March Madness: Which Celebrity Alumni Will Win?

Playing the odds on the NCAA tournament is as easy as picking your favorite star alumni. But can George Clooney (Cincinnati) take down Jon Hamm (Missouri)? Michael Solomon picks the winners.    

03.17.11 3:00 AM ET

It turns out you don't have to understand a thing about college basketball to win your NCAA office pool. All you need to know which celebrities you like better. By replacing each team with a famous alumnus (or dropout), filling out a bracket has never been easier.

Do you prefer James Franco (UCLA) or James Caan (Michigan State)? Would you rather high five Jimmy Kimmel (UNLV) or Hugh Hefner (Illinois)? Party with Matthew McConaughey (Texas) or David Hasselhoff (Oakland)?

Gallery: Click to View the Entire Celebrity Bracket

Using this highly scientific method—only male alumni were considered (sorry, fans of Kentucky's Ashley Judd, but it's a men's tournament), and no basketball playing grads were allowed—the new No. 1 seeds become Charlie Rose (Duke), Paul Rudd (Kansas), Jack Nicklaus (Ohio State), and the man who practically invented the Big Dance, Gene Kelly (Pittsburgh).

And as fierce as some of these first-round matchups look—George Clooney vs. Jon Hamm!—the later rounds are even more promising. Could Karl Rove (George Mason) take down Woodrow Wilson (Princeton) in the Sweet Sixteen? Will Andy Griffith (North Carolina) have to face his old deputy Don Knotts (West Virginia) in the Elite Eight? And how about Al Gore (Vanderbilt) vs. Dick Cheney (Wisconsin) in the Final Four? Which star will be king of your court?

Click to View the Entire Celebrity Bracket


1 Jack Nicklaus (Ohio St.) vs. 16 Johan Edfors (UT-San Antonio)

Scouting Report: Much like former Buckeye Jack Nicklaus on the golf course, Ohio State comes into the NCAA tournament as the one to beat. And journeyman Swedish golfer Johan Edfors, who attended the University of Texas San Antonio, is really no match here.


8 Karl Rove (George Mason) vs. 9 Toby Keith (Villanova)

Scouting report: George Mason was one of the three schools Karl Rove attended and didn’t get a degree from, but country singer Toby Keith didn’t graduate from Villanova either. So who do you choose? It’s hard not to give a slight edge to the man who sang, “Who’s Your Daddy?” and “How Do You Like Me Now?”


5 Don Knotts (West Virginia) vs. 12 Strom Thurmond (Clemson)

Scouting Report: West Virginia alum Don Knotts ('48) wasn't exactly known for his power game as an actor, whereas the late Strom Thurmond (Clemson '23) certainly knew how to throw some elbows in the Senate. Could this be a 12-5 upset?


4 Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) vs. 13 Woodrow Wilson (Princeton)

Scouting Report: A classic political battle. Can a Senate minority leader with a law degree from Kentucky take down a former president, who not only went to Princeton but was also its president? Probably. Republicans play hard.


6 John Boehner (Xavier) vs. 11 Chris Farley (Marquette)

Souting Report: Smell a potential upset here? Or just like the idea of seeing the Speaker of the House (Xavier '77) cry after losing to the big man from Marquette ('86)?


3 Bob Costas (Syracuse) vs. 14 Burl Ives (Indiana St.)

Scouting Report: Size-wise, Bob Costas (Syracuse '74) is clearly the underdog next to Oscar-winner Burl "Big Daddy" Ives. But March Madness is all about little guys—especially those, like Costas, who can talk a big game and walk it.


7 Joel McHale (Washington) vs. 10 Michael Stipe (Georgia)

Scouting Report: Joel McHale may go to community college on TV, but in real life he graduated from the University of Washington, and was actually a member of the Huskies' national championship football team in 1991. But even in hoops McHale should be able to handle the REM frontman, who attended the University of Georgia.


2 Andy Griffith (North Carolina) vs. 15 Nicholas Pileggi (Long Island University)

Scouting Report: A solid law-and-order matchup—TV's most beloved sheriff Andy Griffith (UNC '49) versus author Nicholas Pileggi (LIU '56), whose book Wiseguy was adapted into Goodfellas. Golly, Griffith seems like a lock—a Matlock.



