The mental_floss Guide to the NCAAs (The West)

We may not be much help in filling out your bracket. But throughout this week we’re going to bring you a _flossy take on March Madness: one interesting fact about each of the 68 teams in the tournament field. Today we'll wrap things up with the West region.

(1) Duke has turned out numerous productive NBA players, but the non-athlete grads have done pretty well for themselves, too. Blue Devil alums include Richard Nixon (Law School), Melinda Gates, Charlie Rose, Judy Woodruff, Ron Paul (Med School) and mental_floss founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur. Also, Ken Jeong of The Hangover and Community.

(16) Hampton’s campus in southeastern Virginia is home to the Emancipation Oak, which was named one of the 10 Great Trees of the World by the National Geographic Society. In 1861, Mary Peake Smith of the American Missionary Association taught newly freed slaves under the oak. The slaves had found refuge at nearby Fort Monroe after fleeing Confederate-held Norfolk County. Two years later, the local African-American community gathered under the tree to hear the first Southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.
* * *
(8) Michigan was not nicknamed the Wolverine State because a large number of the largest member of the weasel family roamed within its borders.

In fact, the first verified sighting of a wolverine in Michigan wasn’t until 2004. Instead, the state nickname may date back to a border dispute between Ohio and Michigan in 1803 known as the Toledo War. It’s unclear whether the Ohioans applied the nickname to their rivals as a derogatory term or if Michiganders coined it themselves as a source of pride. Wolverines were well known as a fierce and ornery species that would kill much larger prey. Regardless, Michigan would become known as the Wolverine State and the University of Michigan adopted the nickname for its athletic teams.

(9) Tennessee's nickname dates back to the War of 1812. President Madison asked Andrew Jackson to find 1500 fellow Tennesseans to voluntarily help him fight the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Later, during the Mexican War, Tennessee’s governor put out a call for 2800 men, but 30,000 volunteers showed up. All of this voluntary participation earned the state, and later its biggest college, a nickname.
* * *
(5) Arizona’s colors used to be sage green and silver, representing the state’s sage bush and its mining history. When a school newspaper writer suggested the color combo was unable to “produce a decorative college pin, flag or varsity sweater,” a committee voted to change the colors to the red and blue we know today. (Some say the school got an amazing price break for purchasing athletic jerseys with common colors.)

(12) Memphis will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year after being founded as the West Tennessee State Normal School in 1912. The school has changed its name several times since then, most recently from Memphis State University to the University of Memphis in 1994.
* * *
(4) Texas has French-American architect Paul Philippe Cret to thank for the 307-foot Beaux-Art Main Building, better known as The Tower, that defines the Austin campus. The tower features a carillon of 56 bells that the resident carilloneurs play songs with three times a week. Cret, who was commissioned by the university’s regents to design the master plan for campus, was the head of the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania for more than 30 years after honing his design skills in his native France.

(13) Oakland University sits on what was originally a massive estate owned by Matilda Dodge Wilson, the widow of auto magnate John Francis Dodge. While the land itself was a nice gift, it included the Tudor revival mansion Meadow Brook Hall. Not only is the house still loaded with the Wilsons’ amazing art collection that includes everything from Gainsboroughs to Van Dycks, it also hosts one of the world’s priciest collector car shows each year.

Still not enough to impress you? Meadow Brook is also a celebrity wedding destination. Eminem remarried ex-wife Kim Mathers on the grounds in 2006 – the reunion only lasted a couple of months - and NBA forward Shane Battier tied the knot in the hall in 2004.
* * *
(6) Cincinnati alumni and faculty have been pioneers in many fields, but the university also has a spot in the annals of on-campus fast-food history. McDonald’s opened its first-ever collegiate outpost in Cincinnati’s Tangeman University Center on October 2, 1973. In a development that’s sure to surprise no one who’s ever been around cash-strapped, perpetually hungry college kids, the outlet soon became the largest McDonald’s in the world according to UC Magazine.

