Perhaps more than any other sport, college basketball is accused of “East Coast bias.” Those complaints from fans of West Coast fans may be justified at times, but, generally, teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East, Big Ten, or SEC do make up the bulk of the Final Four. That’s not the case this year.
For the first time on record, all four teams in the semifinals of the Men’s Division I tournament are from west of the Mississippi River, which means there will be a champion from that half of the country for the first time since 2008, when Kansas won the title.
This year’s crop of contenders include No. 1 Baylor and No. 2 Houston, who will square off in an all-Texas contest to start Saturday’s festivities at 5:15 p.m. ET on CBS, and No. 1 Gonzaga (who hail from Spokane, Washington) and No. 11 UCLA. Those two teams are scheduled to tip off at 8:34 p.m. ET, also on CBS.
Although it’s unique – the last time there were even three west-of-the-Mississippi teams in the Final Four was 1995 — the western flavor of this year’s Final Four makes sense. Undefeated Gonzaga and Baylor have been the two best teams all year, and the normal eastern powers like Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Michigan State had down seasons. Meanwhile, the Pac-12, widely considered the weakest of the major power conferences in college basketball, took the tournament by storm. Even though the league had no team seeded higher than 5th in the field, four of them made the Sweet 16, and three made the Elite 8, with UCLA going on a shocking run to the Final Four.
The trend is holding true on the women’s side, as well: Stanford and Arizona will face off in an all-Pac-12 title game Sunday night. Tim O’Donnell