March Madness has a grip on America this week, and there’s a good chance you filled out a bracket whether you know anything about NCAA men’s college basketball or not. Those hoping for an edge looked at things like strength of schedule, how a team has been playing recently, the Top 25 rankings … stuff like that.
Not me. I based all of my picks on which college has the higher Jewish population. While others turned to ESPN and “bracketologists” for insight, I scoured lists of the Top 60 schools by Jewish population put out last year by Hillel and Reform Judaism’s magazine, RJ.
For every matchup, I considered each school’s undergraduate Jewish population. If necessary, I looked at other stats: Jewish percentage of entire enrollment, availability of Hillel houses, etc. In one instance, I eliminated a team because its school had passed an anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divestment or sanctions) measure.
My pick to win it all — based on a Jewish student population that leads the entire nation — is the University of Florida. The Gators have 6,500 Jewish undergrads, better than Rutgers (6,400), NYU (6,000) and Central Florida (6,000), none of which made “The Big Dance,” as some people call the tourney. Interestingly, Florida is the No. 1 overall seed and many people’s pick to win it all.
Some are picking Wichita State, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest with a 34-0 record. However, the school’s campus doesn’t even have a Hillel house! So in a shocking upset, the Shockers exit in the first round! At least in my bracket.
I don’t have the space to recap all my picks, so here are a few from the first round:
Memphis vs. George Washington. The Tigers have a Jewish head coach, Josh Pastner, but GWU has the largest Jewish enrollment of any public school in the tourney, 3,000, a whopping 29 percent of its undergrads. Mazel tov, Colonials.
Arizona State vs. Texas. ASU has 3,600 Jewish undergrads and Texas has 4,000, both in the Top 15 in the country. Very close. Maybe I could have picked ASU, but no way! Its student government unanimously passed a BDS measure in 2012 against companies that do business with the Israeli military.
Harvard vs. Cincinnati. In a close one, I took the Crimson due to a 1,680-1,000 edge in Jewish undergrads. Percentage-wise, however, a flat-out rout, with Harvard at 25 percent and Cincy at 4 percent.
Oklahoma vs. North Dakota State. Even with only 300 Jewish undergrads, the Sooners were my choice: Their campus at least has a Hillel house; there isn’t one in Fargo, N.D.
Now I’ll sum up each of the four regions.
The South is the most intriguing. Even though Syracuse (2,500) has the seventh most Jewish undergrads of any private college in the U.S., the Orange fall to Ohio State (3,200). Kansas (1,600) beats Stanford (700), but is no match for Ohio State. Meanwhile, Florida (6,500) knocks off pesky Albany (3,500) and UCLA (2,600) en route to the regional title.
In the East, No. 1 seed Virginia has only 1,400 Jewish undergrads, so the Cavaliers fall in the second round to George Washington (3,000). Then comes an intriguing matchup, as both GWU and Michigan State have 3,000 Jewish undergrads. But at MSU, those 3,000 account for only 8 percent of total enrollment (compared with 29 percent at GWU). So the Colonials win and then beat UConn (2,000) to advance to the Final Four.
In the West, No. 1 seed Arizona (3,250) has a sizeable Jewish student body, 21st in the nation, but Wisconsin (4,000) ranks higher at No. 11, third most in the tourney. The Badgers win the region, along the way beating two interesting foes: American (1,780), a private school with 25 percent Jewish students, and Oregon (1,600), even though the Ducks have Israeli-born Ben Carter.
In a Jewishly weak Midwest region that includes Duke (700), Louisville (50) and Xavier (15), Michigan (4,500) coasts, getting challenged only by Texas (4,000) and maybe UMass (2,500).
So, my Final Four: Michigan (4,500) vs. Wisconsin (4,000) in one semifinal, Florida (6,500) vs. George Washington (3,000) in the other. The first three are all in the Top 10 among public universities, and GWU is No. 5 among private universities. The numbers tell the story, and the Gators beat Michigan in the championship game. I fully expect them to do the hora while cutting down the nets!
Andy Altman-Ohr is the managing editor of j. Reach him at email@example.com.