So you want some advice on picking a team to win the NCAA College Basketball Tournament huh? Well, you’ve come to the right place because I have four very important words for you to consider and here they are… I. Have. No. Clue.
OK, that’s not entirely true. I do have a clue even though my wife is certain that I don’t, but I can point you in a particular direction in terms of teams NOT to take and that direction is due West.
For whatever reason, the college basketball world has been dominated by teams to the Eastern side of the Mississippi River with the only exception being UCLA of course who has 11 titles. Their most recent however was 1995. Since the tournament game’s inception in 1939, only twelve teams West of the Mighty Mississippi have won a title.
- Manning and Kansas captured the only title in the 1980’s for a team West of the Mississippi.
Of those teams, Kansas (3), Oklahoma A&M (2), San Francisco(2) and UCLA are the only ones with 3 or more titles. Conversely, here is a list of teams in the East that have won two or more titles over the same period;
Cincinnati, UConn, Duke, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, North Carolina and North Carolina State
That in and of itself spells out some serious East Coast/Midwest dominance but there is another factor here to consider as well. Since 1964, only three schools besides UCLA have won NCAA titles; Kansas in 1988 and 2008, UNLV in 1990 and Arizona in 1997.
Go back through the decades for another example of the disparity. The only title winner of the 1930’s was Oregon in the first-ever game in 1939. The ‘40’s saw a string of dominance starting in 1942 with Stanford, Wyoming in 1943, Utah in ‘44 and then back-to-back wins by Oklahoma A&M in 1945/46.
The 1950’s saw the West claim three titles with two by Bill Russell-led San Francisco and then one by Cal in 1959. The following two decades saw the dominance of the UCLA Bruins and Head Coach John Wooden as they rolled to 10 titles in 12 years behind players like Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton.
There was one other team from the West that claimed a title in 1966 and they couldn’t have been more important to the significance of the game of college basketball. Texas Western, now known as UTEP, became the first college basketball team with five African-American starters to win the title under coach Don Haskins. The event was so historic it was later made into a motion picture.
After the Bruins’ final title (prior to ’95) in 1975, only Kansas in 1988, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in 1990 and the Arizona Wildcats in 1997 won titles representing the West. This means that just the Jayhawks in ’08 are the only team in 16 years to claim the title from this region.
If you look at this in terms of Final Four appearances, in the last 12 Final Fours (48 possible spots) only ten of those spots have been occupied by teams from West of the Mississippi. Kansas (4), UCLA (3), Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Arizona are those five teams occupying these ten spots.
So let’s say you’re looking for a team out West that could surprise. Right now you have Gonzaga who will be a number one seed yet has never been to a Final Four. Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, New Mexico, Arizona, UCLA and Creighton all in the Top 25 in the country as of this writing.
If you really want a potential national champion out of this group then I have to tell you straight out that your options are limited. Not surprisingly, I like Kansas because of coaching and I like UCLA because they’re hot but I also like Gonzaga. At some point, the Zags and Mark Few have to have their day in the sun and if it isn’t this year and I don’t know when it will be. They would be my Western favorite today. But don’t bet on it…