NCAA Brackets 2014: Picking the Winners According to Cultural Superiority

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterMarch 17, 2014

NCAA Brackets 2014: Picking the Winners According to Cultural Superiority

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    There are thousands of different ways to fill out an NCAA tournament bracket. You could do hours of research on which team has the best tournament resume. You could dig deep into each of the 68 rosters to find that key player on every team that has the potential to lead his team to the Final Four.

    Or you could just throw darts. Consider this the Internet equivalent of throwing darts. (Note: Do not actually throw darts at the Internet; insurance rarely covers a cracked screen.)

    Rather than do any of that actual basketball research—at least for this particular bracket entry—we thought it might be fun to do a different kind of research. What if we could fill out an NCAA tournament bracket based on which school was the best?

    What if we used cultural superiority to determine which team is most deserving of cutting down the nets this season?

    (This is as close to throwing darts as we could possibly get.)

    The answer we seek is simple: Can the best school win, if that best school was determined by everything but the players on the court? To the bracket!

The Cultural Superiority Metrics

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    Bill Haber/Associated Press

    The most ridiculous part of this utterly ludicrous bracket exercise is that I spent the better part of four days while watching conference tournaments researching the different metrics that would go into determining a school’s cultural superiority.

    Here are some of those metrics.

    NCAA Tournament History

    How many times has the school been to the dance, and how many trips to the Final Four does that include?

    Coach Success

    This looks at both overall record and winning percentage, as not to penalize the newer coaches in the field. This does, however, hurt the program builders, who started with poor teams that have worked their way into the tournament. We factored that in as well.


    Hey! Did you hear they are changing the SAT again? Well, we looked at what SAT scores it would take to get into each school (if applicable) and cross-referenced that with each team’s most recent APR put out by the NCAA—check out your school’s history here—to see where each school in the dance lands.

    Mascot Coolness

    Last year we joked about picking a bracket based solely on which mascot would win in a fight. This year, we’re actually filling out that bracket as well, but for this study (if I call it a study, does it make it any more scientific?) we looked solely at the coolness factor of the mascot.

    Is a Chanticleer cooler than a Cowboy? Is a Ragin’ Cajun cooler than a Friar? You bet your Jasper they are.

    Social Media Footprint

    How social is each team? That is to say, we looked up the Twitter feeds of every school in the tourney to see who has the most followers on Twitter. We thought about adding up the followers of every player and coach on every team, but when you add all of them to the official feed for each school, there would be 952 unique Twitter feeds to search for, and honestly, who has the time for that? (Note to self…do this next year.)

    Besides, if each of those 952 Twitter feeds averaged out to around 1,000 followers—somewhere around four of five times the number of followers the average Twitter user has—that would still be about a quarter of a million shy of the number of followers Kentucky coach John Calipari has.

    It is interesting, however, to see how some schools really focus on growing an audience on social media, while others seem completely uninterested in even updating their Twitter feeds.

    Famous Alumni

    This stat looks at both the success of the basketball program in terms of fame (read: NBA draft picks and stars), as well as a tacit look at some super famous people who went to each school.

    Location, Location, Location

    If we’re talking about cultural superiority, where the school is located has to be a factor. Is your favorite school in a metropolitan area? Do you go to the best party school in the country? This kind of stuff matters, people.

    And that’s it! As unscientific as four days of ridiculous research can get you, here are your NCAA predictions based purely on cultural superiority.

The East Region

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    The East is stacked with culturally significant academic institutions, from Harvard to Virginia to Harvard to North Carolina to Harvard to Harvard and, if to make sure I haven’t forgotten any schools, Harvard.

    Harvard, of course, leads in overall academic categories, but the University of Virginia is honestly not far behind. It’s interesting, however, that Memphis actually had the highest APR rating of any school in this region, as recorded during the 2011-12 season.

    So who’s getting out of this bracket and into the Final Four? Well, the East is a really stacked bracket, which made the decision more difficult than it might be at first glance.

    Early Rounds

    The only upset in the "second" round would be Harvard over Cincinnati. In addition to the academics, when you do a search for famous alumni of Harvard, there are separate sections for Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners and a section on Wikipedia titled “royalty and nobility.”

    The only royalty to come from Cincinnati is Oscar Robertson.

    As the region progresses, things get tighter. The second round has some great matchups, highlighted by Villanova against former Big East rival Connecticut. While I expected this to be really close, it turns out it was something of a landslide. Villanova—the pride of Philadelphia’s Big Five—is far superior to Connecticut in terms of, well, just about everything.

    The mascot coolness is a wash, as both a Wildcat and Huskie are totally lame, but Villanova has a clear edge in terms of academics and basketball history. Did you know, Villanova has more NCAA tournament appearances and, per, more NBA or ABA players than UConn? It’s true. Not to mention the fact that Villanova, while on the outskirts of the city, is still a Philly school. Have you ever been to Storrs? Exactly.

    The rest of the “third” round plays out with Virginia beating Memphis—a great town but lacking enough of anything else to compete with the top seed—Michigan State squeaking past Harvard in an incredibly tough battle and North Carolina in a landslide over the Iowa State Cyclones. No offense, Ames, but I once had a snowball fight outside Hilton Coliseum during the NCAA tournament in March. And that was the coolest thing about being in Iowa.

    Sweet 16

    In the Sweet 16, Virginia edges Michigan State in what would be an epic matchup. Virginia clearly wins on the academic front, and a Cavalier is probably a tiny bit more interesting than a Spartan. Michigan State’s hoops program does have more than 64,000 Twitter followers to just over 10,000 for Virginia’s team, and Tom Izzo certainly trumps Tony Bennett in terms of notoriety and basketball acumen.

    Eight Final Fours and two titles to just two Final Fours for Virginia? How did Sparty lose this one?

    Well, there’s Magic Johnson and the likes of famed director Sam Raimi who went to Michigan State. And then there’s everyone else who went to Virginia.

    Seriously, I mean look at this list of notable alums: Tina Fey, Woodrow Wilson, Katie Couric, Robert Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Bowie Kuhn, Georgia O’Keeffe and Edgar Freaking Allan Poe (the Freaking is silent). Oh, right, and Thomas Jefferson founded the school.

    And no offense to East Lansing, but you can’t exactly wear a white suit in the springtime, can you?

    Advantage, Virginia.

    The other Sweet 16 matchup is another landslide. Villanova just has no shot over North Carolina, which goes into an all-ACC contest to reach the Final Four.

    Elite Eight

    North Carolina may not have a Kennedy, but it does have Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm, Andy Griffith, Shelby Foote, Lewis Black, Lawrence Taylor, Jack Palance and James K. Polk among many other notable celebrity alums.

    And the basketball side of things isn’t even close. Carolina has had 104 players drafted into the NBA with 81 actually playing in the pros, more than triple what Virginia can boast. Carolina has gone to 18 Final Fours in 45 tournament appearances.

    Add that to more than 150,000 followers on Twitter (the least important metric of all, but a breaker of all ties when ties need to be broken), and this one goes to the Tar Heels, who are the first team to make the Final Four.

The Midwest Region

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    If you thought it was hard to pick a winner out of the Midwest in terms of actual basketball ability, try picking one in this format, and you’ll realize just how difficult it is to differentiate between three or four incredibly storied programs.

    Early Rounds

    Truth be told, the first few rounds are a bit lame, with Kentucky, Louisville and Duke making it to the Sweet 16 with relative ease. The bottom portion of this region, however, is impossible.

    How do you pick between Michigan and Texas? Austin is probably the coolest city in America right now and Texas is a storied athletic program with well-regarded academics. Rick Barnes has more wins and a better winning percentage than John Beilein, and the Longhorns have almost as cool a nickname as the Wolverines.

    How in the world did Michigan pull this off? Honestly, this could be a Final Four matchup, and nobody would bat an eye. The Wolverines pull through slightly on academics but pull away on basketball history. Despite six fewer trips to the NCAAs, Michigan has gone to seven Final Fours to three for Texas. And while Kevin Durant should be worth three or four NBA draft picks, Michigan does have a significant lead in that category as well.

    Maybe it's Twitter's fault. Texas men's basketball has just 14,400 followers, while Michigan's basketball team has 100,000. Of course, that might have something to do with the fact Twitter's CEO is a Michigan alum.

    Sweet 16

    I’m sick over that decision, and it doesn’t get any easier in the Midwest region. Kentucky and Louisville face off in the top half of the region, while Michigan has to go from facing Texas to battling Duke.

    There is no right answer on either of these.