(11) Missouri adopted the Tiger nickname in 1890 to honor a local Civil War militia called The Missouri Tigers. According to the school's website, Mizzou originally had two tiger mascots, a male and a female, but neither had a specific identity. In a 1984 name-the-mascot contest, the tiger became Truman—after the Missouri-born former president.
* * *

(3) UConn has a huge edge when it comes to recruiting students who prefer to consume their frozen dairy treats on a grand scale; the school’s Winter Weekend festivities include the One Ton Sundae. According to a story in the school’s Daily Campus, the tradition began in 1978 when a group of students from the Student Union Board of Governors pulled a boat out of a nearby lake, cleaned up the inside, and proceeded to fill it with “literally a ton of ice cream” for the student body to share. The group still sponsors the annual event. Students and non-students pay a buck or two for a plastic bucket that they can fill with ice cream from the massive boat and slather with toppings. 

(14) Bucknell may or may not be able to recreate the tournament magic it used to pull off a stunning upset of Kansas in 2005, but the Bison athletic department will always have one boast to fall back on: it churned out one of the finest pitchers ever to play baseball. Christy Mathewson won 373 games in the Majors and was one of the Hall of Fame’s inaugural inductees in 1936. Before he hit the big leagues, the Christian Gentleman – that was his terrific nickname – played baseball and football at Bucknell. (He was a darn good football player, too; he made the All American team as a drop kicker in 1900.) Bucknell’s football team still plays its home games in Christy Mathewson – Memorial Stadium.
* * *
(7) Temple was founded in 1884 as a night school, and people jokingly referred to its students as “night owls.” When the school started fielding teams, it was only natural to call them the Owls.

(10) Penn State is making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2001, which would be reason to celebrate in Happy Valley if such a place existed. As the school’s website explains, “The University Park campus and the community of State College are located in the Nittany Valley, near its confluence with Penns Valley. The origin of the name Happy Valley as applied to this location is murky.” Like many nicknames, the Happy Valley moniker was most likely fueled by sports writers and broadcasters.
* * *
(2) San Diego State adopted purple and gold as its official colors after the San Diego Normal School merged with San Diego Junior College in 1921. The color scheme was a poor choice, as purple and gold also happened to be the colors of nearby St. Augustine High School and conference rival Whittier College. A movement to change the school’s colors was launched and students voted on replacement options in 1927. Scarlet and black beat out purple and gold by a vote of 346-201.

(15) Northern Colorado’s teams are the Bears, and while the mascot may not be all that unusual, its history is. In 1914 Alaska’s Commissioner of Education, alum Andrew Thompson, gave Northern Colorado a real Native American totem pole as a gift. A bear sat atop the totem pole, so the school switched its mascot from the Teachers to the Bears. “Totem Teddy” became a campus landmark over the years.

There was just one tiny problem, though; the totem really belonged to the Tlingit people of Angoon, Alaska. In 2003 the school returned to totem to its rightful owners under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.

Ethan Trex, Stacy Conradt, Meg Evans and Jason English also contributed to today's bracket. See Also: The Southwest, The Southeast and The East.

6 Times the Olympics Have Been Postponed or Canceled

Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo have been officially postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan agreed to push the start date back to 2021 after Canada, Australia, and other countries announced they would not send athletes to the Summer Games this July.

The Summer Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, typically bringing more than 10,000 athletes from dozens of countries together every four years, The New York Times reports.

It's extremely rare for the Summer or Winter Olympics to be postponed or canceled. Since 1896, when the modern Olympic Games began, it has happened only six times—and it usually requires a war.

The Olympic Games were canceled during World War I and World War II. The 1940 Summer Games, scheduled to take place in Tokyo, were postponed due to war and moved to Helsinki, Finland, where they were later canceled altogether. The current coronavirus pandemic marks the first time the competition has ever been temporarily postponed for a reason other than war. Here's the full list.

