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Students escape the NCAA bracket blues with March Mammal Madness, a new approach to the classic bracket

A Greek Sphinx and a saber-toothed tiger battle in ASU fictional tournament

march madness mammals

"Who will be this years March Madness Mammal Champion?" Illustration published Wednesday, March 29, 2017.

The past month has delivered some great match-ups for basketball fans, but some are looking at a more science-based tournament for their March entertainment.

Few could forget the match up this year, Speckled Bear vs the Clouded Leopard, at least that’s the case for March Mammal Madness 2017 fans.

Mirroring the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket system, March Mammal Madness places various fictional and real mammals in combat based on species, behavior, size and other characteristics.

The tournament was created by Katie Hinde, associate professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, who started the event after seeing similar fictional brackets on social media.

“The dynamism of the tournament comes from the live, play-by-play narrations on twitter of what would possibly happen if these two species encountered each other in the wild ... (and) the very active fan base can tweet reactions,” Hinde said. 

After gaining a following from professors using the bracket system in their 2014 curriculum, Hinde took to Twitter where she would use the platform to play out battles from the perspective of each creature. 

"This is what truly drew public attention" Hinde said, highlighting the importance of social media for the tournament.

March Mammal Madness was even known by some of Hinde's colleagues before she came to work at ASU.

“I brought the tournament with me when I arrived in 2015," Hinde said. "But even before I started here, folks at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change were enthusiastically playing the tournament and let me know how much they valued the public communication of science.”

Hinde also utilizes social media to give access to event collaborators to control the bracket and its design, making it easier for other educators and students to use.

“From social media chatter and email dialogues, most, if not all, of the educators who use March Mammal Madness use it as we’ve designed the tournament,” Hinde said. “I call (March Mammal Madness) a collective performance science, because you have folks from all over the United States contributing to battle narration, artwork, resources and everything that goes into the event.”

Hinde and fellow ASU colleagues worked together earlier this fall to make a YouTube video for the March festivities surrounding the battles in the wild card round.

Another collaborator, Charon Henning, took a different approach and included illustrations depicting the creatures in the tournament.

“I discovered the tournament on Twitter during year two of March Mammal Madness, I think there were a couple of people I knew in the sciences that were retweeting this crazy hashtag and it looked super interesting,” Henning said.

Henning, inspired by a paleontologist at the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, creates professional illustrations of existing and mythological creatures for March Mammal Madness using skills from outside work.

“I use a technique called compositing, I look at the similarities within the bone structure to what is out there today," Henning said. "Say I’m constructing a Pegasus, I’ll look at the bone structure of something with extremely large wings and see where that might fit in on the anatomy of a horse.”

Her talent, accompanied by a team of volunteer artists, makes these illustrations for March Mammal Madness possible each year.

ASU also played an important role in getting students from a variety of majors involved in this year's tournament. 

ASU Libraries partnered with Night of the Open Door on the Tempe campus and handed out guides to students and visitors on how to use the bracket.

“The event was aimed towards the K-12 group that came to visit the campus, the guides were created to help educate students and show them how to do research in preparation for going to college, but doing it in a really fun way.” said Ashley Gohr, ASU librarian and contributor to this year's tournament.

“This includes involving activities where they could learn about animals and involve them in something very close to college level research, our guide teaches you how to play MMM and everything you would need to get started," Gohr said. 

As far as this year's tournament goes, the championships were held on Mar. 29, where the short-faced bear was deemed the winner. Those interested in the 2018 tournament can submit suggestions on creatures participating next year.

“One of the biggest upsets this year was when an eight seed Greek Sphinx defeated a one seed saber-toothed cat," Hinde said. "A lot of folks had the saber-toothed as their projected champion, so they were vocal in their responses.”

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