I awake once a year from uneasy dreams to find myself transformed at my TV into a gigantic college hoops fan. The metamorphosis lasts but a few weeks until it dies, and I move on to greener pastures like pro basketball. Until then, however, I should concede the fact that — for now — the NCAA Tournament is more exciting than the NBA in March (except on Tuesday, when John Stockton turned 40).
I would give a preview of this weekend’s Final Four, except I don’t have a clue who’s going to win. I watched Oklahoma nail all their free throws against Missouri and Indiana sink all their treys against Kent State. Kansas walked all over Oregon, and Maryland was clutch against Connecticut. Each team seems to have at least one player in the running for the Wooden award, and as far as I can tell from their demeanors and their suits, all four coaches look pretty capable.
Like I said, I don’t have a clue — about who’s going to win, or about college basketball in general.
I didn’t know a Terrapin was a turtle until I saw one sitting on the baseline during the Maryland-Connecticut game, and I still don’t know what a Sooner is. Come to think of it, I don’t even know what a Hoosier is. And what is a Jayhawk? Sounds like some kind of bird, but where does it fly and have you ever seen one?
With that in mind, I thought I’d educate myself (and you!) on the mascots of this year’s Final Four teams. It’s just about the only kind of knowledge about college basketball I can impart without making a complete fool of myself.
Indiana Hoosiers — Dictionary.com says that a Hoosier is “a native or resident of Indiana.” The nickname comes from the word “hoozer,” which in 19th century England was “used to refer to anything unusually large.” Like people from Indiana, I guess? Similarly, natives or residents of Connecticut are also known as Nutmeggers, which means we could have been the Yale Nutmeggers. Or Nutmegs. Nuts, anyone?
Oklahoma Sooners — Believe it or not, a Sooner is “a native or resident of Oklahoma.” The term was used to label people who would claim land in the West before the government made the land available. As a result, Sooners are also people who illegally do something ahead of time to give themselves a leg up on their competitors. OU, however, was a bit behind in creating a fight song, so they had to borrow the tune of our very own “Boola-Boola” to come up with their chant, “Boomer Sooner.”
Kansas Jayhawks — If, a few paragraphs ago, you answered to yourself that a Jayhawk is a hawk-like bird indigenous to the American Midwest and that you did see one last time you visited Wichita, guess what? You’re wrong. According to the University of Kansas’ Office of University Relations, the Jayhawk is “a mythical bird with a fascinating history.” I wasn’t quite so fascinated by its history (something to do with ruffians in Kansas during the Civil War), but I did make out that the Jayhawk is a combination of a blue jay and a sparrow hawk.
Maryland Terrapins — The Diamondback terrapin, which scientists refer to as emydiolae malaclemys and Maryland students affectionately call Testudo, is both the University of Maryland’s mascot and the Maryland State Reptile. I’m not sure if my sources are correct, but I’ve been told Terps coach Gary Williams is the Maryland State Mammal.
To sum this all up, this weekend pits Indiana’s really big things against Oklahoma’s cheaters and Kansas’ scary birds against Maryland’s state turtles. Personally, I’d have to go with the really big things and the scary birds. But then again, this is college basketball, and I wouldn’t have a clue.