East Coast bias in college hoops rankings becoming infuriating

Just before New Year’s Day, I posted a column questioning if the San Diego State Aztecs basketball team was ‘for real.’ Two months later, they’ve answered with an emphatic YES — even if few have noticed.

Part of the issue is that “The Mountain West Network” televises their games, so SDSU is never on ESPN or national TV, even when they played what was the game of the year last month in Provo against BYU. Kurt Allen covered that with a fantastic and thorough preview, the depth of which you won’t find in any mainstream publication.

Kawhi Leonard

Heck, many people back east didn’t even know who The Jimmer was until a few weeks ago, despite his averaging 22 per game last season (over 27 so far this campaign) and leading his team into the 2010 NCAA second round with a 37 point performance vs. Florida.

(“Hey, c’mon, BYU is from Utah and the game was in Oklahoma…you expect me and the sheltered Connecticuters of ESPN to stay up late, do our jobs, and care?” is what I imagine talk show host Colin Cowherd musing. Again, this raises the question of how we bloggers, who have our own full time jobs, are able to cover stories better and more accurately than the mainstream media—whose ONLY job is to do this! But I digress…)

Thankfully, Saturday at 2pm EST, BYU visits SDSU’s Viejas Arena on CBS in the Game of the Year in college basketball. Period. People back east might even learn about one of the best sophomores in the land, Kawhi Leonard. All he’s done is lead the Aztecs to a 52-10 record since arriving on campus.

Most pertinently though, here on Presidents Day the new polls came out, and sadly, to no one’s surprise, the #2 team in the RPI, with the fewest losses in the nation (ONE), was not number one, but rather number six in the AP poll! (People have noticed many other mishaps too)

That San Diego State loss, of course, was on the road to the #3 team in the RPI (ranked 7 today, but should also be higher), in a place that school hasn’t lost since roughly when Brigham Young himself arrived in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake

SDSU is 27-1, and plays in a very good conference that’s better than the ACC, Pac 10 and SEC.  The Aztecs also played a tough non conference schedule that, gasp, included numerous road games. (A foreign concept to many ‘major’ teams like Syracuse et al but normal to the likes of Butler, Xavier, Gonzaga and MWC squads.)

Duke, their two losses to bubble teams, and no truly impressive wins (#6 RPI, with the worst SOS (39) of any top 15 team), is naturally tops in the land again today. And by virtue of playing in a subpar conference again (that should only get two teams in), the Blue Devils should cruise to a number one seed in the NCAA tourney and easy draw ala 2010 when they won the title.

On that topic, a recent MSN/Fox Sports college hoops post named “ten teams that can win the title,” and did not mention the Aztecs, nor BYU’s Cougars. They did mention Villanova, Missouri and Washington, however!?

Ridiculous, though I’m sure author of the above piece, Jeff Goodman, — whose ballot today had SDSU 7th and BYU 9th! — didn’t mention Michigan State, West Virginia or Butler last year at this time, and all three made final 4 — while Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse did not.

Analyzing is one thing, but predictions, especially on college teams, are silly. That’s why I don’t gamble.

But haughty analysts like Goodman, Joe Lunardi, Clark Kellogg, Andy Katz, Stephen A. Smith, Duke alums Seth Davis and Jay Bilas, supercilious Syracuse beat writers, alongside the rest of the elites who condescendingly mocked mid-majors last March (picking the National Runner-Up Bulldogs to lose in the first round, for example), know very little; refuse to leave their coast; and therefore, I suppose the polls thankfully mean nothing other than “inconsequential noise” as someone put it today when rightly griping about Pitt

But then again, the Committee likely has the same ignorance and biases, and what they believe does matter on March 13. The overused “Eyeball Test” cliché is a bad cop-out for journalistic irresponsibility.

I may live in the Midwest now, but it seems the sports media is and always will be biased against central and western teams. Any of the current top “BCS” teams would have two or more losses if they played in the 2010-2011 Mountain West Conference.

About AJ Kaufman

A former schoolteacher and military historian, A.J. now works in public relations. As an MSF columnist since 2009, he supports anything baseball-related. Raised in San Diego, A.J. has since resided in numerous parts of America, including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio and Washington State. After departing the coasts in 2005, he's traveled the back roads of all 50 states and prefers the Heartland. Married to Maria, A.J. is the author of three books and enjoys reading presidential biographies.


  1. ron friedeman says:



      Because half the media attended Duke or loves Duke. This is how it goes even if their fans deny it.

  2. Cougars/Aztecs supposedly on CBS Saturday, regional telecast?? (meaning East Coast won't see it)

  3. Duke's a joke…I'm looking forward them to stealing a 1 seed and being "upset" in the sweet 16…

  4. David Politis says:

    Thanks, AJ. Nice write-up about what true B-Ball fans know all about and yet are powerless to do anything about it. The BYU @ SDSU match-up this weekend should be one of the top (if not the best) pre-March Madness games of the year. Thank you CBS!

