B.A. Baracus. He received a football scholarship and played on the Panthers team but was expelled from school after only one year. He pities the fools that expelled him, amirite?
Interesting fact: Their school motto is “Prairie View Produces Productive People.” So clearly I didn’t go there.
Names to know: Gary Blackston, Dennis Jones
Wofford – Terriers
Location: Spartanburg, SC (about an hour west of Charlotte)
Appearances last 25 years: 4 Most recent: 2015
Known to some students as the “Harvard of the South,” this team isn’t a stranger to the tournament, but undoubtedly people will still say — “huh? Where’s Wofford?” So now you know.
The Terriers also happen to be the second-best 3-point shooting in the country, which is unsurprising considering they have the best 3-point shooter in the tournament (Storm Murphy), as well as another top shooter, Nathan Hoover.
I have to wonder if when he was born, Storm’s parents ever thought they’d see him on national TV playing basketball instead of the weekday local 5, 6, and 7 p.m. news. At least he has a fallback career ready to go.
Names to know: Fletcher Magee, Storm Murphy
North Carolina Central University – Eagles
Location: Durham, NC
Appearances last 25 years: 3. Most recent: Last year.
OK NC Central isn’t exactly unknown, but I wanted to include it because I found out Herman Boone — aka Coach Herman Boone aka Denzel — went there. That’s right he’s the real life hero coach from “Remember the Titans.” Now, while I had never seen the movie until last year (I know it’s blasphemy), I now finally understand the references that get made all the time … which is nice.
Names to know: Raasean Davis, Jordan Perkins
Liberty University – Flames
Location: Lynchburg, VA (about 180 miles from D.C.)
Appearances last 25 years: 2. Most recent: 2013
I’ll be honest, I’m not thrilled about Liberty being in the tournament for one main reason: I’m going to have that stupid “Liberty, Liberty, Lib-er-ty!” insurance commercial stuck in my head until they’re out. Now you will too. Misery loves company.
Fun fact: Your newest Jacksonville Jaguar quarterback — aka Nick Foles aka Super Bowl LII MVP aka fellow Joffe Wildcat alum — is currently enrolled there earning his graduate degree … in divinity.
Names to know: Scottie James, Caleb Homesley
Fairleigh Dickinson – Knights
Location: Hackensack, NJ
Appearances last 25 years: 3. Most recent: 2016
Interesting Alum: Garry Kitchen, the guy who wrote the code for Donkey Kong.
Interesting gambling-ish fact: “PublicMind” — an FDU independent research group that does polls for various topics — published an article in 2010 that claimed, based on its polling, most Americans opposed sports betting. In 2016 they published an article saying more people than not supported legalizing gambling. Our hard work is paying off!
Names to know: Darnell Edge, Jahlil Jenkins
Bradley – Braves
Location: Peoria, IL
Appearances last 25 years: 2. Most recent: 2006.
The Braves have had a long drought, but no doubt their head coach, Brian Wardle, is happy to be back in the tourney. His last time there was as an assistant coach for Marquette when it went all the way to the Final Four, before losing to Kansas back in 2003.
He also played at Marquette and retired as one of their top scorers of all time, even above D-Wade!
Names to know: Darrell Brown, Elijah Childs
Hopefully this guide will come in handy but if you’re an alum of any of these schools please feel free to tell me I got something wrong or missed something obvious, because it’s entirely possible.
Now I’m off to pack for Vegas, and I’m not going to lie, without all my Arizona gear, I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to wear.
P.S.: Rumor is that I may be at the Action party on Wednesday, but even if I don’t get there in time to stop by, you definitely should. (Free food! Free swag! Free drinks!)