Every college basketball fan naturally thinks that his or her team’s mascot is the best, but, with apologies to the Anteaters and Golden Gophers of the world, not all mascots are created equal. Some do a much better job than others of looking like an impressive symbol of a team’s power and confidence rather than the star of a video that teaches three-year-olds to share.
Pittsburgh’s Roc the Panther is a prime instance of the former category. He avoids looking either too cheerful or too stylized, keeping the attention where it belongs: on a carnivorous animal who may or may not have had lunch before the game.
Read on for a look at Roc’s place among the country’s top 20 mascots. Among the keys to doing well in these rankings: actually looking like the animal/person being represented and looking imposing rather than creepy or laughable.
Although William and Mary’s current look is a bit "cartoonier" than most on this list, it’s hard to hold mythical creatures to the same standards of realism.
The Griffin does an impressive job of making a bipedal version of an impossible beast look plausible—including lion legs not visible in this photo—not to mention looking like an opponent to be taken seriously.
Now if only the school would ditch its outdated Tribe nickname and just switch over to the Griffins, it would really be getting somewhere.
Bucky is one of the only mascots you’ll find on this list who’s smiling, mostly because his black grin disappears into his black muzzle so that it isn’t quite so obvious.
Other than undue cheerfulness, he’s a great example of taking a unique team nickname and running with it.
He could stand to trade in his antiquated sweater for a jersey (as most other mascots wear), but hidebound Big Ten tradition gives him a partial excuse.
Although his sidekick Wolfie Jr. got Capital One’s Mascot of the Year crown two years ago, Alphie is the pick of Nevada’s pack here.
The larger of the Wolf Pack’s duo looks less like he wants to give you a high five and more like he’s trying to decide on ketchup vs. steak sauce once he gets his claws on you.
As good as his fur looks, though, he really needs to be pointier (ears and snout both) in order to get the wolf look down.
Obviously, Utah State takes some liberties with what a bull looks like when it comes to Big Blue’s design. However, the school also did a remarkable job of taking an utterly uninspiring nickname (the Aggies) and finding a quality mascot to go with it.
Big Blue's look benefits from minimizing the ring in his nose, which some Bull costumes (Buffalo's, for instance) overdo badly.
The color scheme could be better, but at least Georgia State’s Pounce is recognizably a Panther. His place on this list owes a lot to his impressive teeth, and his eyes fit his look well (a feature many mascots could benefit from).
He’d look even more striking if his claws were white (a problem, oddly, that the school logo doesn’t share).
Hooter has the intimidation factor down pat (at least as long as you don’t know his name). His beak looks like he could chomp your arm off with one bite, and he even avoids the bizarre birds-with-teeth look that plagues so many other avian mascots.
He’d be several spots higher on the list but for the slight problem that he looks more like a Pokemon than like any sort of owl from this planet.
An elephant seems like a great starting point for an imposing mascot, but the trunk causes all sorts of problems for the costume designers. Tuffy’s has the advantage of being short enough to curve rather than flopping around aimlessly.
He’d be more impressive with longer tusks, but one suspects that’s a concession to practicality.
Bulldog mascots are a dime a dozen, but few of them bear more than a cursory resemblance to an actual bulldog. Bully has enough extra wrinkles on his face to be recognizable, giving him the top spot in this category.
He just edges out Georgetown’s Jack the Bulldog, who loses points for his laughable baseball cap.
Kansas State is one of two schools that names its Wildcat Willie, but this version gets the edge over Northwestern's cutesier design.
Not only does Willie’s open mouth show off his major-league collection of teeth, but he incorporates the stripes from the school’s logo along his cheeks.
As well-designed as Willie’s head is, though, he has to be docked a few points for not bothering to include legs or arms as part of the costume.
One great way to avoid the off-putting facial features that come with most human mascots is to give yours a mask to hide them. The gold of Knightro’s helmet provides a great contrast for the black slits that give his mask some intimidation factor.
He does sometimes carry a sword, but given how silly it looks, he’s better off leaving it back at the castle.
Although he’d be even better with a scowl to match the school’s logo, DIBS is demonic enough that even his smile isn't exactly warm and friendly.
The DePaul mascot—whose name stands, laughably, for Demon In a Blue Suit—makes great use of the school color scheme and doesn’t look like a mask wearing a mask (see Blue Devil, Duke).
He’s not quite as good in profile, though, thanks to the less-than-impressive shaggy hair visible on the right of this photo.
This is how to do a human mascot, period. There’s no worrying about the creepy frozen features and alien proportions of a giant mask when you just send out a human dressed appropriately for his job as the Mountaineer is.
On the other hand, it might be as well not to let him take the props home with him, as the current Mountaineer bagged some bad press for WVU by shooting a bear with his university-owned musket.
His team may not have put up much of a fight against Miami in last March’s NCAA tournament, but Powercat is the rare Tiger mascot who doesn’t look like he belongs on a cereal box. Even with his bright coloration, he’s clearly a cat to be reckoned with.
He’s also a cat who needs a shave, as his odd goatee-like beard looks decidedly out of place on a feline.
A newcomer on the Bear scene, Ole Miss' recently-introduced mascot learns from the mistakes of others. He's far less Winnie the Pooh and far more "I would like to rip your face off" with the teeth to back up the assertiveness.
None of that excuses the silly headband, though.
There’s no shortage of Wildcat mascots to choose from, and Will is the fiercest-looking. He features a wealth of sharp teeth and claws and (unlike many of his competitors) looks interested in using them, preferably soon.
Also like many other Wildcats, though, his head looks weirdly flattened when blown up to mascot-sized proportions (a problem most animal mascots manage to dodge).
With all the Wolves and Wolfpacks in Division I, Wright State’s Raiders have the best of the lupine mascots. Rowdy’s pointy muzzle features an intimidating snarl rather than the goofy grin of so many otherwise carnivorous costumes.
He’d be even better if he exchanged the odd-looking widow’s peak in his grey fur for a jersey that actually resembled his school's green-and-gold colors.
Cam was nearly upstaged in this year’s NCAA tournament by a devoted fan in the seats. Nonetheless, the official mascot of Colorado State deserves his own moment in the sun as a great combination of realism and intimidation.
The most imposing part of the costume (those enormous horns) doesn’t even go far enough: the school’s four-legged mascots usually have a full extra curl to theirs.
Pitt’s Panther (who got his name from school football hero Steve “The Rock” Petro) is one of the few cat mascots who gets actual whiskers.
His green eyes are another distinctive touch, and his fur color makes him a recognizable panther/mountain lion/synonym-of-your-choice.
Roc is also another one for the file of carnivores who actually look hungry, which helps his intimidation factor.
With UConn in the process of rolling out a new (yet to debut) mascot, Paws takes over the lead in the race for best Husky.
Northeastern’s version is one of the best imitations of its animal counterpart of any design in the country, right down to the blue eyes.
Paws could’ve gotten a lot more publicity last March, but Northeastern fell short in the conference tournament after winning the CAA regular-season crown, costing him a spot in a year’s worth of March Madness mascot compilations.
On appearance alone, the St. Joseph’s Hawk would earn a place on this list. He’s one of the better avian designs, even if marred by the strange red feathers on top of his head.
However, he vaults to the top spot on the strength of one of college hoops’ best traditions: from tipoff to the final horn, including straight through halftime, the Hawk never stops flapping his wings during a St. Joe’s game.