It's that time of year, gents.
The NCAA tournament officially gets underway on Tuesday and with it will come the mind-numbing, teeth-grinding, heart-wrenching bastard of a process that we call March Madness.
By now, my guess is that most of you have already filled out your brackets (and then subsequently put in a call to your favorite bookie). If you have, the only thing to do now is to sit down and wait for the madness to take hold.
But then again, maybe there's a better way to pass the time. After all, there's nothing wrong with allowing yourself a few moments of peace before your bracket gets totally destroyed and you take to punching holes in your walls, am I right?
Of course I am. And that's why I decided to take the initiative by putting together a list of 30 of the best cheerleaders that this year's crop of tournament teams has to offer.
You can thank me later. For now, just sit back and enjoy the show.
The 2010-2011 season was a very good one for the Florida Gators. They finished 26-7 with a very strong 13-3 record in SEC play. They made it all the way to the final in the SEC tournament, but were unable to keep pace with the Kentucky Wildcats, ultimately losing by the final of 70-54.
The Gators have themselves a No. 2 seed in the Southeast Region of the NCAA tournament, and they will be matched up with the Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara. It's a good matchup on paper, but one thing that intrigues me is that it could almost be viewed as a long overdue meeting between two very similar cultures.
As I understand it, both Florida and UC Santa Barbara are known for having slightly more attractive women—and it shows in their cheerleading squads.
Shoot, if you think this Florida girl is good enough, just wait until you see the girl from UCSB.
If I may be so bold as to use one of the worst cliches in the world, the BYU Cougars' season is best described as a roller-coaster ride.
Early on, senior guard Jimmer Fredette emerged as the biggest star of the 2010-2011 college basketball season. Of course, the spotlight was eventually taken from him when sophomore forward Brandon Davis was suspended for violating the school's honor code. The Cougars have been fighting tooth and nail for wins ever since.
Still, the Cougars grabbed a No. 3 seed for the NCAA tournament and should at least be able to get past Wofford in the first round.
To many, the idea of BYU having a cheerleader squad might seem a little odd—perhaps even contradictory. But cheerleading is actually very much a time-honored tradition at BYU. The first squad was formed way back in 1893, a mere 18 years after the university was founded.
Bet you didn't know that, did ya?
Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks had themselves a damn fine season this year. They finished 32-2 and handily won the Big 12 tournament. Even if they hadn't claimed the conference title, they probably would have been a lock for a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance anyway.
The Jayhawks were granted a swift exit in last year's tourney and are thus looking for a bit of redemption this year. With the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, leading the charge, you have to think that they are more than capable of making it to the Final Four. With a bit of luck, they might just be in for their second NCAA championship in four years.
The Kansas cheerleading program isn't quite as old as BYU's, but it's still up there in age. The program has been around for 110 years and has enjoyed plenty of success in recent years. Kansas' cheer squad won the UCA Nationals in 1990 and 1995, and placed fifth in 2009.
When it comes to buzzer-beaters, it doesn't get much better than Isaiah Thomas' game-winner against Arizona in the final of the Pac-10 tournament. It certainly earned Gus Johnson's approval, and it secured the Washington Huskies' second-straight Pac-10 title.
The Huskies earned themselves a No. 7 seed for the Big Dance, and they will square off against the Georgia Bulldogs in the first round. That should be a fine game.
Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of literature out there about the Washington Huskies cheerleading program, and that's a shame. Still, the program definitely passes the eye test as far as I'm concerned, and right now I'm thinking maybe I should have applied to Washington.
Such is the folly of youth, I guess.
When it came time to fill out my bracket, I was determined to pick somebody other than the Ohio State Buckeyes. They are, after all, the No. 1 seed in the entire tournament, and picking them would just be too easy.
But alas, I was unable to help myself. They're going to win it all.
In the event that the Buckeyes don't win it all, they've still had a fine season. Thanks in large part to freshman phenom Jared Sullinger, they more or less ran the table this season and they easily won the Big Ten tournament.
