What's in a name?
As the calendar flips from the Ides and hoopla of March to the ever-promising month of April, the eyes of millions of Americans shift to the heart of the Sonoran Desert.
Four teams — ranging from programs whose blood matches its primary uniform color (North Carolina) to teams that haven't played in the seminal event since the year World War II started (Oregon) — remain in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
It's a bittersweet time of year for many Arizona Wildcats fans, who will have to watch as former conference punching bag Oregon and longtime non-conference sparring partner Gonzaga play on the sport's biggest stage in their own backyard.
There are thousands of pieces this week that'll get you set for the actual action on the stained-wood court at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. They'll analyze all the hard-hitting statistics and jargon that's become synonymous with sports journalism, and they'll be worth your time.
This article, however, strikes a different chord completely.
Instead of looking at what'll go down in what's sure to be a jaw-dropping, wallet-busting basketball extravaganza, let's look at something far more light-hearted and entertaining.
Let's take a look at the best names of the four teams that have survived the two-week-long gut punch that is the first three rounds of the tourney (sorry, not sorry, First Four).
Without further adieu, here's the unscientific poll of the best names left in the Big Dance...
Sindarius Thornwell (Sr., South Carolina) — Thornwell, for those of you who have either lived under a rock or not watched a game east of Boulder this season, has been a stud at the guard position for Gamecocks coach Frank Martin. Thornwell, who's the lone South Carolinian in the Cocks’ starting five, has been a monster so far in the tournament, scoring more than 20 points in all four of the team's games, including 26 points on 8-13 shooting against the Florida Gators.
Not only is Thornwell a beast on the hardwood, but he carries a name that sounds like some mystical character from a beloved southern folktale or song. Thornwell's meteoric rise across the board offensively, improving his shooting percentage by 6.5 percent this year alone, has been remarkable. The 6-foot-5 former four-star prospect has averaged 21.6 PPG this year, the most of any player from a "Power Five" conference.
Thornwell's hot streak of late has him on NBA radars, as CBS Sports ranks him as the 64th-best prospect in this year's draft. It's clear (to me, at least) that Thornwell's got more than just a great name to hang his hat on, as his game's not too shabby either.
Jack Beach (Soph., Gonzaga) — Not gonna lie, prior to doing some extensive research on team rosters I had no idea who this guy was. Part of that has to do with the fact that Beach, who's name is all-too-perfect for a guy from San Diego, has played a mere 20 minutes this season, scoring a whopping two points for Mark Few and company.
As I stated above, this is not a list of most-deserving players or any of that garbage — this list simply exists to reward those whose parents had the foresight (or sense of humor) necessary to produce some top-notch names. I have no clue if the 6-foot-2 sophomore, who weighs a whopping 175 pounds, will ever see the promise of playing time in his waning years in Spokane. What I do know, however, is that Beach's name will live on thanks to this list. You're welcome, Jack, now where's my royalty check?
Seventh Woods (Fresh., UNC) - Woods, like Beach, makes the cut for name recognition alone. First off, I've never heard of anyone with a first name that's also a number, which makes me ponder what motivated his parents to name him as such. Did his father lose a bet, a la Isaiah Thomas of the Celtics? Did his parents have some odd sort of emotional attachment to that number, which led them to pick it?
These are questions we may never know the answer to, especially since the 6-foot-2 frosh from Columbia, SC has registered eight minutes of playing time per game this season. Woods is highly-regarded by checker-board suit enthusiast Roy Williams, who put the freshman in for a season-high 15 minutes of garbage time in the team's 39 point thrashing of Texas Southern on March 17.
Whether Woods will have any impact on Saturday's game against Oregon is yet to be seen, but his awesome first name warrants mention on this worthless list nonetheless.
Kavell Bigby-Williams (Junior, Oregon) — There are two things about the 6-foot-11 junior that fascinated me when I was doing my research for this piece. First, the fact that Bigby-Williams hails from London, which isn't exactly a basketball mecca. Second, that his name was simply the most British thing I've heard since my days hopping the pond for family holidays in London.
Bigby-Williams, who grew up playing football (or soccer, pick your poison), did not pick up a basketball until he was 15, according to USA Today. The English big-man only picked up the sport after suffering a broken tibia, shattering his hopes of playing between the pipes for one of England's premier football clubs. The English Sensation originally committed to Montana State, but couldn't make grades and eventually transferred to Gillette College in my father's home state of Wyoming. He's been tasked by Oregon coach Dana Altman with filling the void left by Chris Boucher, who notoriously was lost for the season during the Pac-12 Tournament with a torn ACL.
The junior, who's played 44 minutes total in the team's four tournament games, has my vote for player I'd least like to face, either on the pitch or on the hardwood.
Ran Tut (Junior, USC) - The South Carolina roster, as you might imagine from a folksy Southern team, is chocked-full of must-see names. The one, besides Thornwell, that stood out the most to me upon closer inspection was Mr. Tut here.
Tut, who has played 61 minutes this year, hasn't even seen game action in the team's four tourney games to date, last playing a single minute against Tennessee on Feb. 25. The 6-foot-9 Australian import will likely never see the court this weekend in Glendale, but that doesn't detract from his entertainingly short name.
Props to King Tut, may his shots be as memorable as his six-letter nom de jour.