Josh Shaffer

The other Wolf Pack? The Zags seeking redemption? The giant fruit mascot? Who should you pull for in Sweet 16?

Former N.C. State player Caleb Martin, left, and his twin brother, Cody Martin, have transferred from the NCSU Wolfpack to the Nevada Wolf Pack. (Yes, they spell it as two words.) And Nevada is still in the NCAA Tournament if you're looking for a team to pull for.
Former N.C. State player Caleb Martin, left, and his twin brother, Cody Martin, have transferred from the NCSU Wolfpack to the Nevada Wolf Pack. (Yes, they spell it as two words.) And Nevada is still in the NCAA Tournament if you're looking for a team to pull for. ehyman@newsobserver.com

With their brackets in tatters, legions of Triangle fans survey the scorched landscape of the NCAA Tournament in search of a new hero — some standard-bearer to replace their fallen favorite.

With the exception of Duke fans, whose Blue Devils cruised through the weekend's carnage to the Sweet 16, the Triangle faithful are left with a lineup of unsavory picks.

If you're a Wolfpacker or a Tar Heel, no joy comes from waving a Purdue banner without a family history of boilermaking — which, for the record, means fabricating steel out of plates and tubes. Rah!

But on closer inspection, it turns out the survivors offer some appealing connections. With an open mind, an NC State or UNC devotee can find something to love. Here's a few reasons to stay tuned:

Other Wolves

They spell Wolf Pack with two words, and their logo is blue, but Nevada might offer some crossover fandom for a grieving NC State follower. The connection is even stronger considering twins Caleb and Cody Martin relocated from Raleigh and confessed to an N&O correspondent that they miss Carolina barbecue. Why not forgive their defection and claim bragging rights as a distant cousin?

UNCG3
Can heartbroken UNC fans root for Rui Hachimura (22) and the rest of the Gonzaga Bulldogs? After all, UNC redeemed itself for its 2016 title loss to Villanova by winning the 2017 NCAA Tournament title -- over the Zags. Is 2018 Gonzaga's turn for the redemption narrative? Ted S. Warren AP

Redemption Song

Heels fans know about redemption, having lost the biggest dance in 2016 to an awful final-second Villanova three-pointer — only to return the next year and mow down Gonzaga on the same stage. Maybe UNC devotees can appreciate how the Bulldogs are making the same comeback run and hoist a few for the boys from Spokane, Wash. It's hard to root against a team with a guard named Silas Melson.

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Can you root for Syracuse for no other reason than it's giant piece of fruit mascot? AP Photo

Best Mascot

Three of the Sweet 16 teams have wildcats for mascots, the basketball equivalent of vanilla ice cream for dessert and Smith for a surname. Kansas' Jayhawk hearkens back to Civil War guerrillas and Texas A&M's Aggie mascot is a live collie named Reveille. But fandom based solely on mascots must stop at Syracuse and its anthropomorphic orange, Otto. Otto's confusing history is mixed up with goats and a Native American chief, but none of that is required reading. Just cheer for the piece of fruit with appendages and a hat.

Grasping at Straws

Florida State's star player is named Terance Mann, which is the name of the '60s writer guy James Earl Jones played in "Field of Dreams." That was a really good movie.

Captain Underdog

For a brief two days, busted bracket holders could take comfort in history's biggest glass-slipper-wearing Cinderella team: the University of Maryland, Baltimore County — the only squad in the tournament whose name included a comma. But with the Retrievers riding home to Catonsville, the search continues for the next-greatest longshot. Consider Loyola-Chicago. The Ramblers haven't made a Sweet 16 appearance since 1985, and its teammates have handed out hot dogs to encourage higher attendance. Like the rest of us sweeping up the shards of broken dreams, they could use some tournament love.

Josh Shaffer: 919-829-4818, @joshshaffer08

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