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The mental_floss Guide to the NCAAs (The Southwest)

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. Let’s kick things off with the Southwest region.

(1) Kansas began playing basketball in 1898, shortly after the game’s inventor, James Naismith, joined the school’s faculty as a chapel director and physical education instructor. Naismith, who developed the game at the International YMCA Training School in 1891, was the Jayhawks’ first coach and is buried in Lawrence. Last December, Kansas alumnus David Booth and his wife Suzanne purchased the piece of paper upon which Naismith scribbled the 13 original rules of “Basket Ball” for $4.3 million at auction. The document, which is currently on display in Kansas City, will eventually have a permanent home on campus.

(16) Boston University played host to an odd experiment on Good Friday in 1962. Harvard Divinity School student Walter N. Pahnke rounded up 20 fellow divinity students—10 took a placebo capsule, while the others ingested psilocybin, better known as the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. The students then attended Good Friday services at BU’s Marsh Chapel under the careful supervision of doctors and experts like Timothy Leary. The experiment aimed to test whether psilocybin could intensify religious experiences, and the test group that received the drug later said that they felt a profound spiritual effect during the Good Friday Services.
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(8) UNLV could have been the Sand Burners. In the early 1970s, students voted to keep the Rebel nickname. The alternatives included Big Horn Rams, Nuggets, A-Bombs, and Sand Burners. A few years later, UNLV’s Confederate (wolf) mascot was replaced by a Revolutionary War (human) soldier. According to the school’s website, the mascot has “evolved into a more geographically appropriate pioneer figure.”

(9) Illinois has an impressive list of famous alumni, including Jack Welch, Roger Ebert and Susan G. Komen for the Cure founder Nancy Brinker. Another big-name grad was Hugh Hefner, who earned his degree in two-and-a-half years. Hef told Fortune that while he was in school, the first Kinsey report came out on the sexual behavior of the human male. He wrote an editorial about the report, arguing it was the most important booklet of the year.
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(5) Vanderbilt may be the birthplace of the first natural blue rose. Research from the school’s medical lab were surprised to discover that when they inserted a human liver enzyme into bacteria, the bacteria turned blue. So far, stems with blue spots have been created with the enzyme, but blue petals are still in development.

(12) Richmond recently completed a redesign of its mascot after students and alumni complained that the Spiders’ current mascot looks too much like an ant or a bug. The Facebook group “Give Spidey His Legs Back!” expressed the underlying sentiment of UR’s fans that a spider mascot ought to have eight legs, not two. Richmond hired a design firm to create new eight-legged options, which fans voted on from Feb. 23 to March 4. The new mascot design and mascot name will be announced in May. During the redesign, the university learned that Spidey, the current mascot’s informal name, is trademarked by Marvel Comics and will need to be replaced.
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(4) Louisville played its home games at Freedom Hall for more than 50 years before opening the KFC Yum! Center this season. The downtown arena features seven Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC concession areas. Pizza Hut hasn’t exactly cornered the pizza market on campus, however. The Cardinals football team plays its home games in Papa John’s Stadium.

(13) Morehead State doesn’t have a great shot at winning March Madness this year. (Sorry, Eagles fans.) The school does have an offbeat athletics dynasty of its own, though. Morehead State is a powerhouse at women’s bowling. The women have brought home intercollegiate bowling’s national title in 1989, 1998, 2000, and 2002 and are a perennial threat to finish at the top of the standings. Morehead bowling alums include Liz Johnson, the first woman ever to win a Professional Bowlers Association event, and Kelly Kulick, who became the first woman to win a bowling major when she won the 2010 PBA Tournament of Champions.
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(6) Georgetown hopes to exorcise the demons from last year’s shocking loss to No. 14 seed Ohio in the first round. Students on the Washington, D.C., campus regularly run up and down “the Exorcist stairs,” a narrow set of 75 steep brick stairs made famous in the1973 horror film, The Exorcist, which was written by Georgetown graduate William Peter Blatty.

(11) USC famously uses the Trojan as their mascot, but the school has a more interesting unofficial mascot: a mutt named George Tirebiter. The mutt lived on campus during the 1940s and got his surname from his habit of chasing cars down University Avenue. USC’s archivist described Tirebiter as “a large, nondescript mongrel resembling an Airedale” in a 2009 Los Angeles Times piece, but the pooch’s dubious pedigree didn’t hold him back. The student body eventually made him an official mascot, and Tirebiter began attending games. His legend grew when he chased down Cal’s Oski the Bear mascot and gave the costumed student a nice chomp on the nose. Although Tirebiter died in 1950 while doing what he loved – chasing a car – his legend lives on in a bronze statue on USC’s campus.

(11) VCU’s students are as well protected as anyone in the country. According to the school, its campus police force is one of the five largest in the country. In fact, the force is so large that it runs its own police academy. The force includes over 80 police officers and an additional 200 security personnel.
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(3) Purdue is located in Indiana, so the school is almost obligated to have some sort of awesome race on its campus. And boy, does it ever. Since 1958 the annual Purdue Grand Prix has given fraternities and residence halls a chance to prove their supremacy on the go-kart track. The charity even raises money for student scholarships, and it’s not some wimpy little five-lap affair like you’d see at your local track. It’s a 160-lap, 62-mile tour. No wonder it bills itself as “The Greatest Spectacle in College Racing.”

(14) St. Peter’s athletic teams are known as the Peacocks and Peahens. It’s the only school in the NCAA that uses the Peahen as the mascot. Dutch aristocrat Michael Reniersz Pauw once owned the area where the campus is located. “Pauw” is the Dutch word for “peacock,” so when Pauw picked up a nice parcel of land in New Jersey, he named it Pavonia, or “Land of the Peacock.” Sure, it was a bit egotistical, but the choice kept Pauw’s name alive (and in March Madness) nearly 400 years after his death.
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(7) Texas A&M has its own official greeting: “Howdy.” According to the school’s Traditions Council’s website, “It is our way of ensuring that no one feels like a stranger. The exact origin on this tradition is not known. However, ‘Howdy’ is what sets us apart as the friendliest campus in the world.”

(10) Florida State has managed to keep its mascot, the Seminoles, even after the NCAA began cracking down on potentially offensive Native American mascots and logos in 2005. Florida State was originally on the chopping block of teams with “hostile or abusive” mascots, but the school received a waiver after finding an unlikely ally: the Seminole Tribe of Florida. According to a story USA Today ran at the time, the tribe’s chief and general council president said he felt it was an honor to be associated with the school.
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(2) Notre Dame’s “Band of the Fighting Irish” is the oldest college band in continuous existence in the U.S. and has been declared a “Landmark of American Music” by the National Music Council.

(15) Akron has one of the tournament’s more unusual mascots, the Zips. Why in the world did the school pick a nickname that’s synonymous with “the Zeroes”? It all dates back to a 1925 contest the school held to pick a new mascot. Student Margaret Hamlin suggested “the Zippers,” a reference to a popular rubber overshoe that local company B.F. Goodrich marketed. The student body dug Hamlin’s suggestion, and she pocketed a $10 prize for suggesting the name. In 1950 the school shortened the nickname to “the Zips.”

Scott Allen, Stacy Conradt, Meg Evans and Jason English also contributed to today’s bracket. Tomorrow: The Southeast!

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