1 Charlie Rose (Duke) vs. 16 Booker T. Washington (Hampton)

Scouting Report: There are two types of people in the world—those who hate Duke and those who went there. Granted, Charlie Rose ('64) embodies the best aspects of the university, but consider that Richard Nixon and Tucker Max also attended law school there. Hampton grad Booker T. Washington just can't overcome a No. 1 seed with a bench that deep.


8 Gerald Ford (Michigan) vs. 9 Kurt Vonnegut (Tennessee)

Scouting Report: Another tight 8-9 matchup. Do you go with the former president who was an All-American football player at Michigan ('35) or the novelist who attended University of Tennessee and wrote Breakfast of Champions?


5 Jerry Bruckheimer (Arizona) vs. 12 Fred Thompson (Memphis)

Scouting Report: Hmmm, it's the guy who produces CSI vs. the guy who starred in Law & Order. Arizona grad Jerry Bruckheimer is a Hollywood powerhouse and should easily handle a mere actor (and former senator.) But the NCAA tournament loves that 12-5 upset.


4 Matthew McConaughey (Texas) vs. 13 David Hasselhoff (Oakland)

Scouting Report: If it were 1993, this match wouldn't even be a fair fight—the stoner from Dazed and Confused going up against the star of Baywatch? But 18 years later, The Hoff (who attended Oakland) should be no hassle for the Lincoln Lawyer (Texas '92).


6 George Clooney (Cincinnati) vs. 11 Jon Hamm (Missouri)

Scouting Report: You don't have to be Dick Vitale to shriek over this game between two of the sexiest men alive. It almost doesn't matter if you pick Clooney (who briefly attended the University of Cincinnati) or "March Mad Men" Hamm (Missouri '93)—it's a win either way.


3 Moby (Connecticut) vs. 14 Philip Roth (Bucknell)

Scouting Report: While Moby (who attended the University Connecticut) may not seem that formidable next to Pulitzer prize-winner Roth (Bucknell '54), consider that he is distantly related to Herman Melville. Perhaps if Roth had written Zuckerman Rebound he could have taken down the big whale from the Big East.


7 Bill Cosby (Temple) vs. 10 Rick Santorum (Penn State)

Scouting Report: Temple's most famous alum Bill Cosby is in a tight matchup against his intrastate rival Rick Santorum (Penn State '80). But how can you not root for America's favorite TV dad over a former senator who shares a name with a very dirty word.


2 Gregory Peck (San Diego St.) vs. 15 Chesley Sullenberger (North Colorado)

Scouting Report: You really hate to see someone lose this one—Atticus Finch against the Hero of the Hudson? Sorry, Sully, but Peck, who attended San Diego State, should bring your alma mater North Colorado crashing down.



1 Paul Rudd (Kansas) vs. 16 Jason Alexander (Boston U.)

Scouting Report: All those years on Seinfeld make Jason Alexander (BU '81) an impressive opponent, but how do you stop a guy who starred in Knocked Up, 40-Year-Old Virgin, Role Models and Anchorman? Kansas grad Paul Rudd makes Alexander look clueless.


8 Jimmy Kimmel (UNLV) vs. 9 Hugh Hefner (Illinois)

Scouting Report: It doesn't get more classic than this—the man who founded Playboy versus a talk show host who reads it a lot. Hef's Illini match up well against Kimmel's Runnin' Rebels. And either way, you know the victory party is going to be fun. 5 Al Gore (Vanderbilt) vs. 12 Bruce Hornsby (Richmond) 


5 Al Gore (Vanderbilt) vs. 12 Bruce Hornsby (Richmond)

Scouting Report: Al Gore's undergraduate alma mater, Harvard, was 2 seconds away from qualifying for the tournament this year. Fortunately, his law school, Vanderbilt, got its dance card punched. And while a 12-5 upset is always a possibility, Richmond, which Bruce Hornsby attended, probably can't defeat Gore's Commodores. And that's the way it is.


4 Howard Fineman (Louisville) vs. 13 Chuck Woolery (Morehead State)

Scouting Report: Two men of letters square off in this matchup. Granted, one of them used to host Wheel of Fortune, and that's why you have to like Louisville (where Huffington Post's Howard Fineman got his law degree) over Morehead state alum Chuck Woolery. Chuck may be able to buy a vowel, but probably not a W.


