If you haven't had a chance yet this week, please take a moment to visit dickinsoncountynews.com. Right next to our main headlines, there's a chance to enter a 2014 bracket challenge featuring local prizes and a chance to win $1 million.
Yes, we said "bracket." It's NCAA Tournament time. The pairings will be announced Sunday night and there's a good chance both Iowa and Iowa State will find their way into that trademarked event known as March Madness. The Hawkeye fans in my office don't understand it, but I root for both schools -- along with Northern Iowa and Drake -- during the season.
As the postseason approaches, I use contests like the 2014 Bracket Challenge as a fallback for the moment when Iowa teams are eliminated from the tournament. I'm only going to care about a Louisville-Florida matchup, for example, if it improves my position in a bracket challenge.
Ultimately, the winner is often someone who knows nothing about the college basketball landscape -- and that's perfectly fine. I've heard stories about rookies using mascots to decide the champion -- their strategy was to favor mascots with paws to advance. Sure enough, UConn (Huskies) and Kentucky (Wildcats) have won it all in two of the past three years.
But even basketball beginners don't get out of doing their homework with the mascot approach. It takes a little zoology to know the Catamounts are a cougar -- they have paws, too. I'm still not sure if Bearcats are more bear or cat, but they probably get an automatic bid in the "animals with paws" postseason.
Salukis have paws. The Southern Illinois mascot is a dog breed with floppy ears, so move them on to the Sweet 16 some years.
And you still have to decode "Aggies" when Texas A&M, New Mexico State, Utah State or Cal-Davis get an invite. No, they don't have paws for the record -- an Aggie, as I understand it, is an informal name for students at an agricultural college.
The Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina have already qualified for the NCAA Tournament. It takes a bit of research to learn about the rooster featured in a "Reynard and the Fox" fable I've never heard of. Advance them in your "beak" bracket. (Louisville's beaked Cardinals are the defending champion, by the way.)
Do we put Iowa State in the beak bracket because of Cy, the university's own sideline-patrolling cardinal? Or do they go to the bad weather bracket with Miami's Hurricanes and the Red Storm of St. John's?
Residents of Colorado wouldn't mind a "hoof" bracket with Rams (Colorado State) and Buffalos (Colorado) in the tournament. You'd get no argument from the Thundering Herd of Marshall.
A crayon box bracket could have Mean Greens, Blue Hens, Yellow Jackets and Purple Aces, but I'd have to give the edge to the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii.
You could have the occupational bracket with Cornhuskers, Boilermakers and Cowboys. The battles of good and evil can be decided among Friars, Quakers, Crusaders, Delta Devils and Blue Demons -- but then where do you put the Demon Deacons?
So, as you decide the wildest Wildcat between Kentucky and Villanova or pick the Owl with more hoot from Rice or Temple, remember two things:
1. The NCAA Tournament selection committee ranks the teams in each region based on the season's performance.
2. The seeds almost never matter once March Madness arrives, so don't be afraid to visit our website and make a few guesses.
By the way, don't overlook the Golden Griffins -- the mascot for Canisius. It's a mythical creature with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion -- a lock for the "crayon" "paws" and "beak" brackets!