The NCAA tournament’s pod system is a well-intended scheme that’s been around since 2002. The general idea: Place the highest seeds as close to home as possible for the opening weekend of the event.

This usually works well for teams landing No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. But geographic diversity of quality teams is required for it to keep No. 4 seeds close to home. Instead, there have been plenty of Eastern or Midwestern programs shipped west to make up for the lack of depth in the Pacific time zone.

Consider:

  • In 2015, Arizona and Gonzaga landed No. 2 seeds, while Louisville (Seattle) and Georgetown (Portland) anchored West subregionals as No. 4 seeds.
  • Iowa State was a leftover No. 4 seed consigned to Denver in 2016.
  • While Arizona and Gonzaga were No. 4 seeds in Boise in 2018, the San Diego subregional was left to a pair of far-from-local No. 4 seeds: Auburn and Wichita State.
  • And last year, while Gonzaga held down a No. 1 in Salt Lake City, it was joined by Kansas as a No. 4 seed. Meanwhile, Kansas State and Virginia Tech were No. 4 seeds shipped to San Jose.

This season could be different. Left Coast basketball is enjoying a commendable year, and this week’s bracket reflects how Sacramento and Spokane could end up populated with relatively regional teams.

Assuming they can remain among the top 16 seeds, Gonzaga and Oregon are good bets to remain in the Pacific Northwest and play in Spokane. (For the Zags, this isn’t even a bus ride to the other side of town, and they will be able to play there since the subregional’s host school is Idaho, not Gonzaga.)

San Diego State, the last remaining undefeated team in Division I, is on track to play in Sacramento to open the tournament, and either Arizona (currently a projected No. 5 seed) or Stanford (a No. 6) could end anchoring a pod there as well. In this week’s projection, Arizona ends up there anyway (with Auburn as a No. 4).

It has the makings of a win for basketball on the West Coast, and it also helps keep the selection committee from “rewarding” No. 4 seeds by handing them a ticket to travel thousands of miles to begin the postseason. The committee will have its share of headaches this year, but the geographic mechanics of building a bracket already look better than they have for much of the recent past.

Field notes

Last four included: BYU, Purdue, Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth

First four on the outside: Minnesota, Alabama, Washington, Georgetown

Next four on the outside: Richmond, DePaul, Texas, Georgia

Moving in: East Tennessee State, Little Rock, Monmouth, Montana, Norfolk State, N.C. State, North Dakota State, North Texas, Southern California, Vermont, Winthrop

Moving out: Charlotte, Georgia State, Minnesota, North Carolina A&T, Northern Colorado, Quinnipiac, Radford, South Dakota State, Stony Brook, Xavier, Western Carolina

Conference call: Big Ten (11), ACC (6), Big East (5), Big 12 (5), Pac-12 (5), SEC (5), American Athletic (3), West Coast (3), Atlantic 10 (2)

Bracket projection

South vs. East, West vs. Midwest

South Region

St. Louis

(1) BIG 12/Baylor vs. winner of (16) METRO ATLANTIC/Monmouth vs. Southwestern/Prairie View

(8) Wisconsin vs. (9) ATLANTIC SUN/Liberty

Omaha

(5) Kentucky vs. (12) Purdue-Virginia winner

(4) Villanova vs. (13) MID-AMERICAN/Akron

Albany, N.Y.

(3) ATLANTIC 10/Dayton vs. (14) PATRIOT/Colgate

(6) Colorado vs. (11) Oklahoma

St. Louis

(7) Rutgers vs. (10) Saint Mary’s

(2) ACC/Louisville vs. (15) SUN BELT/Little Rock

If you ever wanted to see an NCAA tournament game with less than 50 possessions per team, Wisconsin (No. 351 of 353 Division I teams in KenPom.com’s adjusted tempo metric) and Liberty (No. 352) could oblige. … In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be a regular season rematch in a play-in game, let alone the first weekend. But between Purdue having already played both Virginia and VCU and fellow projected play-in team BYU restricted to Thursday-Saturday sites, it was difficult to avoid here.

Dayton just bagged a pair of victories against VCU and at Saint Louis in perhaps its toughest week in Atlantic 10 play. The Flyers are going to have a viable shot at a No. 2 or No. 3 seed if they zip through their league with minimal bumps. … Rutgers was the top No. 7 seed in this week’s exercise, and the only obvious minus for the Scarlet Knights is the absence of a high-end road triumph.

