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A field guide to March Madness mascots: Facts, stats, and winning percentages

Profile Picture: Josh Powell

March 15th, 2021

I am not too proud to admit that my knowledge of basketball could be written onto the back of a postage stamp with a paint brush. In fact, unless it is about Space Jam, my basketball knowledge is practically non-existent. Luckily, however, I’m an expert on team mascots and that’s all we need to know to find the winner of March Madness.

After all, is the game really won by the talent on the court, or by the grown men in fancy costumes on the sidelines? I think we all know the answer.

With 68 teams there are a lot of mascots to go through, so to make it easy I've split them into categories and have ranked them in order of their historical performance since 1985.

9. Bears – 46.5% winning percentage

The Baylor Bears are expected to do well in March Madness, but the No. 2 seed overall are going to have to overcome the terrible record that Bears have had in the last 36 years. There have been 12 teams with bear mascots in total and they have the worst record of all the categories.

The good news for Baylor fans? They face the Hartford Hawks in the first round and historically bear mascots have a 7-5 record against birds.

This overall win rate may also explain why the UCLA Bruins are not expected to get too far.

8. Weather – 47.9% winning percentage

Weather mascots are next up, but like the Bears they have a good record against Birds (8-4), which is no surprise given that most of them are wind based. In previous years, the Miami Hurricanes, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, and Iowa State Cyclones have all graced March Madness, but this year the weather mascots are in short supply.

7. People – 48% winning percentage

People are the most common mascot choice, but their winning percentage is not good. 92 teams in total have had people mascots, but they only have winning records against birds (92-91) and the weather (27-24).

This means the Illinois Fighting Illini are up against it, as are the Oklahoma Street Cowboys, Virginia Cavaliers, and the West Virginia Mountaineers. People have the worst record against cats (107-127) which is a disaster for the Cleveland State Vikings, who go up against the Houston Cougars in the first round.

6. Birds – 48.3% winning percentage

Unsurprisingly Birds have a losing record against a lot of the other animals including Bears (5-7), Cats (46-55), and Dogs (19-26). In fact, the only category Birds do have the advantage over is Mythical creatures (22-18).

The Iowa Hawkeyes are one of the more favored teams this year, ranked as the No. 2 seed in the West, and will face the Grand Canyon Antelopes in the first round. The Kansas Jayhawks, Oregon Ducks, and Creighton Bluejays will also be flying the flag for Birds.

5. Cats – 50.5% winning percentage

Cats are right around average in terms of mascots, but a Wildcat is a particularly good mascot given Villanova, Kentucky, and Arizona are 7-3 in championship games during this time.

The Houston Cougars lead the way for cats this year, ranked eighth overall – followed by the 2018 champs the Villanova Wildcats. Missouri, Clemson, and LSU are all Tigers, while BYU has the cougar as its mascot.

4. Other Animals – 50.6% winning percentage

Other animals include a range of fierce and fantastic beats including the Florida Gators, Texas Longhorns, and Colorado Buffaloes. I wouldn’t like my chances against any of them, which might explain why Other Animals have a winning record against People (92-78) as well as Bears (16-10) and Cats (54-47).

Even the less threatening Other Animals including the Wisconsin Badgers, Virginia Tech Hokies (a turkey for those wondering!) and the Arkansas Razorbacks (an angry pig!) will like their chances based on the last 35 years.

Arkansas, in particular, is ranked ninth overall, and faces the Colgate Raiders in the first round. Chalk up another win for the angry pigs!

3. Dogs – 51.3% winning percentage

Dogs rank third in our list, and that is going to be music to the ears of anyone betting on the Gonzaga Bulldogs to win March Madness. The Bulldogs are 26-0 and the No. 1 team in the entire tournament.

Unsurprisingly Dogs have a dominant record over Cats (37-28) and Birds (26-19), but the only real issue comes when they face Mythical creatures (4-14). So, it is a blessing in disguise that for the first time in 25 years the Duke Blue Devils haven’t made it.

The Connecticut Huskies open their tournament against the Maryland Terrapins. Dogs have the edge over Other Animals (31-27), and you’d expect them to have it easy against a baby turtle, right?

2. Miscellaneous – 57.5% winning percentage

The Miscellaneous category is for all the odd teams I couldn’t fit anywhere else. It features the Ohio State Buckeyes (a type of poisonous nut), the Georgetown Hoyas (which is a very non-threatening type of plant), the Wichita State Shockers (a large stack of wheat – WTF) and the 2003 champs Syracuse Oranges, which as you guessed, is a fun-loving piece of fruit.

Despite these strange mascot choices, teams that opt for something out of the ordinary do well. Overall, they have a 130-96 record, and the only category they have a losing record against is Weather (4-7).

1. Mythical – 58.1% winning percentage

The top of the tree is Mythical Creatures, and that is heavily skewed by the Duke Blue Devils, who won't appear this time around. They have a 125-90 record, and Duke has won 97 of those games since 1985 – no team has won more.

There are no devils and demons in this year’s competition, and although my wife claims that this statistic should be a good sign for the Michigan Wolverines, I disagree. This isn’t X-Men, it’s basketball, and the wolverine is a ferocious Other Animal and not a Mythical creature.

Think outside the box

So, what does this mean for March Madness? In the absence of Mythical Creatures make sure you are siding with weird mascots who don’t fit the norms. Dogs are stronger than cats and birds, while all animals apart from birds beat people. People also struggle with the weather.

The poisonous nut of the Ohio State Buckeyes could be a sneaky play to get to the later rounds, while the good record of dogs only enhances the chances of the Gonzaga Bulldogs.