OT-College basketball dis-parity, east and west

Submitted by Yeoman on March 18th, 2012 at 12:50 AM

An oddity of this year's NCAA tournament: with New Mexico's loss tonight, the westernmost remaining team is Baylor. Waco is east of the geographical center of the contiguous 48; with 24 teams remaining, the western half of the US has been entirely eliminated.

That's never happened before. Only once in the 62 tournaments played since they went to 16 teams in 1951 has the Sweet Sixteen been without a team west of Texas, in 1985. But UNLV didn't exit the tournament until Sunday of that year, so they were still in at this point.

I don't know what, if anything, to make of this. I'd be more inclined to think it was just a random quirk if some high west coast seeds had been upset, but as it was the PAC-12 could barely scrape together even one tournament-worthy team.

I have a suspicion that the relative lack of exposure of the PAC-12 since their games went to Fox is hurting recruiting there; the MWC has also slid their games onto less exposed networks.

On the other hand you could put together a pretty good team just out of UCLA transfers, so maybe that isn't the whole story.

Thoughts, anyone?



March 18th, 2012 at 1:01 AM ^

I can't believe this isn't random. There are boatloads of talent in California and the rules that suggest plucking football players from CA is brutally difficult hold true for basketball as well. This is a pretty remarkable geographic occurrance, but I have to believe that the PAC will rebound sooner or later. 

The fact that we don't get exposed to the PAC 12 much out here doesn't mean it isn't significant on the West Coast. When I lived in LA western basketball was very easy to follow and it gets a fair amount of play in print media for how large the market is. Kids growing up there know who is good. It just happens that right now they know that UCLA is a mess and USC got the NCAA smackdown. Things will turn around.


March 18th, 2012 at 1:16 AM ^

Well considering there are only about 1/10th the colleges on the west coast compared to the east coast this was bound to happen.

I firmly believe Washington would've made a good run in the tourney. Theyve got two legitimate lottery picks.


March 18th, 2012 at 12:50 PM ^

that there are a lot more popular alt sports offerings on the West Coast drawing talent from football and bball. If I were working to break it down a la Nate Silver I'd also look at where the heaviest concentrations of poor and lower middle class people are, where AAU is strong/not, and whether having long winters plays a factor (it's argued the south has better football because it's played two seasons many places; Indiana is a trad hotbed of hoop talent--do these variables continue to have meaning?). 

snarling wolverine

March 18th, 2012 at 1:01 PM ^

I think there are poor and lower-middle class people everywhere, but one thing the West lacks in comparison to the rest of the country is its African-American population, and basketball at this level is a predominately black sport.  Most African Americans live east of the Mississippi.

The yellow counties on this map are those with fewer than 25 black residents (not 25%, but 25 total people).  As you can see, large portions of the West simply don't have a black population.  (And the counties colored white aren't necessarily teeming with diversity either; they just have more than 25 black residents.) 


March 18th, 2012 at 4:11 PM ^

Decent point, but I think the map is a little misleading as it only notes the complete absence of African-Americans, rather than the proportion of the population (plus the majority of those counties are probably don't have more than a few 1,000 residents, so they're not putting out athletes anyways).  I think a better example would be % of population, rather than an arbirary #. 

snarling wolverine

March 18th, 2012 at 4:37 PM ^

Proportional numbers can be misleading as well, though.  For example, black people only form 6% of the population of California, but because California has 37 million people, that amounts to 2 million black residents.  Meanwhile, they make up 21% of the population of Delaware, but that state only has 900,000 people, so it has 190,000 black residents.  Obviously, California is going to produce far more basketball players.  For these purposes, raw numbers are more useful than percentages.

As far as raw numbers are concerned, of the 20 states that have over 500,000 black residents, only two (California and Texas) are located west of the Mississippi:



March 18th, 2012 at 6:31 AM ^

When I think of traditional powerhouse bb teams out west, really only UCLA comes to mind.  There have been teams with decent  teams for several years in the past twenty years or so: Arizona, Gonzaga, UNLV come to mind, but nobody with the pedigree (besides UCLA) of some of the top programs in the Eastern half of the US.


March 18th, 2012 at 8:53 AM ^

...when I think about how many teams in the Western US have made to the Final Four in the past 20 years. I am sure UCLA and Arizona have been there a couple times, and Utah went once in the 1990s, as I recall. Other than that, it seems to me that the only team west of the Mississippi that have been there  with any regularity at some point is Kansas. 

As for the Elite Eight, several more teams from the Western US have survived to this point once, maybe twice in the past 20 years - I want to say Stanford managed to get to the Elite Eight in the late 90s  once,  for example, as well as Gonzaga and even one USC appearance in the early 2000s. 

You're right though - from a historic perspective, UCLA is really the only standout to me in that part of the US. Especially deeper in the tournament, it seems that "eastern dominance" holds firm. 


March 18th, 2012 at 9:49 AM ^

Final four teams from west of the Mississippi in the last twenty years:

  • UCLA 4
  • Kansas 4
  • Arizona 3
  • Arkansas 2
  • Kansas 2
  • Oklahoma St. 2
  • Utah 1
  • Stanford 1
  • Oklahoma 1
  • Texas 1

That's 21 out of 80, statistically you'd expect 28. Only 9 of the 19 fit my definition of "west"; statistically you'd expect 13.

The last 3 final fours haven't had anyone west of the Mississippi. The chances of that happening are 1 in 124 (again assuming all D1 teams are equally likelly to make it).


March 18th, 2012 at 10:12 AM ^

No wonder the selection committee put State out into the "West". If they actually put only western teams in that bracket they all would have lost. That would mess up the pools.