  1. 1916 Summer Olympics // Berlin, Germany
  1. 1940 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan and Helsinki, Finland
  1. 1940 Winter Olympics // Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  1. 1944 Summer Olympics // London, United Kingdom
  1. 1944 Winter Olympics // Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
  1. 2020 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan

6 Surprising Ways Baseball Actually Favors Lefties

Left-handed pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series in 2019.
Left-handed pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series in 2019.
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

If you grew up playing baseball, tee-ball, softball, or any other derivative of America’s favorite pastime, you might be familiar with certain positions left-handed people are unofficially prohibited from playing—you’ll hardly ever see a left-handed shortstop or third baseman, for example, because they’d be facing the wrong direction for any throws to the right side of the field. However, there are plenty of other parts of the game that are equally important as efficiently making outs at first or second base, and some of them can even favor lefties. Read on to find out how left-handed batters, pitchers, and more have an edge against their right-handed competitors below.

1. Left-handed pitchers have a better view of first base.

Since a left-handed pitcher faces first base when he’s gearing up to pitch, he can easily see if a first base runner is leading off (i.e. taking a few steps off the bag, with the intention to steal second base). This makes for some pretty spectacular fake-outs where a pitcher will feign throwing a pitch and instead flip it to the first baseman, who can tag the runner out before he can get a foot (or finger) back on the bag.

2. Left-handed batters are closer to first base.

Left-handed batters are simply standing a little closer to first base than right-handed batters. As former MLB player Doug Bernier explained for Pro Baseball Insider, an extra step or so can be the difference between getting thrown out at first base or making it safely there, especially if it’s an infield hit. That said, not everyone agrees the slightly shorter distance to first base is enough to give left-handed batters an advantage on infield hits in general. In a 2007 article for The Hardball Times, John Walsh argued that since lefties hit more ground balls into the right half of the infield—giving first and second basemen a shorter distance to cover to make the out at first—their one-step head start isn’t statistically significant overall.

3. Left-handed batters’ momentum is already carrying them in the direction of first base.

Even if a shorter distance to first base isn’t enough to give a left-handed batter the edge on every occasion, he also has the laws of physics on his side. When a lefty swings, the momentum of the bat is moving to the right—i.e. toward first base—so he gets to run in the same direction he’s already moving. Righties, on the other hand, swing toward third base and have to break the momentum to sprint in the opposite direction. Dr. David A. Peters, a professor of engineering at Washington University in St. Louis (and baseball aficionado), calculated that lefties’ momentum means they’re able to travel to first base about one-sixth of a second faster than righties.

4. Left-handed first basemen are facing the right direction to throw the ball to another infielder.

If the ball is hit to a left-handed first baseman, he’s already in the ideal position—with his right foot closest to his target—to throw it just about anywhere else in the infield. This is especially helpful when there’s an opportunity to make an out at second or third base, which he’d usually prioritize over the first base out. A right-handed first baseman, on the other hand, might have to pivot as much as 180 degrees to get his left foot where it needs to be to throw it to another infielder.

5. Left-handed batters perform better against right-handed pitchers, which are more abundant.

In baseball, it’s generally agreed that batters fare better when hitting against opposite-handed (OH) pitchers, so much so that coaches sometimes stack their batting lineups with lefties when they know a righty will be pitching, and vice versa. “With the dominance of right-handed pitchers in the game,” Dan Peterson writes for gameSense Sports, “the left-handed hitter comes to the plate with a built-in advantage.” The advantage itself has to do with the direction of the pitches.

“With a right-handed release to a right-handed batter, the ball seems to be coming right at him,” Peterson explains. “The same pitch coming from the opposite side provides a better view across the body.”

6. Right field is shorter than left field in some parks.

detroit tigers comerica park aerial view
An aerial view of the Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park.
NASA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When professional baseball stadiums first started cropping up in the late 19th century, there wasn’t a league-wide set of dimensions to standardize their size and shape (in fact, for the most part, there still isn’t). Since the majority of batters were right-handed—and, as such, more likely to hit the ball into left field—some stadiums featured left fields that were significantly deeper than their right fields. Take Philadelphia’s Columbia Park II, which opened in 1901 with a 340-foot left field and a 280-foot right field. Those short right fields meant left-handed batters would have an easier time hitting home runs. While most modern stadiums have quite literally evened the playing field with more symmetrical dimensions, some of them still have discrepancies; the right field foul pole at the Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park, for example, is a whole 15 feet closer to home plate than its left field foul pole.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER