Mizzou Hillel student draws celebrity crowd for Mensch Madness tournament

Max Baker is a sophomore studying journalism at the University of Missouri- Columbia and belongs to Congregation Shaare Emeth in Creve Coeur. 

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

Max Baker did not intend to start a fight between CNN anchor Jake Tapper and rapper and comedian Lil Dicky. 

But so it goes when Baker, a quarantined sophomore at the University of Missouri-Columbia, had time on his hands and no NCAA college basketball tournament to watch, as it was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, the journalism major from St. Louis created the Jewish Celebrity Bracket on Twitter, which has since gained the nickname “Mensch Madness” and features first round matchups like Lil Dicky, a No. 8 seed, v. Tapper, a No. 9 seed. 

Baker, an intern at the Mizzou Hillel, shared the bracket on April 2, using the Jewish student organization’s Twitter handle, with the goal of “getting people more engaged with Hillel,” he said.

Anat Cohen at The Sheldon

The bracket has since gone the good kind of viral, receiving more than 1,400 likes and 357 retweets.  

“I’m coming for you man,” tweeted Tapper. 

David Andrew Burd, aka Lil Dicky, replied, “I fear no one.”

The Hillel account is regularly tweeting the various matchups, which people can then vote on. 

Baker, who belongs to Congregation Shaare Emeth, said March Madness is typically his “favorite time of any point, in any year.”

While living in a dormitory last year, he and some friends slept in the student lounge the night before the first weekend of the tournament in order to be able to secure control of the TV. They didn’t leave the rest of the weekend. 

Now back in St. Louis because Mizzou, like all other colleges around the United States, has canceled in-person classes, Baker, 19, said creating the bracket served as an alternative to just watching Netflix. 

He was intentional about his four No. 1 seeds (Moses, Albert Einstein, Jesus and Ruth Bader-Ginsburg) and his No. 2 picks (Scarlett Johansson, Bernie Sanders, Adam Sandler and Drake) but after that “did not spend as much time as I could have putting together the seedings because I didn’t think it was going to take off,” he said.

That has meant his picks have received some scrutiny. Like Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax being a No. 7 seed and matched up against the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, at No. 10.

“If Sandy Koufax doesn’t whoop Jared Kushner by 30 in the opening round, then this tournament is meshugana,” tweeted Ben Mankiewicz, a Turner Classic Movies host. 

Other reactions: “Mel Brooks is an EIGHT SEED?!?! How much Manischewitz did you consume creating this?”

“Amar’e [Stoudemire] gets a tough matchup in the first round against Moses.”

“I would wash Moses!!!” tweeted Lil Dicky (assuming he beats Tapper).

“Moses about to split both y’all noggins in the second round!” tweeted one fan at Lil Dicky and Tapper. 

“As if Moses has any experience splitting things,” responded Tapper. 

When asked if he had any advice on dark-horse picks for people filling out their brackets, Baker suggested that people should watch out for Koufax and Brooks. 

Baker, who is on the sports beat of his college newspaper, the Columbia Missourian, had an especially fun time responding to journalists he admires who tweeted about the bracket. 

“Some questionable seeding. Larry David too low as a 4. He’s definitely at least on the 2 line,” tweeted Jewish college basketball analyst Andy Katz, who has 476,000 followers on Twitter and would normally be pontificating about that other tournament. 

Baker said he is unsure when the Final Four will take place but that he plans to keep the voting going at least through Passover. 

Aside from providing a fun distraction, Baker was also able to accomplish his other goal. Before the bracket, the Hillel Twitter account had not shared anything since January 2019. Baker was able to triple the number of followers, to 1,500, in the span of three days. 

“It was just about Hillel,” Baker said. “It wasn’t about me trying to be funny or fun.”

At press time, the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (No. 3) was mired in a tough matchup against Ben Stiller (No. 14). 

To vote, check out @mizzouhillel on Twitter.