All appearances since 1985 were considered to determine the top animal mascots in the NCAA tournament. Teams were assigned one point for each tournament win, plus bonus points on the following scale for each victory:
2 pts. Sweet Sixteen victory
3 pts. Elite Eight victory
4 pts. Final Four victory
10 pts. National championship
You can have your power rankings and injury reports. Go ahead -- factor in travel schedules and common opponents. Enjoy your algorithms, Euclideans! But to survive deep into your NCAA office pool, may we suggest pure animal instincts. Welcome to Bracketzoology, our soft-scientific method for helping you Dar-win after Natural Selection Sunday.
1 CATSTotal points: 539 (302 wins, 45 Sweet 16 wins, 17 Elite Eight wins, nine Final Four wins, six national championships)
Top schools: Kentucky Wildcats (182 points), Arizona Wildcats (103), Villanova Wildcats (81)
Whether it's John Calipari's NBA feeder team from Kentucky or an unlikely candidate such as the Steph Curry-led Davidson team in 2008, cats always find a way to the top in the tournament. Villanova's championship in 2016 gave cats the crown, and Jay Wright's team landed another top seed this season. Arizona, which won it all in 1997, has won 10 Sweet 16 games and is a strong contender. The popular mascot has appeared in 642 tournament games since 1985, but 16 of its teams are winless, while another 15 have four wins or fewer.
2 BIRDSTotal points: 490 (208 wins, 39 Sweet 16 wins, 15 Elite Eight wins, seven Final Four wins, three national championships)
Top schools: Kansas Jayhawks (172 points), Louisville Cardinals (89), Temple Owls (34)
Sustained success from Kansas and Louisville makes the birds a regular contender, but the drop-off is steep. Temple thrived in the '90s with three Sweet 16 victories, bookended by two more in 1988 and 2001. Kansas, which last won the championship in 2008, is a top seed this year.
3 DOGSTotal points: 348 (22 Sweet 16 wins, 11 Elite Eight wins, eight Final Four wins, four national championships)
Top schools: Connecticut Huskies (144 points), Georgetown Hoyas (whose mascot is Jack the Bulldog) (53), Gonzaga Bulldogs (42)
Championships in 1999, 2004, 2011 and 2016 have made UConn a popular pick in March, but the Huskies are no longer a top dog and didn't even make the tournament this year. Bulldogs have pushed the competition around in the past, and Gonzaga will look to do the same as a 4-seed. Texas A&M and Tennessee (whose mascot is Smokey, a bluetick coonhound) have combined for just 42 total tournament games since 1985 and have 22 wins between the two of them.
4 RAMSTotal points: 234 (107 total wins, 19 Sweet 16 wins, 12 Elite Eight wins, five Final Four wins, four national championships)
Top schools: North Carolina Tar Heels (215 points), VCU Rams (15), Rhode Island Rams (9)
The ram doesn't rule the animal kingdom, but there is no doubting North Carolina's superiority as the most successful school among the considered groups. The Tar Heels (whose mascot is Rameses the Ram) have won four titles since 1985 and are the defending champions. Rhode Island is enjoying a recent surge after making the tournament last season for the first time since 1999 and is a No. 7 seed this year.
5 BEARSTotal points: 124 (78 total wins, eight Sweet 16 wins, four Elite Eight wins, two Final Four wins, one national championship)
Top schools: UCLA Bruins (88 points), Baylor Bears (14), California Bears (9)
UCLA was an 11-seed this year, a far cry from the 1995 team that won the championship. The Bruins' 71 tournament games since 1985 make them the dominant bear in tourney history, but St. Bonaventure ended UCLA's run on Tuesday night in the First Four. Montana, a 14-seed, is the only bear remaining in this year's field.
6 ALLIGATORSTotal points: 110 (45 total wins, nine Sweet 16 wins, five Elite Eight wins, three Final Four wins, two national championships)
Top schools: Florida Gators (110 points)
The Gators didn't need any help chomping through the competition and are the only high-scoring mascot group represented by one team. Buoyed by back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007, Florida was a perennial contender. After making four consecutive Elite Eight appearances from 2011 to '14, Florida returns to the tournament for a second consecutive season after missing the previous two.
Illustrations by Rafa Alvarez