The left hand side of the country has a bunch of things going for it. States are neatly shaped and clearly demarcated. There are some beautiful landscapes, and exploring the great outdoors entails more than stepping out on to your fire escape. More than half the land used to be Mexico before America stole it, so the Mexican food is pretty damned good. But lets get one thing clear: in 2006, college basketball teams out West cant hold the Easts jock.
Of course, there are certain exceptions, powerhouse programs with rich histories that can stand up. Kansas, UCLA, and recently, Gonzaga and Texas have established themselves as programs not to be trifled with. But this year, even a few of the perennial powers have coughed and sputtered their way through the season, and the rest of the region has been well below average.
Unfortunately, no one is particularly eager to take the West to task. Looking through the projections of various tournament pundits, though Eastern teams dominate the field, conferences like the Big 12 and PAC 10 seem to be getting token respect for no reason at all. Its starting to look like a slew of below average teams are going to sneak in, and I cant figure out why. Perhaps its good for the NCAA to cultivate a balanced field. If 50 of the 64 teams come from west of the Mississippi, it might be tough to sell out those early round games in Salt Lake City and San Diego. But what about justice?
A couple of case studies come in handy. Take Colorado for example, ranked 25th in the country last week and slated to get seeded anywhere from 7 to 12 depending on how things break down. Richard Roby
is an absolute machine, and this team can score points with anyone. But Roby alone does not warrant a bid, and hes the only thing on the Buffaloes resume. Forget beating ranked opponents, Colorado has only played
one ranked team all year, and they lost that game to Texas, by 25. Theres no shame in getting beat by Texas, but they followed that game up with a loss to Kansas in Boulder, when the Jayhawks were about half as good as they are now. The Big 12 is a joke, so maybe they shouldnt be penalized for the weakness of the conference. But their out of conference schedule is equally laughable. Two wins against Ivy League squads, a 64 point blowout of Savannah St., and a 43 point win against Mercer, both in Colorado, should tell everyone just how little the Buffs have been threatened. There is no reason the committee should reward Colorado for beating up on the little guys.
Iowa State is a similar story at 14-7. It looks like theyll sneak in, but theyre a bubble team at best. Despite one of the most loyal, educated, and enthusiastic home crowds in the country, theyve lost 6 home games this year, falling to out of conference opponents Iona and Fresno St. early, and in conference to Texas A&M and Kansas State more recently. Like Colorado, the Cyclones have talent in the backcourt, as Stinson and Blalock (both from the Northeast by the way) are arguably the best partnership in the country. But theyre only 2-2 against ranked teams, and one of those victories is against the now unranked Buffaloes. It shouldnt matter how strong they finish in conference, those six home losses should blow the Cyclones into the NIT.
Some teams are staying in the tournament picture on reputation alone. Arizona has a ton of talent, and has played an incredibly difficult schedule with games against UConn, Michigan State, and UNC out of conference, not to mention battles with Washington and UCLA in the PAC 10. The problem is, theyve only won 1 of 6 against ranked teams, they lost their best defender to suspension, and Hassan Adams
hasnt made a jumpshot since Lute Olsen had brown hair. The tough part of their schedule is over, so they might run off 7 in a row against the Oregon and Oregon States of the world to close the season, and steal a game in the conference tournament. But that shouldnt be enough to save the Wildcats on D-day.
It gets worse for the PAC-10. Cal is on its way to the tournament and Stanford is considered a bubble team, despite the fact that both teams signature wins have come in conference, which is about as deep as Paris Hiltons thoughts. A quick comparison to UCLA shows just how little the Bears and Cardinal have done. The only PAC-10 team that deserves to be a lock, the Bruins have beaten out of conference foes Michigan and Nevada. They also lost a close game to #10 West Virginia in Pauley Pavilion and fell to #3 Memphis in NYC earlier this year. Thats 4 tough out of conference games on the schedule, and they split them 2-2 with a win at home and on the road. By seasons end, Cal and Stanford will have played two legitimate out of conference opponents combined
, and only one of them will have been ranked. Cal lost to Kansas by 13 on the road (again, this was before the Jayhawks found their stride), and Stanford went to Gonzaga this past Saturday (where they lost of course). Am I supposed to care that these teams toughed it out against USC and Washington State?
On the flip side, under appreciated Seton Hall is an East Coast team that will probably finish right on the bubble, despite the fact that their schedule is straight up sadism. By the time the season is over, the Hall will have played no fewer than 4 teams ranked in the top ten, including Duke and UConn. Two weeks ago, they demolished #14 North Carolina State and held on to beat #23 Syracuse, both away. Want more? Remember that scrappy Iona team that mauled then #23 Iowa State in Iowa? Hall ballers beat the Gaels by 14, and the game was never in doubt. Dont forget about their victory just tonight at home against West Virginia The Pirates end of season schedule is a death trap, and its doubtful theyll finish strong with games against Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh and DePaul, and the Big East tournament still to come. But it makes no sense to penalize them for playing in a conference that boasts Louisville as its 11th place
team. The Big East will get at least 7 teams in, but in all fairness, it should get at least 10.
East Coasters may not know what fresh air smells like, but we know that if Rutgers, Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, or Notre Dame played #25 Colorado tomorrow at a neutral site, the Big East team would win. Hopefully the selection committee will stay up late enough to actually watch some teams from the West play, and justice will prevail. If not, March Madness will expose the square states for what they truly are: volleyball country.