The mental_floss Guide to the NCAAs (The East)

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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're tackling the East region.

(1) Ohio State houses at least one museum that won’t bore anyone to tears: the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. The museum, which is named after late Columbus Dispatch editorial cartoonist Billy Ireland, houses nearly half a million editorial cartoons, comic strips, comic books, and manuscripts.

Not surprisingly, famous cartoonists love the museum. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz’s widow gave the museum a $1 million donation with a promise to match up to another $2.5 million in donations from others. One of the others who has donated? The Family Circus creator Bil Keane, who gave the museum a $50,000 gift.

(16) Texas-San Antonio has come a long way since 1970, when its earliest students attended classes in an office park. The school has grown to more than 25,000 undergraduates, recently completed more than $250 million in construction projects, and is preparing to transition to Division I FBS status in football in 2013. ESPN SportsNation co-host Michelle Beadle is one of the Roadrunners’ most famous graduates.

(16) Alabama State was founded in 1867 and boasts a wide-range of notable alumni, including civil rights attorney Fred Gray, who represented Rosa Parks. NFL quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and Flavor of Love 2 winner Deelishis also attended ASU, which is located in Montgomery.

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(8) George Mason’s fans and students are surely pulling for the Patriots to make a deep run into the tournament that mirrors their incredible 2006 trip to the Final Four. The school’s admissions office might be rooting the hardest for Jim Larranaga’s squad, though. In the year following the Final Four campaign, GMU saw its applications for freshman admission shoot up by 20 percent. The school also said that it had to triple the number and size of its campus tours for prospective freshman to keep up with the sudden interest in all things George Mason.

(9) Villanova boasts the Liberty Bell’s “Sister Bell,” a replacement ordered after the original bell cast at the foundry cracked. When the first bell cast from the Sister mold was damaged in a fire set by rioters in 1844, a new one was cast and sent to Villanova for safekeeping. It now sits quietly among students studying at Falvey Memorial Library.
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(5) West Virginia has produced a handful of professional basketball players, including NBA icon—and we do mean icon—Jerry West. After leading the Mountaineers to the 1959 national championship game, West was the second overall pick of the 1960 NBA draft and a 14-time All-Star for the Los Angeles Lakers. Alan Siegel, who designed the NBA’s ubiquitous red, white and blue logo in 1969, says that he used a photograph of West dribbling the ball with his left hand as the model for the silhouetted player in the logo.

(12) The University of Alabama at Birmingham has been known as the Blazers since the nickname was the winning entry in a name-the-team contest sponsored by the school’s student newspaper in 1977. The meaning of the nickname is unknown, though some have speculated that it was a reference to UAB’s trailblazing medical school. (In 1960, UAB faculty member Dr. Basil Hirschowitz became the first man to explore the human stomach with an endoscope.) A dragon, not a medical device, served as the school’s first mascot, but was later replaced by Beauregard T. Rooster and, for one year, a Viking. The dragon, named Blaze, returned for good in 1995.

(12) Clemson football coach John Heisman (of Heisman Trophy fame) was pretty shrewd. In 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech and immediately started partying upon their arrival. When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn’t really Heisman’s Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.
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(4) Kentucky got its royal blue team color from a piece of clothing. In 1891 the school needed a set of team colors before a football game against in-state rival Centre College. After some debate, the students settled on blue and yellow. (The yellow would change to white a year later.) Only one question remained: what shade of blue would they use? According to the school, football letterman Richard C. Stoll pulled off his royal blue necktie and suggested the squad use its hue. His classmates agreed, and UK had its blue.

(13) Princeton seniors have used “beer jackets” to protect their clothes from spillage, and, more recently, carry six-packs, as part of a tradition that began in 1912. The senior class votes on a design for the jackets, which are distributed in the spring before commencement every year. The early jackets were made of white denim to hide any beer foam that spilled on them, while more recent designs have been made of black canvas and feature plenty of spacious inside pockets. Talk about the perfect tournament-watching accessory.
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(6) Xavier actually has two mascots. D’Artagnan the Musketeer has been around since 1925; the idea of using a French musketeer came about because the school had strong ties to French culture in its early days. The other mascot, the Blue Blob, has a more mysterious back-story. The school may have developed the Blue Blob because the heavily armed D’Artagnan terrified small children, but others claim that the school won the Blue Blob as part of a Skyline Chili promotion in the 1980s.

(11) Marquette offers its students a pretty rock-and-roll living opportunity. Some lucky Marquette sophomore is sleeping in a room where the Beatles once crashed. The Fab Four played to a packed house at the Milwaukee Arena on September 4, 1964, before spending the night at the Coach House Motor Inn. In 1980 Marquette needed more space to house undergrads, so the school bought the hotel and converted it into a dorm called Mashuda Hall. There’s still a bit of debate about which rooms actually housed the Beatles, but the school’s website says that the common belief indicates it’s somewhere on the seventh floor.
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(3) Syracuse’s giant football and basketball stadium, the Carrier Dome, gets its name from heating and cooling leader the Carrier Corporation, which plunked down a $2.75 million naming gift to help with construction during the late 1970s.

(14) Indiana State also gets in on the Hoosier State’s racing spirit. Since 1970 the school’s annual spring week has included a tandem bicycle race. Coed mixed pairs participate in the race, which is nowhere near as silly as the campus’ other racing tradition: a 10-lap race around the quad on tricycles. The trike race dates back to 1963.
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(7) Washington's teams used to be called the Sun Dodgers, which was the name of a college magazine that had been banned from campus. School officials weren't wild about the name, so in 1921 a committee set out to pick a new one. The committee narrowed the field down to two options: Malamutes and Huskies. According to GoHuskies.com, those names were selected because of Seattle's proximity to the Alaskan frontier. The Huskies nickname was officially adopted on February 3, 1922.

(10) Georgia became the first university in the United States to be established by a state-supported charter when a 1785 act by the General Assembly incorporated the school. More than 200 years later, Georgia became the first university in the world to feature a school devoted specifically to the study of ecology. The Eugene P. Odum School of Ecology, named for the late UGA professor who wrote the first textbook on the subject, opened in 2007.
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(2) UNC may not have won a title last year, but the Tar Heels were #1 in one important poll—the Forbes 2009-10 list of college basketball's most valuable teams. UNC's hoops squad was valued at $29 million, up 12 percent from the previous year. Rounding out the top five: Kentucky, Louisville, Kansas and Illinois.

(15) Long Island is just the team for you if you enjoy a good talkie. Until 2005 the Blackbirds played their home games in Brooklyn’s Paramount Theatre, which happened to double as the first theater ever designed for talking pictures. The 4,124-seat venue opened in 1928 and showed movies and hosted concerts until LIU bought it and converted it into an arena in 1962. Some pretty huge names played concerts at the venue before it closed, including Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Miles Davis, and Ray Charles.

The place actually kept rocking even after LIU turned the theater into a hoops venue. The school left the original Wurlitzer organ in the building and would fire it up for games.

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

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March 16, 2011 - 12:01pm
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