March 20, 1995

Your NCAA tournament office-pool draw sheet stares
hieroglyphically back at you. Members of the tournament
committee spent 35 hours in earnest caucus, poring over
countless computer-generated ``nitty-gritty sheets,'' as they
call them, to place 64 teams into four brackets, just so. But
you have neither the luxury of time nor the muscle of a
mainframe to do justice to picks that were due an hour ago. You
style yourself an expert in these things, but a season in which
as many lofty seeds hail from the tobacco country of western New
England as from the tobacco country of North Carolina leaves you
befuddled. You feel like a maven of March in the same way
Mount St. Mary's coach Jim Phelan is an expert on bow ties:
Phelan has worn them for 41 years but couldn't knot one himself
if his life depended on it.

What, then, to do? If you go with your heart, then the drill is
easy: You pick the Mountaineers, because Phelan is the
second-winningest coach still active and, two years after the
school president tried to get rid of him, he's finally getting a
chance in the Division I dance. You pick Colgate, too, because
every favorite (in this case Kansas, a dubious top seed in the
Midwest) deserves a Foyle (in this case Adonal, the Grenadine
Islander who turned down scholarship offers from Duke and
Syracuse, opting instead for a campus where ``you can still see
the sky at night''). Gonzaga gets your vote because the Bulldogs
earned a bid despite both a six-game losing streak in their
conference and the cancer, now in remission, of coach Dan
Fitzgerald. Florida International gets sentimental support, too,
with its lame-duck coach (Bob Weltlich) and lamer record (11-18).
And you choose Iowa State because the Cyclones have a
sweet-shooting sub named Hurl Beechum, whose life was complicated
a few years ago when Wayne's World popularized a nauseating
definition of his first name. ``People would ask me, `Is that what
your name really means?' '' he says, still perturbed at the
recollection. ``Look in the dictionary, and it says, `to throw
with great force,' not `to throw up with great force.' ''

But you can't go with your heart and have any chance to actually
win the pool. And to go with the chalk is too easy, too dull, too
faithless. So you go with your head -- yet how can you trust a
noggin still spinning from a regular season and a conference
tournament week fraught with vexing twists and maddening turns? So
you call up Rob Caskey, a data processor from Alexandria, Va., who
subscribes to the Battling Mascot Theory. ``Determine which
school's mascot would win in a head-to-head fight and choose
accordingly,'' he says. ``Is my theory flawed? Definitely. Crazy?
Perhaps. But I've picked two of the last four champs using it.''

Caskey abides by a few guiding principles: Larger animal mascots
beat smaller ones. Human mascots beat smaller animal mascots and
beat larger animal mascots when armed (e.g., UMass Minutemen,
Xavier Musketeers). ``Golden'' mascots (e.g., Minnesota Golden
Gophers, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, Florida International Golden
Panthers) have an edge against those with no traces of that
element. Human mascots with religious affiliations (Penn Quakers)
can rely on divine intervention against most other mascots, and
natural phenomena mascots (Iowa State Cyclones, Alabama Crimson
Tide) can beat any mascot except those with supreme or
supernatural powers (Arizona State Sun Devils).

With the Duke Blue Devils absent from the draw, Caskey picks the
Sun Devils to be NCAA champions, but you're not buying that, so
you turn to Aaron Schildkrout, a sophomore at Newton (Mass.) North
High. He examined the first round of last year's tournament,
taking careful note of which teams crossed time zones to reach
their tournament sites. He assumed that losing time -- that is,
traveling west to east -- handicapped a team, and that when two
time-losers played each other, the team losing more time would be
at a disadvantage. In every case where there was a disparity in
the number of time zones two opponents crossed, he went with the
team that had lost less time. Sure enough, of the 12 games in
which two such opponents met, Aaron picked 11 correctly, including
five upsets in which higher seeds lost to less road-weary lower

Assuming that winning teams return to their campuses before
advancing to the next round, and choosing the higher seed in games
to which his time-zone theory doesn't apply, Aaron picks Kentucky
to win this year's title. Which you won't do, notwithstanding the
Wildcats' No. 1 seed in the Southeast. After all, during this
discombobulated season Kentucky lost to Louisville, which lost to
Towson State, which lost to . . . Winthrop. So you fall back on
the top-ranked team in the Associated Press poll -- a team that
has a ferocious animal mascot and is from the same time zone as
Seattle, site of the Final Four.

Seven times the Bruins of UCLA have been No. 1 entering the
tournament; seven times they've come away a titlist. With your
picks due, that's criteria enough.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION:EVANGELOS VIGLIS [man playing arcade game in which one tries to pick up a team's pennant out of a pile of pennants with a mechanical claw]