I could be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure this lovely lady's name is Brittany, who just so happens to be one of two Buckeyes cheerleaders who was tabbed to represent Team USA at the International Cheer Union World Championships this year. Well done.
The Clemson Tigers damn near had the North Carolina Tar Heels in their semifinal matchup in the ACC tournament. The Tigers just couldn't quite finish and they lost in overtime.
Had the Tigers been able to defeat the Tar Heels, they probably would have found themselves with a nice seed in the NCAA tournament. Instead, they barely made the cut and will have to defeat the UAB Blazers in the First Four to even make it to the first round.
Admittedly, this picture is a little dated. It was taken during the ACC tournament back in 2008 during Clemson's game against Boston College. Maybe using it here will bring the Tigers good luck, as they went on to play in the ACC final that year and were only narrowly defeated by North Carolina.
I was definitely pulling for the Notre Dame basketball team heading into the Big East tournament.
I'm not a Notre Dame alum or anything. It's just that, like most young men my age, I've been a big fan of the Irish ever since I saw Rudy when I was a kid. Too bad they didn't have that guy during the Big East tourney. Methinks he could have breathed some life into them.
Oh well. The Irish have what I think is a smooth path to the Sweet 16 this year. They have to beat Akron first, but I think they should also be able to handle either Florida State or Texas A&M in the second round.
Cheerleading is something they take very seriously at Notre Dame. Not only does the squad have Adidas as a corporate sponsor, but they are also expected to be "ambassadors of the University of Notre Dame."
Reading that just gave me a thought: Why doesn't everyone use cheerleaders as ambassadors?
I have some serious doubts about the Tar Heels after watching their performance during the ACC tournament. Sure, they made it to the final. But they didn't exactly look good doing so, and they certainly didn't look good in getting manhandled by Duke.
That being said, you have to love Harrison Barnes. When he's on like he was against Clemson (40 points), the Heels are hard to beat.
North Carolina drew a No. 2 seed in the East Region of the NCAA tournament and will face off against Long Island in the first round. I would love to see them face Washington in the second round, but watching them go up against Georgia would be fun too.
In addition to the cheer squad, the North Carolina dance team has high standards. Before prospective dancers can even try out, they have to provide a full-length body shot. Because, you know, pictures don't lie. I guess.
The Missouri Tigers really don't have much on their 2010-2011 resume to boast about. They have nice wins over Kansas State and Illinois, but they got slapped around some by teams like Kansas and Texas. They also got bounced from the Big 12 tournament when they dropped their eighth-straight game to Texas A&M.
Nevertheless, the Tigers still had enough of an argument to make the tournament and they will face Cincinnati in our nation's capital on Thursday.
As you can tell, the Tigers have some lovely ladies cheering for them on a regular basis. If you were to travel back in time to the days of Missouri's first cheer squad, however, things wouldn't quite be the same. The first cheer squad formed during the 1909-1910—and it was an all-male unit.
My guess is that you'd rather not step into that particular time machine.
As previously mentioned, the Kentucky Wildcats proved to be too much for the Florida Gators in the SEC tournament final. They may be a No. 4 seed in the Big Dance, but I'm of the mind that they have the goods to make it as far as the Final Four.
Indeed, Brandon Knight is a very good player and he has great players like Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb around him. One can only imagine how good this team would be had Enes Kanter not been ruled ineligible.
The Kentucky cheerleading squad has been one of the best in the country for a couple years now. Up until the streak came to an end in 2011, they had won the college cheerleading and dance team national championship three years in a row. They finished second this year, which still isn't too shabby.
The Xavier Musketeers may have missed out on winning the Atlantic 10 tournament, but that doesn't wipe away the fact that they were probably the best team in the conference during the regular season. They finished with an overall record of 24-7 and dropped only one in-conference game all season.
Xavier is a No. 6 seed in the East Region and will square off against Marquette in the first round. As always, it seems, the Musketeers are a team to watch out for. They've made it at least as far as the Sweet 16 in each of the last three years and could easily do so again this year.
In doing some research on the Xavier cheer squad, one thing I came across was their cheerleading manual. Suffice to say that Xavier cheerleaders are kept on a short leash. The darned thing sounded like some sort of military manifesto.
