The mental_floss Guide to the NCAA Tournament: The West


We may not be much help in filling out your bracket, but we can promise one interesting fact about each of the 68 teams in the tournament. Let's tip things off with the West Region.

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(1) Michigan State
In May, a Michigan State professor from the School of Social Work will begin teaching an online course called “Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse: Catastrophes and Human Behavior."

(16) Long Island
The Arnold and Marie Schwartz Athletic Center on the Long Island University campus has been owned by the university since 1962. But before Arnold and Marie got their hands on it, it was the Paramount Theatre. When it opened in 1928, it was the first theatre designed specifically to show movies with sound.

(8) Memphis
Memphis has a live tiger mascot. Tom I was introduced at a Memphis State-Cincinnati football game in 1972 and lived at the Memphis Zoo until his death in 1992. Tom III, who was born at the Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue and Educational Center, was introduced in November 2009.

(9) St. Louis
St. Louis University's mascot is the Billiken. What is a Billiken, exactly? According to the "What is a Billiken?" page on the school's website, the school has no idea. But they do know the Billiken is "a good-luck figure who represents things as they ought to be."
(5) New Mexico
According to the school, it picked the Spanish word for “wolf” as its nickname in 1920. The school paper wrote, “The Lobo is respected for his cunning, feared for his prowess, and is the leader of the pack. It is the ideal name for the Varsity boys who go forth to battle for the glory of the school. All together now; fifteen rahs for the LOBOS.”

(12) Long Beach State
Both Steve Martin and Steven Spielberg dropped out of Long Beach State. The school gave Martin an honorary doctorate in 1989; instead of the traditional mortarboard, he wore an arrow-through-the-head hat. And Spielberg returned 34 years after dropping out to earn his BA. His film professor accepted Schindler's List in place of the short student film normally required to pass the class.
(4) Louisville
Louisville contains at least one sight that art lovers can’t miss: one of the original monumental size bronze casts of Rodin’s The Thinker. U of L’s version of the sculpture sits outside of Grawemeyer Hall and is actually the very first bronze cast of The Thinker that Rodin made. The cast itself dates back to 1903, but it’s been at its current spot on Louisville’s campus since 1949.

Murray State features an odd campus attraction: a tree with dozens of shoes nailed to it. If two students meet at Murray State and later marry, tradition dictates that each nails a shoe to the tree. If the couple has children, they nail a baby shoe to the tree. The shoe tree visitors to campus can view is actually the second shoe tree; the original was lost in a lightning strike. (Downside of filling a tree with nails, we guess.)

(11) Colorado State
The school's most notorious graduate was Anwar al-Awlaki, who earned a BS in civil engineering in 1994. A top recruiter and coordinator for al-Qaeda, al-Awlaki was killed by a predator drone strike in 2011.
(3) Marquette
Chris Farley went to Marquette and donned his Marquette Rugby jacket during a scene in Tommy Boy. (Tommy also went to Marquette, though it took him seven years to graduate.)

(14) Brigham Young
Provo, Utah, is home to both BYU and, which boasts more than 1.7 million paying subscribers. The company began as a print publisher of Ancestry magazine and genealogy books.

(14) Iona
Iona counts Don McLean among its famous alumni. McLean, who grew up in New Rochelle, NY, attended night school and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from his neighborhood school in 1968.
(7) Florida
Constructed in 1953, the school's 157-foot Century Tower houses a 57,760-pound carillon that is played using 61 keys and 25 pedals. Students can take a carillon class in which they ultimately have to play the Century Tower carillon for their grade.

While the Cavalier is the official mascot of the University of Virginia, their unofficial mascot is the wahoo—a saltwater game fish whose claim to fame is that it can drink twice its own body weight, temporarily increasing its size to fend off enemies. This would be quite a handy skill in the tournament. [Image credit: Jaryd Waegerle, Wahoo Wire]
(2) Missouri
Missouri’s mascot is named Truman the Tiger after Harry Truman, the only U.S. president from Missouri.

(15) Norfolk State
Norfolk State, located in southeastern Virginia, is one of the largest historically black colleges in the country. Paul Hines, a coach on the T.C. Williams football team featured in Remember the Titans, attended Norfolk State for two years before finishing at Virginia State College.

Your esteemed fact-finding crew: Jamie Spatola, Stacy Conradt, Ethan Trex, Colin Perkins, Scott Allen and Meg McGinn. They'll be back with another region later tonight.