    I went with the teams in blue on both, and I hate myself just a little bit for doing so. Everything we said about Michigan stacks up well against Duke too, including a list of very notable alums that includes Gerald Ford, Arthur Miller, Tom Brady, Michael Phelps, Rich Eisen, Iggy Pop, Madonna and eight Nobel laureates.

    Duke has Richard Nixon. And Ron Paul. And Hashim bin Al Hussein, the prince of Jordan. And Duke has Jay Bilas, Dan Abrams, Charlie Rose, Drew Rosenhaus, Sean McManus, Retta, Timothy D. Cook—COO and CEO of Apple—and three Nobel laureates of its own.

    What puts Duke ahead of Michigan, really, is the basketball history. Krzyzewskiville trumps Beilein’s rolled-up sleeves, and 15 Final Fours and four national titles tops seven and one. Grant Hill and his pals can probably hold their heads a tad higher when it comes to Final Four memories than, say, the Fab Five. It’s a close one, again, but Duke squeaks by.

    Elite Eight

    Louisville fans would likely agree that Kentucky probably trumps their school on most of these categories, even if a 10-minute drive outside the Kentucky campus in the wrong direction feels like the last place on Earth you’d want to be. So when comparing Kentucky to Duke, location is a huge factor.

    So, too, are academics. And while Kentucky has more trips to the NCAAs than any other team, including eight national titles in 15 trips to the Final Four, Calipari just doesn’t trump Coach K’s reach beyond the game of college basketball, both as a marketer and coach of USA Basketball.

    Plus, I think a Blue Devil beats a Wildcat every day and twice on Tuesday. Or whatever day they’d play.

    Duke is in the Final Four, escaping the toughest bracket in the tournament.

The South Region

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    There is no clear-cut favorite coming out of the South, at least in terms of cultural superiority. In fact, the bracket is so top-heavy, there are really six different teams that could make a case they deserve to be in the Final Four.

    Early Rounds

    Let’s focus on just the contenders, as it makes zero sense to linger on a matchup of VCU and Stephen F. Austin any more than we have to. The teams with a chance to advance are Florida, Kansas, UCLA, Syracuse and Stanford.

    Maybe, if you’re from Ohio, you’d include Ohio State, which is located in the wonderful city of Columbus that still happens to be located in the state of Ohio. (Yes, I say that as someone who lives in New Jersey.)

    Florida cruises past Pittsburgh for a Sweet 16 tilt with UCLA, while Syracuse and Kansas face off after Kansas squeaks by Stanford in the Round of 32. That contest warrants a quick explanation.

    Stanford clearly has the academics on lockdown, but Kansas actually had a perfect 1000 APR score in the most recent report. And while the culture around Palo Alto area of California is truly distinctive, it wasn’t enough to trump the fact that Kansas actually ranked higher as a party school—they must not have polled the Stanford band—and the Jayhawks have a much more storied basketball history and larger social media footprint.

    Stanford has an amazing cast of notable alumni—from Herbert Hoover to John Steinbeck to Sandra Day O’Connor to John Elway to Rachel Maddow to Tiger Woods—but it still wasn’t enough to pass Kansas.

    Sweet 16

    The Florida-UCLA matchup was just as hard, but outside of the incredible history of basketball success at UCLA, everything else fell in favor of the Gators. Florida is the 10th-best party school in America, Billy Donovan has more wins and a better winning percentage than Steve Alford—the two national titles don’t hurt either—and while the culture in Los Angeles probably trumps that of most of the state of Florida, Gainesville is a pretty unique place.

    To be honest, Syracuse, New York, isn’t exactly a bastion of cultural excitement despite having the university ranked as the seventh-best party school in America. Having said that, I couldn’t tell you one thing about Lawrence, Kansas, at all, other than I assume the town slogan is, “Lawrence: Just to the right of Topeka.”

    Still, Wilt Chamberlain left Philadelphia to go to college there, so it can’t be all that bad.

    In fact, Kansas has its fair share of notable alums, including Bill James, Phil Anschutz, Dean Smith, Gale Sayers, Adolph Rupp, Paul Rudd and Don Johnson. Syracuse has a lot too, including almost all of the sports media people you see on TV today.

    While Jim Boeheim has almost 1,000 career wins, Bill Self actually has a better winning percentage, and Kansas has more trips to the dance, more Final Fours, more NBA players, more followers on Twitter and a nickname that wasn’t changed to just a color because of cultural insensitivity.

    Advantage Jayhawks.