The Butler Bulldogs came ever so close to knocking off the Duke Blue Devils in last year's NCAA championship game.
Had Gordon Hayward's last-second attempt from half court found a way to rattle in, I don't think I would have been able to contain myself. After all, like most good Americans, I have nothing but contempt for Duke. And I don't mind admitting it.
This year's Butler squad hasn't quite resembled a championship contender, but they could still be dangerous. They have themselves a No. 8 seed in the Southeast Region and are scheduled to face Old Dominion.
After being formed in the spring every year, the Butler cheer squad generally takes the summer off, with just a few practices sprinkled here and there. However, the squad will occasionally get together to partake in certain community functions such as the Indianapolis 500 Festival Parade. Bet you didn't know that.
As a No. 15 seed in the NCAA tournament, the harsh reality for UCSB is that the Gauchos are probably lucky to be in the Big Dance at all.
Or are they? I've never credited Jim Rome as having an abundance of brains, but he went on record today saying that he likes the Gauchos to upset the Gators. His reasoning isn't all that sound, but he sure does manage to sell his blind faith well.
So what the heck. I guess I like them to win too. Just, you know, not on my bracket.
One thing that's unique about the UCSB cheer squad is that it is actually a student-run unit, which is legit.
Like many people, I'm still waiting for the day when they make a movie about Frank Martin's Kansas State with R. Lee Ermey in the lead role. It would just be too perfect, and I would gladly shell out my hard-earned cash to go see it.
Until then, I guess I'll just have to be content watching Martin scream at Jacob Pullen and company. This is something that certainly did the job toward the end of the season. The Wildcats were very much on the bubble in mid-February, but then won the final six regular-season games, which included victories over Kansas and Texas. For their efforts, they got a No. 5 seed and a matchup with Utah State.
Now, I may as well admit that I'm not entirely sure that the girl in the picture is a Kansas State cheerleader. But she looks the part, and she's certainly easy to look at. If she's not, I daresay they need to sign her up.
So, who else is a big believer in UConn right about now?
Indeed, they sure looked tough to beat in the Big East tourney, where it became apparent that Kemba Walker might just be the best closer in the country.
By winning the Big East, the Huskies earned themselves a No. 3 seed in the West Region. They have a comfy matchup with Bucknell in the first round, and I actually think they have an easy path to the Sweet 16.
One of the interesting wrinkles about UConn's cheer squad is that gymnastics experience is not really necessary. What is necessary, however, is that you have "an understanding of football and basketball game flow."
In the parlance of our times, they're doing it right.
Thanks to Joe Jackson's late free throws, the Memphis Tigers won the Conference USA tournament for the fifth time in six years when they beat UTEP in the final. As a result, they're back in the NCAA tournament after a one-year hiatus.
The Tigers are tasked with slowing down Derrick Williams and the Arizona Wildcats in the first round, which is going to be tough.
Like Kentucky, Memphis has one of the best cheerleading squads in the country. The all-girl squad has finished in the top three at the UCA National Collegiate Championships every year since it was formed in 2002, taking home titles in 2004 and 2008.
The Pittsburgh Panthers had the misfortune of running into Kemba Walker and the UConn Huskies in the Big East tourney, and it was Walker's game-winning jumper that did them in.
But no matter. Pitt still did enough during the regular season to warrant a No. 1 seed and the Panthers will kick off their tournament schedule against either UNC Asheville or Arkansas-Little Rock.
The Pitt cheerleading squad is also among the best in the country. Since Theresa Nuzzo took charge of the program 28 years ago, Pitt cheerleaders have regularly finished at or near the top of the board in various cheerleading competitions.
Somebody get her a raise.
If nothing else, you might say that the Villanova Wildcats are due for a victory. They lost each of their final five games and seven-of-nine overall to finish out their season.
Villanova is slated to face the George Mason Patriots in the first round of the Big Dance. The Patriots had won 16 in a row before falling to VCU in the semifinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tourney, so we might just have ourselves an upset in this one.
