Zags And Wolfpack Are Lone Bright Spots In March Sadness For West Coast

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East Coast bias. No matter the sport, it’s inevitable. Time zones, the number of schools, and ESPN being located in Connecticut and operated by the Syracuse Alumni Association are all contributing factors.  There is no doubt that the selection committee didn’t watch many 11pm EST tipoffs on the Pac-12 Network this season. Should USC have been included in the field? Yes. Did Syracuse have the resume to be included? No. But beyond that, this March Madness is a time to keep quiet for the most vocal East Coast bias accusers. Of the 32 teams in the second round, two, were located west of Texas. Fortunately, for those in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, Gonzaga and Nevada both advanced to the Sweet 16 in close, hard-fought games.

So how did we get here?

The Pac-12 had three teams in the field- UCLA, Arizona State, and Arizona. The West Coast Conference only had Gonzaga, after St. Mary’s choked in the conference semifinal. The Mountain West contributed two teams- Nevada and San Diego State.  Montana represented the Big Sky, New Mexico State won the WAC, and Cal St. Fullerton carried the torch for the Big West. That put the count at nine teams west of Lubbock, TX in the field of 68.

Ok, nine of 68 isn’t good. Then what happened?

UCLA and Arizona State both immediately lost in play-in games, leaving the Pac-12 at one team by the time people could actually find what channel TruTV is on.  Seven teams remain.

San Diego State, Cal St. Fullerton, Montana, and New Mexico State lost in the first round. Oh, but those were expected results. Down to three teams. Oh that’s right, Arizona was run out of the gym by Buffalo on Friday night of the first round. It’s Saturday of the first weekend, and only two teams remain- Nevada and Gonzaga.

Ok, it’s getting worse. Two out of 32?!

According to ESPN.com’s Win-Probability metric, with 10-minutes left in the second-half of Nevada’s second round game, they had a .2% chance of beating Cincinnati. Down 22 will do that, apparently.  But somehow, someway, the Wolfpack clawed back and advanced to the Sweet 16. They joined Gonzaga, who beat a tough Ohio State team the day prior.

Even if Gonzaga and Nevada meet in the Final Four (somehow, it isn’t too far-fetched) and spark Google Maps searches by thousands of basketball fans on the East Coast, it will be a down year for basketball on the left side of the country. The Pac-12 needs to get closer to their “Conference of Champions” slogan and get five to seven teams in the field each year. Between the WCC and Mountain West, there should be another five teams making The Dance. Notable programs absent from this year’s field include UNLV, New Mexico, Oregon, Stanford, Cal, St. Mary’s, BYU, Washington, and Utah. These schools should all be making the tournament 75% of the time.  Was this down year for the West an aberration, or a sign of things to come? Only time will tell, but for now, let’s hope the Zags and ‘Pack can keep carrying the torch and give us a Final Four where 50% of the teams are referred to by ESPN as, “way out West”.

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About Author

David Bigelow

David grew up in Gig Harbor, WA before heading to Spokane to pitch for the Zags. Over four seasons he reached second on the Gonzaga all-time saves list. He was also the closer for the Bellingham Bells of the West Coast League, helping them claim their first ever WCL Championship in 2014. Now living in Kirkland, WA, David and his wife enjoy hiking in the Cascades, watching sports (Go Zags, M's, and Hawks), and exploring the coast. They have two cats, Rocco and Stu, who keep them busy and make for great entertainment. Aside from writing, other hobbies for David include coaching high school basketball and baseball, mountain biking, and counting down the days until the next Zags Baseball Alumni Weekend.

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