PORTLAND — Look ahead to Sunday's second half of the Round of 32. Go ahead, I'll give you a hot minute to scan what remains of the bracket.
You see the teams in the queue. Creighton, North Carolina, Xavier, Florida, Michigan State, Cincinnati, Purdue and Georgetown, among others.
Now look at Saturday's winners. Marquette, Kentucky, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Baylor, Louisville, Ohio State and Indiana.
Nobody west of Baylor is left alive. The West's last and best hope to keep the left side of the country in the college basketball conversation died Saturday night when fifth-seeded New Mexico fell 59-56 to No. 4 Louisville at the Rose Garden. New Mexico was a good team this season. It finished 28-7 and won the really good Mountain West, a league that was ranked miles ahead of — you guessed it — the Pac-12 this season. So I guess I can't use that league as a noteworthy comparison, now that I think about it.
Some will point to New Mexico having a better chance to win the game if Drew Gordon hadn't left temporarily with a knee scare. No excuse; Gordon came back in and was effective in the second half. Lobos had it close late and couldn't close. Good season, Steve Alford's done a fine job keeping that program relevant, but fly home safe and we'll see you in November.
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You could've said similar things about a lot of New Mexico-ish teams over the past 72 hours. Close, but no W. The patterns on the wall aren't pretty. As we get ready for what could be a really great Sunday in college basketball, can we stop and leer at the carcass right here? Western hoops' reputation has gradually taken a tumble in the past four years. I ask: is this the newest and lowest of lows? Even last season, which was another bad year for the Pac-12, had Arizona, San Diego State and BYU (Never forget The Jimmer) reach the second weekend. Arizona came really close to reaching Houston for the Final Four, losing to eventual champions UConn.
On Saturday, Colorado, New Mexio and Gonzaga all played respectably — two of them getting very close to earning a W — but were unable to break through.
I guess it's fitting? The western 12 states that play D-I hoops are seeing a talent depletion (or so we're led to believe) that's come to prove itself true by way of the NCAA tournament. Quote sample size all you'd like, but when the regular season provides a reasonable pool of results, and then West/Rockies delegates go 3-11 and o-fer for the second weekend, there is no other conclusion.
The West is getting left behind in the race not even for elite basketball, but upper-echelon variety. UCLA's going to really try to make a run at it next year with a good recruiting class, and the Mountain West should be even stronger, but these broad-stroke assessments of California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada are fair when you see how no team from that region has reached the Final Four since UCLA in 2008.
The region has fewer Elite Eight appearances than any other pocket of the United States as well. When does it change? We can't predict that. We can only assess it when we look back at the 2013 tournament or 2014 one or the one after that and see a record closer to or above .500. The UCLAs, Arizonas, Washingtons, Oregons, UNLVs and New Mexicos have to get better.
I'll be heading out to the West Regional in a couple of days. I won't be seeing any western teams. Instead, squads like Louisville, Florida, Marquette and Michigan State are likely to show. And if it's not Michigan State and Florida, it's Saint Louis and Norfolk State. That's the biggest embarrassment of all, when you think about it. The NCAA plops a quad on the more spacious side of this country to accommodate its lefty teams in the event they actually play themselves into good positioning in The Dance.
Instead, we'll again have a cluster of misplaced and proud representatives from other major leagues. They're improving the reputations of their programs and keeping up in college basketball's arms race, displaying the guns right their on their competition's turf.