Upset or no, it's hard to take anything away from the Villanova cheer squad. Academics are stressed just as much as anything else, and the squad brochure claims that the team generally maintains an overall GPA of 3.5. Thus, it would be a bad idea to make any dumb cheerleader jokes around them. They might just challenge you to some kind of debate.
I can't claim that I followed the Tennessee Volunteers all that closely this year, but there are two things that I managed to pick up along the way. The first is that Bruce Pearl is weird, and the other is that Scotty Hopson has the best hair in college basketball.
The Vols drew the Michigan Wolverines in the first round, which should prove to be a fun matchup. The only problem is that whoever wins is probably going to be tasked with unseating Duke in the second round. Good luck with that.
There's not much literature out there about the Tennessee cheer squad's accomplishments. They do boast about being a regular in national rankings, however, and they do seem to be quite proud of their frequent appearances on ESPN. I guess I'm willing to take their word for it.
Then again, I've been known to be easily swayed by beautiful women. It doesn't always end well, just in case you were wondering.
I'm not too sure the Georgia Bulldogs are going to be able to advance very far in the NCAA tournament, but I, for one, would be fine with their performance as long as Travis Leslie throws down a few more sick dunks.
The Bulldogs have a tough matchup against the Washington Huskies in the first round and the road doesn't get any easier in the second round. A win would set them up against North Carolina, which would mean the end of the line.
Then again, I might be setting up the Bulldogs with some good mojo by posting a picture of this lovely lady. This was taken during Georgia's matchup with Arkansas in last year's SEC tourney, and the Bulldogs won that game.
If they do win, I will be very distraught if I don't get some kind of gift basket.
The San Diego State Aztecs finally managed to get over Jimmer Fredette and the BYU Cougars in the final of the Mountain West tournament. Considering the fact that BYU was the only team to beat them this year, they could be dangerous in the Big Dance.
San Diego State drew Northern Colorado in the first round, a team the Aztecs should be able to beat. Their path to the Sweet 16 looks relatively easy, but they could run into UConn once they get there. This may be just my opinion, but that's the kind of matchup you cross your fingers for.
One thing this picture tells me about San Diego State's cheerleading squad is that they might all be ninjas in their free time. Seriously, I haven't seen a leg kick like that since Bruce Lee, and I'm torn between wanting to run for my life and wanting to chat her up.
I've found that it's best to play it safe by running when faced with such scenarios.
Damn those blasted Blue Devils! They're good every year, and yet I don't seem to be getting any closer to coming to grips with their success.
As we all know, Duke is coming into the NCAA tourney looking to be the first team to repeat as national champs since Florida did it in 2006 and 2007. They have a very strong team again this year and could be even stronger if Kyrie Irving is able to play.
In my efforts to read up about the Duke cheer squad, the one thing that really stood out is the fact that one can book the Blue Devils mascot for a mere $75 per hour. Booking the cheer squad, on the other hand, doesn't appear to be an option.
Things were never easy for the Michigan State Spartans this season. In fact, most of the time things were just downright difficult. I, for one, am amazed that they managed to make the tourney at all.
Still, now that the Spartans are in the tourney, they might just be a threat. Tom Izzo took them to the Final Four last year, and they were the NCAA runner-ups in 2009. So we shall see.
Contrary to the Duke cheer squad, booking the Michigan State cheer squad is actually an option. For a mere $75-$125, you can have them appear at your tailgate. For $400-500, they will even show up at your wedding.
Personally, I'm not so sure how having a bunch of cheerleaders show up out of the blue would sit with the bride, but I'm sure everyone else would enjoy themselves.
Thanks to a jumper by San Diego State's D.J. Gay, the UNLV Rebels just barely missed out on a chance to go to the Mountain West tournament final, where they would have had a chance to win the conference tourney for the first time since 2008.
The Rebels did enough to earn a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tourney, but they have a tough road ahead. Even if they get past Illinois in the first round, they're probably looking at a matchup with Kansas in the second round. If they get past them, it will probably be against Louisville.