  5. Thanks for calling it. No one said the top 15 teams are bad, or haven't played great teams (with a few losses to Nebraska along the way), but let's get real about the talent in the west. How does BYU whip UofA (#10) and SDSU (#6) and St. Mary's and UTEP and CSU away and not get a higher ranking? Losses to UCLA (after an exhausting on the road 8 games) and New Mexico at the Pit equal a Nebraska loss by Texas?

    Just plain stupid in my opinion. Everybody loves Florida — oh yeah, this same team beat them up last year in the NCAAs. Every team is going to have some losses, but SDSU's only loss is an excellent BYU (@ BYU). Shame, shame, shame. Now they will drop the loser of the game on Saturday to #29 with the best game of the season.

    Hey, but how about them Huskers?

  6. Which SDSU win am I supposed to be impressed by, exactly?

    I've got some time (and I'm fully expecting a commenter to mock me for spending so much time on this. I'm bored, and honestly curious. Some very rational people are making the argument that SDSU IS that good, and I just don't get it), so let's run through the options:

    A 16-point road win against Long Beach St., a team that lost to Utah St. by 28, at the Pac-10's worst team (Arizona St.) by 17, and of course, also lost by 10 against 11-17 UC-Irvine.

    The one on the road against a middling Gonzaga team by three points. We all know about Gonzaga, so there's no reason to rehash how mediocre it is.

    A road win at 14-13 Miami (Ohio). Wow, you were right, those nonconference road games are impressive.

    The home win against St. Mary's isn't too bad, I guess. As long as you like 22-6 teams that have nothing resembling a quality win and suffered inexplicable road losses to Portland (by 15!) and San Diego.

    The 20-point road win at California, a low-end, 14-13 Pac-10 team that also lost at home to Southern Miss, among others.

    A two-point win at a neutral site against IUPUI. Wait, what? That can't be a good sign for the tournament.

    Maybe you like the two six-point wins against a 20-7 UNLV. Yeah, that's not bad, but UNLV did lose at home to UC Santa Barbara and Colorado State (by 15!).

    What about a 10-point win at The Pit, you say? Sure, that's a tough place to play, but UNI and Utah also won there, and New Mexico is 5-7 in the MWC.

    Finally, you've got the two-point win at Colorado St. The Rams' 18-8 record looks nice, until you consider that (once again) they lack a quality win and also lost at home to Hampton and Sam Houston St.

    If you can kindly point out which one of those wins comes even close to the quality victories of the top 5 teams or emphatically proves that SDSU is for real, I would appreciate it.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that the only time I watched SDSU was against Wichita St., mostly because of where I live and my lack of financial resources or time to watch more college basketball. I believe it's certainly possible that San Diego St. is an elite team, as they obviously just haven't had the chance to prove themselves other than the game at BYU. But I'm not sure why it's not just as likely that they're only a top 15 or top 20 team that has played an easy schedule and would lose at least 3 or 4 games in the Big East, Big Ten or Big 12. With that in mind, #6 seems about right for now, and don't worry, I'll be watching on Saturday.

    • Appreciate your research. I think you have to weigh road games since major teams wont play them. Also, tell me all Duke's good wins. There are none. Their best wins turned out to be against the biggest disappointments of the year: KState & Mich State. Butler outplayed them until Mack left with injury and everyone fouled out. And Butler's down this year. So I think you look at the MWC, which is an awesome conference — far better than the ACC. Pac 10 and SEC right now. SDSU has but one loss. They deserve a 1 seed at this point.

      • Absolutely agree with you on Duke, and in case it's not clear, I think the premise of the post — East Coast Bias — is certainly obvious to anyone who watches college basketball. Duke is clearly getting a lot of press and hype because of the front of their jersey. I'm not sold on the MWC, but I obviously haven't watched a lot of games. I'm a K-State/Big 12 fan, and I firmly believe Kansas State with Kelly/Pullen would have easily beaten UNLV, particularly in Kansas City. But at the same time, from watching that game it was apparent UNLV is a good team. Still, I don't think SDSU gets through any BCS conference schedule with just one loss.

        If SDSU wins out, I could probably begrudge them a one seed, especially since no one else seems to want one. But I think as a consequence of not really playing anyone of note, if they fail again (and potentially a third time in the postseason tourney) against BYU (who at least has a convincing win against Arizona and a guy that can win a game single-handedly), they should be punished severely, meaning a drop to a 4 or 5 seed. If we're going to give them the benefit of the doubt when all they do is beat every above-average team (which is impressive in its own right), then I think it has to work both ways.

        It should be interesting, and the frustrating (great?) thing about this debate is we'll never really know who's right, since basically all we'll have to judge by is a small number of games in March. Either way, it should be fun, and thanks for the post and the response.

  7. There is nothing SDSU or BYU can do to persuade/convince/ or earn the respect of the powers-that-be. Both schools need to continue to play the way they know how and perform at a higher level. If they make it far in the NCAA tourney, that's a good way to shut up the critics. I agree with majority of the posts: Duke does not deserve the #1 seed… Oh well, this is out of the fans' control. It's up the fruitcakes in the East….

  8. east coast bias in basketball is the same as SEC bias in football… it's earned, and well deserved. the conferences are the best, and their conference schedules are monstrous…

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