6 Bill Clinton (Georgetown) vs. 11 Tom Robbins (VCU)

Scouting Report: Nobody wants to go up against the Big Dog. The former president and Georgetown graduate should give novelist Virginia Commonwealth alum Tom Robbins the blues.


3 Neil Armstrong (Purdue) vs. 14 Will Durant (St. Peter's)

Scouting Report: St. Peter's graduate Will Durant may have been a renowned historian, but how can he compete against an astronaut who made history, Neil Armstrong (Purdue '55)? This first round matchup should be one small step for the Boilermakers on the Road to the Final Four.


7 Lyle Lovett (Texas A & M) vs. 10 Burt Reynolds (Florida St.)

Scouting Report: A semi-tough matchup to call. Do you go with country music's Lyle Lovett (Texas A&M '79) or movie star and former Florida State football star Burt Reynolds? Slight edge to Lovett for having his own hair.


2 Regis Philbin (Notre Dame) vs. 15 George Wallace (Akron)

Scouting Report: For years, Regis Philbin has been Notre Dame football's most vocal fan. Now that the Fighting Irish are a basketball powerhouse, he has jumped on that bandwagon as well. Still, the joke is probably on comedian George Wallace's University of Akron Zips.



1 Gene Kelly (Pittsburgh) vs. 16 Ty Wigginton (UNC-Asheville)

Scouting Report: If the NCAA Tournament is the Big Dance, how do you not like Gene Kelly's chances? Kelly, who graduated from Pitt in 1933, should easily waltz past Colorado Rockies third baseman Ty Wigginton's UNC Asheville.


8 Jim Jones (Butler) vs. 9 Tommy Newsom (Old Dominion)

Scouting Report: Okay, this is a weird matchup. Do you go with former Jonestown cult leader and Butler alum Jim Jones or Johnny Carson's ex-saxophone player Tommy Newsom? Jones clearly has the leadership skills, but stay away from his Gatorade.


5 Sam Brownback (Kansas St.) vs. 12 Harry Reid (Utah St.)

Scouting Report: A political classic. The Republican governor of Kansas against the Democratic Senate Majority Leader from Nevada. Can Reid's Utah State tame Brownback's KSU Wildcats? One thing is certain: prostitutes won't be rooting for Reid's Big Blue.


4 Dick Cheney (Wisconsin) vs. 13 Brad Paisley (Belmont)

Scouting Report: All you need to know about this matchup is that the former Vice President (who got a master's degree at Wisconsin) once "accidentally" shot a man in the face. And he was a friend. Country star Brad Paisley's Belmont had best get out of the way.


6 Charles Rangel (St. John's) vs. 11 Bing Crosby (Gonzaga)

Scouting Report: St. John's has had a solid but uneven season under new coach Steve Lavin. Still, they had a better year than Johnnies' alum Rep. Charles Rangel, who was censured by the House for ethics violations. Can Bing Crosby's Gonzaga stop them on the Road to the Final Four? Well, he did make a lot of Road pictures.


3 Aaron Eckhart (BYU) vs. 14 Chris Robinson (Wofford)

Scouting Report: In this battle you have to like Battle: Los Angeles star Aaron Eckhart (BYU '94) over Chris Robinson (who attended Wofford). Look for the man from The Dark Knight to take down the Black Crowe.


7 James Franco (UCLA) vs. 10 James Caan (Michigan St.)

Scouting Report: If James Franco's UCLA hopes to get past James Caan's Michigan State, the Bruins had better try a little harder than Franco did at the Oscars. Plus, do you really wanna mess with Sonny Corleone?


2 Carl Hiaasen (Florida) vs. 15 Jack Johnson (University of California Santa Barbara)

Scouting Report: Talk about a mellow matchup. Bestselling novelist Carl Hiaasen (Florida '74) against singer-songwriter-surfer Jack Johnson (UCSB '97) sounds like it should be played in flip flops instead of high tops. Look for Hiaasen's Gators to chomp on Johnson's Gauchos.


Michael Solomon is the former features director of The Daily Beast. His writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, Esquire, Elle, and O, and he has published several books, including the Malcolm Gladwell parody Blank: The Power of Not Actually Thinking at All.