As you can see, only the finest ladies can be on the UNLV cheer squad and there's a good reason for this. It is their responsibility to balance the hideous creature that is the school mascot, Reb.
It's been an interesting couple of days for the USC Trojans. It turned out that, like the rest of us, Kevin O'Neill develops a rather short temper after a trip to the hotel bar. With him watching from his apartment, the Trojans proceeded to put their tourney hopes in jeopardy by losing to Arizona in the semifinals of the Pac-10 tournament.
Somehow, the Trojans made the cut—barely. They have themselves a First Four matchup against VCU on Wednesday. If they win, they'll face Georgetown in the first round.
In some circles, USC is referred to as the "University of Spoiled Children." I've always thought that their cheerleaders are a huge reason for this. No doubt you can see what I mean just by looking at that picture.
A couple of days ago, I made the mistake of saying that the Arizona Wildcats were the only team in the Pac-10 worth a darn. Thanks to Isaiah Thomas, it turns out that, as usual, I had no idea what I was talking about.
Still, the Wildcats are a very good team, and one could certainly make the argument that Derrick Williams is the best all-around player in the country. They face Memphis in the first round, and I can certainly see the Wildcats taking that one to set up a potential matchup against Texas.
Unlike many of the cheer squads on this list, the Arizona squad is non-competitive. That's a shame if you ask me. After all, just looking at this picture makes me think that they could go far if they decided to compete.
For a while there, the Purdue Boilermakers were on a roll. They won seven in a row between February 8th and March 1st, which included wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State. Unfortunately, they've dropped their last two, the second of which was their quarterfinal matchup with Michigan State in the Big Ten tourney.
Still, the Boilermakers have themselves a No. 3 seed for the NCAA tournament, and they should be able to dispatch Saint Peter's in the first round. If they do, they're probably looking at a matchup with Georgetown in the second round, which should be another game they can win.
As far as Purdue's cheer squad is concerned, it would appear that they have discovered how to conquer gravity. I've been trying to unlock the secret myself, but it always seems to end with me on my couch watching TV. If I ever get the chance, I'll have to ask her how she managed to solve that problem.
Despite the fact Kansas proved to be too much for Texas in the Big 12 tournament final, the Longhorns are still a very dangerous team heading into the Big Dance. They don't have the easiest road set up for them, but they could easily be in the Elite Eight in the blink of an eye.
You don't need to tell me that Texas has some of the more legendary cheerleaders in the business. This is because the requirements to become a part of the Texas cheer squad are pretty strict.
Whereas some programs don't put much emphasis on individual acrobatic abilities, such things are quite important for being a Texas cheerleader. In taking a look at the selection criteria, prospective cheerleaders must be in top physical form and they must be capable of performing their own stunts.
Kinda sounds like a casting call for a Michael Bay movie.
I was under the impression that the UCLA Bruins had a ho-hum kind of a season, but I guess they actually did well for themselves. While I'm not sure what they were doing in losing to Cal and Oregon late in the season, wins over BYU and Arizona are nothing to scoff at.
The Bruins will square off against Michigan State in the first round on Thursday, which should be a pretty good game. If they win, they're probably looking at a matchup with Florida in the second round, which might not be as much fun.
If that game does go sour, it's comforting to know that the UCLA cheer squad will be there to brighten things up. Their overall loveliness has long since become legend, and that's because being on the squad itself appears to be an exclusive honor.
They recommend that prospective cheerleaders inquire as soon as their junior year, which is before most high school students even fill out college applications.
We come at last to the top program in this humble little countdown: the Virginia Commonwealth Rams.
The Rams just barely made the cut this year. As previously mentioned, they need to beat USC in the First Four in order to make it to the second round of the Big Dance. Considering they were just barely edged by Old Dominion in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament final, they might just be capable of edging USC.
A self-described "crowd team," the VCU cheer squad specializes in swaying the emotions of the home crowd. One supposes that's really nothing special, but one look at this picture makes me think that they might just be able to sway any crowd in any arena.
Come to think of it, I'm going to go ahead and pencil VCU into the Final Four.
Hope you enjoyed the show, folks. Now go enjoy the madness.