Welcome back to BracketRacket, the one-stop shopping place for all your NCAA tournament needs. If you think the lack of breathable polyester in those ridiculous get-ups is the biggest threat to mascots, you may want to go directly to item No. 3. Without further ado:
THE SADDEST NCAA POOL IN AMERICA, BAR NONE
When the news release first crossed the desk, it seemed like a sign of the times. On reflection, it might be the lamest attempt at a ''March Madness'' tie-in ever.
''Today, as millions of Americans fill out NCAA men's basketball tournament brackets at their jobs,'' the release began, ''one office pool is different. It's the one for people currently without jobs.''
That means those people don't have offices to go to, either. But an outfit that bills itself as ''a leading provider of enterprise career management solutions,'' wasn't going to let a technicality like that get in the way of a desperate bid for some publicity.
''The contest gives unemployed people a well-earned break from their job searches and a chance to win popular prizes,'' the release continued. ''It also gives participants an opportunity to interact with one another and feel re-engaged in the workforce.''
BracketRacket is pretty sure that given a choice, the winners would rather have jobs. But judging by the sheer number of icky releases crossing the desk here shamelessly trying to glom on to the tournament for some business or other, the last place to look for one is in the public relations industry. No shortage of manpower there at the moment.
'TELL MR. PUTIN TO HOLD'
The leader of the free world likes Michigan State to beat Louisville for the national title. Big deal.
Both those bandwagons were close to capacity by the time Barack Obama hopped aboard.
''I know these are not imaginative picks,'' he conceded Wednesday during a segment on ESPN, ''but I think they're the right ones.''
So the headline from this year's edition of ''Barack-etology'' shouldn't have been that the eponymous president picked the same two teams a number of bookies and a lot of the smart money in Vegas did - at least once they stopped sputtering how wrong-headed the NCAA selection committee was to give both powerhouse programs No. 4 seeds. No, the takeaway should have been that Obama and Joe Biden, his right-hand man, still don't see eye-to-eye on some things.
When interviewer Andy Katz pointed out the president had Michigan State beating Delaware - Biden's alma mater - in the first round, Obama barely suppressed a chuckle.
''I'll let Biden fill out his own bracket. If he wants to pick Delaware over Michigan State, I'll let him do it,'' he said.
It's a little late for that, Mr. President. Biden's been known to do this kind of thing before and he's already been all over the Internet and burning up the phone lines touting Delaware for days.
''We talked for a few minutes and it was great,'' Delaware coach Monte Ross said. ''If you get a good luck call from Vice President Biden from Chile, you better go out and win the game.''
So if Obama is smart, he'll pick up the phone the next time Michigan State coach Tom Izzo calls.
''I'm trying to get through to the president right now and see if he has any pull with the officials, to be honest with you,'' said Izzo, ''since he picked us that high.''
IF YOU CAN READ THROUGH THOSE EYE HOLES, LOOK OUT!
BracketRacket is concerned about climate change. And mascot safety. In that order.
Apparently, so are the aforementioned No. 1 and No. 2 at the White House, which just announced an initiative to provide private companies and local governments better access to already public climate data. AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein reported the government is also working with several high-tech companies to develop computer simulations that model weather extremes, such as flooding, heat waves and drought, thus aiding officials trying to manage disaster risk. Someday soon, they hope to have an app for that.
Unfortunately, it might come too late to save many of the mascots at the NCAA tournament.
That dire prediction comes via the National Wildlife Federation, in a study titled ''Mascot Madness: How Climate Change is Hurting School Spirit.''
''From wolverines (Michigan) to gators (Florida), species that have spent countless centuries adapting a home court advantage are now watching the rules of the game changed before their eyes by industrial carbon pollution,'' wrote NWF senior scientist Doug Inkley, the lead author. ''If we're going to turn climate change into a Cinderella story, we need to act now.''
The list of potential victims is almost too long to ponder: ''Wildcats, Lions, Tigers, Bison, Rams, Bears, Wolverines, Wolves, Ducks, Falcons, Gators, Terrapins, Buckeyes, Orange(s?), Hurricanes, and even wheat (Shockers)'' - all could be gone before you know it. Among the probable causes of their demise: altered habitats as a result of warmer temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and rising sea levels, as well as various reproductive threats.
Consider yourself warned.
CELEBRITY ALUM (THOUGH ANTI-ALUM MIGHT BE MORE ACCURATE)
Nobody you know knows basketball better than Ricky Rubio - except when it comes to ''March Madness.''
The Minnesota Timberwolves point guard is one of the best ball-handlers and flashiest passers in the NBA. He's so good that the Spaniard, who's still only 23, turned pro at age 15. That's the short explanation for why Rubio doesn't have a dog in the NCAA tournament, or much of a clue, for that matter, what the fuss is all about.
''Everyone has his own team and I'm just out there picking, But there's no one team I like because I never went to college here,'' he told AP's Jon Krawczynski. ''So it's different.''
Maybe that's because Rubio's rationale for filling out his bracket is fraught with bad karma. He picks against the schools his teammates played for, mostly so he can diss them once they get knocked out. At the top of this year's target list are former Bruins Kevin Love, Shabazz Muhammad and Luc Mbah a Moute.
''When UCLA plays,'' Rubio chuckled, ''I go for the other team.''
He might want to rethink the strategy, though, now that rookie Gorgui Deng, who played on Louisville's national championship team, is a teammate.
''Last year,'' Rubio groaned about his bracket, ''I was kind of terrible. I didn't put Louisville in the Final Four so it screwed me up.''
STAT OF THE DAY
Tournament experience counts for more than just knowing how to cut down the net. Stats LLC suggests keeping an eye on Florida and Louisville for that reason. The two favorites rank second and third in that category as the rest of the NCAA field goes to work beginning Thursday; Louisville's active roster has 53 man-games of tournament experience, while Florida's has 50. The leader is Ohio State, whose roster boasts a total of 54 games, but might be too short on talent to reach the first step of the ladder.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
''Their players hugged me and told me they were thinking of me. I was really impressed with their guys and the program Cuonzo has built there.'' - Iowa coach Fran McCaffery after his Hawkeyes lost to Tennessee and coach Cuonzo Martin in a first round game at Dayton, Ohio. The loss came at the end of a long and stressful day that McCaffery began in Iowa, where his 14-year-old son, Patrick, had surgery to remove a thyroid tumor.
Cal Poly 81, Texas Southern 69
Tennessee 78, Iowa 65, OT
At Buffalo, N.Y.
UConn vs. Saint Joseph's, 6:55 p.m.
Villanova vs. Milwaukee, 30 minutes following
At Spokane, Wash.
Cincinnati vs. Harvard, 2:10 p.m.
Michigan State vs. Delaware, 30 minutes following
At Buffalo, N.Y.
Ohio State vs. Dayton, 12:15 p.m.
Syracuse vs. Western Michigan, 30 minutes following
At Orlando, Fla.
Colorado vs. Pittsburgh, 1:40 p.m.
Florida vs. Albany (N.Y.), 30 minutes following
At Orlando, Fla.
Saint Louis vs. N.C. State, 7:20 p.m.
Louisville vs. Manhattan, 30 minutes following
Michigan vs. Wofford, 7:10 p.m.
Texas vs. Arizona State, 30 minutes following
Wisconsin vs. American, 12:40 p.m.
Oregon vs. BYU, 30 minutes following
At Spokane Arena
Oklahoma vs. North Dakota State, 7:27 p.m.
San Diego State vs. New Mexico State, 30 minutes following