The first weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament provided many thrills for those watching the action. The dramatic scene of Georgia State coach Ron Hunter falling off his courtside chair after his son TJ hit the game-winning shot against Baylor will live on in the lore of the tournament for years to come.
The tournament has been a mixed-bag for the Catholic schools thus far. Three have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. The early exit for Villanova was certainly the most disappointing result. Their loss to North Carolina State means the highest-ranking Catholic school was eliminated on the first weekend, and it continues a string of disappointing tournaments for Villanova.
The University of Dayton lost to Oklahoma, ending the run of one of the tournament’s remaining lower-seeded teams.
Considering the results, I have some suggestions for a couple of the eliminated Catholic schools in order to help them achieve success.
One strategy Villanova might use moving forward would be customizing their prayers to their opponent. For Saturday’s match-up, the obvious choice was St. Francis of Assisi. These prayers might have enabled the team to tap into the current pope’s star power, while also utilizing the interventions of his namesake. St. Francis famously tamed a savage wolf in 13th-century Italy. What better saint to call into action when facing NC State’s Wolfpack? If Villanova wants to advance into the later rounds, it must think outside the box, and St. Francis is the natural choice for the Wildcats.
As Dayton contemplates next season, I would suggest they make a more concerted effort to incorporate St. Joseph of Cupertino into their team prayers and activities. As the patron of test-takers and those who fly, he is the natural choice for college basketball players and is particularly suited to a team whose nickname is the Flyers.
First, players’ grades might improve with Cupertino’s help. As student-athletes know, “crunch time” in the basketball season nearly always coincides with “crunch time” in the academic calendar, so Cupertino might be able to help them with that multiple-choice exam that they couldn’t study for while at away games, or that term paper Wikipedia can’t seem to write for them.
Also, Cupertino’s ability to levitate is an obvious asset for basketball, especially rebounding and play “above the rim.” Cupertino’s involvement might lead to a collection of thunderous dunks that the non-sanctified might only dream of, and as time goes on, we might expect “basketball player” to join “astronaut” among the occupations of which he is the patron. Overall, I would suggest that when times get tough, Dayton needs to go deep into the calendar of saints instead of going deep into the playbook.
Going into the next rounds, the roads become ever tougher for the remaining Catholic schools: Xavier, Notre Dame, and Gonzaga. They all have legitimate chances to advance, with Xavier likely having the steepest hill to climb as they face Arizona.
As they attempt to decipher Arizona’s strategy this week, the Musketeers might call on Francis Xavier again and consider how he struggled to learn Japanese and various other Asian languages in the mid-16th century. Surely Arizona’s plays aren’t that hard to learn.
The Fighting Irish, in spite of their predisposition toward potatoes, might rely on the many references to wheat in the Bible if they wish to gain intelligence on their opponent, the Wichita State Shockers (as in wheat harvesters).
Gonzaga, whose star players are both Canadian, should call on St. Jean de Brebeuf since he was a Jesuit and is now the patron saint of Canada.
These are just some of the ways in which the Catholic schools might consider moving beyond traditional X’s and O’s as the tournament moves on. Whether they are calling on their own traditions or looking elsewhere in the Catholic world to find motivation for success, the remaining schools have to get creative. This is tournament time, and no Catholic stone should be left unturned.
Daniel MacLeod is an assistant professor of Catholic studies and history at St. Paul’s College at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. As an exercise in his courses, he runs a bracket game called Catholic Madness that includes some non-saints. “Tolkien usually does pretty well,” he reports, “and last semester Joseph of Cupertino took home the championship in one of my classes.”