East Region

Greensboro, N.C.

(1) Duke vs. (16) OHIO VALLEY/Austin Peay

(8) Wichita State vs. (9) Penn State

Sacramento

(5) Arizona vs. (12) IVY/Yale

(4) Auburn vs. (13) SOUTHLAND/Stephen F. Austin

Albany, N.Y.

(3) BIG EAST/Seton Hall vs. (14) BIG WEST/UC Irvine

(6) Texas Tech vs. (11) Virginia Tech

Cleveland

(7) Florida vs. (10) Southern Cal

(2) BIG TEN/Michigan State vs. (15) HORIZON/Wright State

It was a tough week for Wichita State, which is in no immediate danger of falling out of the field after back-to-back losses to Temple and Houston but stuck in less-than-desirable territory within the bracket as a result. … Auburn is another team taking a tumble. The Tigers entered last week undefeated and with a case to be a No. 1 seed, and emerged with setbacks at Alabama and Florida. …

Seton Hall is 6-0 in the Big East for the first time ever and has reeled off eight victories in a row since getting blasted at Rutgers. The Pirates, who get their next three at home, are a veteran team that looks more and more capable of a run to the season’s final weekend. … It’s now impossible to discount 15-3 Southern Cal, which dealt Stanford its first Pac-12 loss on Saturday. The Trojans get four of their next six on the road.

West Region

Spokane, Wash.

(1) WEST COAST/Gonzaga vs. (16) SUMMIT/North Dakota State

(8) Arkansas vs. (9) Creighton

Spokane, Wash.

(5) Iowa vs. (12) SOUTHERN/East Tennessee State

(4) Oregon vs. (13) CONFERENCE USA/North Texas

Greensboro, N.C.

(3) West Virginia vs. (14) COLONIAL/William & Mary

(6) Ohio State vs. (11) MISSOURI VALLEY/Northern Iowa

Sacramento

(7) Marquette vs. (10) N.C. State

(2) MOUNTAIN WEST/San Diego State vs. (15) BIG SKY/Montana

Since getting a bit of a scare in a five-point defeat of Pepperdine, Gonzaga has won its last four games by an average of 35.5 points. It’s been since 2014 when a WCC team other than BYU or Saint Mary’s upended the Zags, a streak that could survive this season as well. … Looking for a mid-major to study up on for March? Try 17-3 East Tennessee State, a team with a bunch of upperclassmen well on its way to its fifth consecutive season of at least 24 victories. …

Northern Iowa has scored 80-plus points in three consecutive Missouri Valley games for the first time since 2014. The Panthers are capable of winning in different ways and will be a major hassle come March. … Only two teams (BYU and Iowa) have gotten to 70 points against San Diego State.

Midwest Region

Omaha

(1) Kansas vs. winner of (16) MID-EASTERN/Norfolk State vs. NORTHEAST/Robert Morris

(8) Houston vs. (9) Michigan

Tampa

(5) SEC/LSU vs. (12) BYU-VCU winner

(4) Maryland vs. (13) AMERICA EAST/Vermont

Cleveland

(3) Butler vs. (14) WESTERN ATHLETIC/New Mexico State

(6) PAC-12/Stanford vs. (11) Indiana

Tampa

(7) AMERICAN ATHLETIC/Memphis vs. (10) Illinois

(2) Florida State vs. (15) BIG SOUTH/Winthrop

Kansas is solidly on the top line after wins at Oklahoma and Texas, and the Jayhawks get four of their next five at home starting Tuesday against Kansas State. … Maryland has its road woes, but the rest of its profile is perfectly fine. The NCAA team pages list six metrics (including the NET rankings), and the Terrapins sit between 12th and 15th in all of them. They’re solidly a No. 4 seed for now. …

A potential Butler-Indiana round of 32 game, with the winner advancing to a regional in Indianapolis, would bring the conspiracy theorists out in force in the 24 hours after the bracket is unveiled. … Florida State is a combined 7-2 in Quadrant 1 and 2 games, and just one of those contests (against Virginia) was played in Tallahassee. Leonard Hamilton’s team should be discussed as a Final Four threat.

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