    Elite Eight

    While I had Kansas on the Final Four line for much of this process, I switched it just before finishing this to put Florida ahead. Maybe it’s my Gatorade addiction, or maybe it's imagining sitting in the Florida sunshine after digging out from yet another snowstorm instead of going to the middle of Kansas and looking for cultural nirvana that has the Gators in the Final Four.

The West Region

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    With all due respect to the western part of the United States, your region stinks this year, at least in terms of cultural superiority.

    I’m not sure there is one team in this region that would crack the top 16 of this entire field. It’s almost as if the NCAA didn’t even think about cultural significance at all when filling out their seedings. Come on, guys!

    Early Rounds/Sweet 16

    Seriously, it’s really weak. San Diego State is located in one of the most beautiful cities in America, sure, but there’s not much else there. Oregon has the connection to Nike, which adds a coolness factor to the Ducks, but that’s not enough to be taken as serious title contenders.

    Creighton? The Bluejays are about as milquetoast as a team can get.

    Elite Eight

    Really, the West is down to Arizona—another Wildcat—and Wisconsin, so let’s look at those two teams as the weakest member of the Final Four.

    Arizona is the 22nd-ranked party school in the country, but Wisconsin is sixth. Both teams have one national championship, and while Arizona has sent more players to the NBA, Wisconsin under Bo Ryan has had decidedly more recent success in the NCAAs.

    So I’ll leave this one to the eye test. I have family who live in Arizona, and they are great, but it’s hard to pick anything associated with the state of Arizona in a cultural contest when the heads of that state are constantly trying to eliminate other cultures, or at the very least make life impossible for them.

    I can’t speak to the cultural diversity of Madison, but I do know that every single person I’ve ever met from there has been incredibly nice. Plus, the accent is adorable. And I’d take a badger in a fight over a wildcat any day.

    In terms of alumni, Jerry Bruckheimer, Geraldo Rivera, Craig T. Nelson and Kristen Wiig apparently all went to Arizona. Wisconsin has Don Ameche, who looked just like my grandfather; Ron Dayne, who my mother taught in high school; Daniel J. Travanti, who I thought I was named after for about 10 years of my life; and Boz Scaggs, who has no connection to me or my family at all. Plus about 11 billion other people, as this is the most detailed Wikipedia page I have ever seen.

    Congrats, Wisconsin. You’re in the Final Four, and Texas and Michigan aren’t. Long live the brackets.

The Final Four

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    I swear I did not do this on purpose. I swear it. Maybe there was a slight fault in my metrics that put too much on the history of each team from a basketball perspective, but somehow I ended up with Florida, North Carolina, Duke and Wisconsin in the Final Four, and it’s obvious by the write-up to this point that North Carolina and Duke are going to win their respective semifinals.

    I swear I did not do this on purpose, but somehow the bracket gave us the Tar Heels and the Blue Devils for the national title. So let’s do this one by one.

    Location, Location, Location

    Push. Locals may disagree, but for the outsider in other parts of the country, Duke and North Carolina are ostensibly located in the same exact place. If I had to pick one, the slight edge would go to Carolina, in part because they’re ranked on that silly party school list and in part because Duke’s campus has had a ton of…interesting…press over the last few years.

    NCAA Tournament History

    Duke is heading into its 38th NCAA tournament, while Carolina is going to its 45th. Duke has gone to 15 Final Fours with four titles. Carolina has gone to 18 Final Fours with five titles.

    Advantage Carolina.

    Coach Success

    Coach K has more than 980 wins and a winning percentage of better than .760. Roy Williams has more than 720 wins and a winning percentage of better than .790. Advantage Krzyzewski.


    Umm…I probably should have brought this up earlier. Yeah. Advantage Duke.

    Mascot Coolness

    Tar Heel versus a Blue Devil. Advantage Carolina.

    Social Media Footprint

    The Tar Heels have nearly twice as many Twitter followers as the Blue Devils. I wonder how many of Duke’s followers are hate following. Advantage: Carolina.

    Famous Alumni

    We ran down the list of both already, and I have to say that in any basketball ranking, the team with Michael Jordan is going to win a contest of famous alumni every time. Advantage Carolina.

    So of the seven metrics, it looks like Carolina wins four to two, with one tie. Even with a horrific academic scandal sullying the festivities, North Carolina wins the national championship in the bracket filled out based on cultural superiority.