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The NCAA Tournament’s Most ‘Where The Hell Is That College?’ Colleges, Ranked

Many schools obtained a bid to the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, but the vast majority of schools did not. I went to one of the latter. In keeping with the tradition of trolling the small schools that did in fact make it in, it’s time to play the game of Where The Hell Is [Obscure College]? — but with a FiveThirtyEight twist: data on precisely how obscure each school is.

On Tuesday, I set up a Google Form that we pushed out on our social channels asking people which of four states they thought each college was in.1 (As a result, this isn’t a scientific sample.) For many schools, such as the University of Kentucky, this didn’t prove very difficult. For others, including a few that are named after their location, it was substantially harder. And for three schools — Florida Gulf Coast University, Stephen F. Austin and Seton Hall — not even our Google Form could locate them. (A bug discovered in editing prevented the questions for those schools from displaying. Sorry, Lumberjacks.)

Broadly, the results broke down into five categories. In the first group, 38 of the 65 schools, more than 99 percent of people got it right. Given that when I pulled the data we had 3,749 respondents, this allows for at most 37 trolls from Ohio who pretend that they do not in fact know where the University of Michigan is.

The next group comprises the nine schools for which 90 percent to 99 percent of people knew the location. This is essentially two situations: schools named after cities, such as the universities of Tulsa, Dayton and Cincinnati (most but not all people know where Tulsa, Dayton and Cincinnati are) and schools with unusual names that have crazy high familiarity, such as Baylor and Notre Dame.

This brings us to the next three groups, the ones worth talking about.

Purdue University Ind. 89%
University of Miami Fla. 89
Vanderbilt University Tenn. 89
Temple University Penn. 85
Yale University Conn. 84
Gonzaga University Wash. 80
Stony Brook University N.Y. 78
Butler University Ind. 78
Villanova University Penn. 77
Iona College N.Y. 66
Xavier University Ohio 64
College of the Holy Cross Mass. 60
Fairleigh Dickinson University N.J. 50
Hampton University Va. 50
St. Joseph’s University Penn. 47
Southern University La. 44
Weber State University Utah 39
Austin Peay State University Tenn. 36
Where is that school, anyway?

Survey of 3,749 respondents from March 15 to 17

There are nine schools with less than 90 percent but more than 75 percent recognition. With these, a lot of the fun lies in seeing people’s wrong answers. Did you know 10 percent of the people surveyed think Yale is in Massachusetts and 7.5 percent think Purdue is in Illinois? You do now, and please do what you can to alert people from those schools of this fact as often as possible. Also, dang, people do not know where Yale is: More people in this sample knew where Temple and Baylor were than that Yale is in Connecticut.

There’s a big drop to the next batch, which is the schools where people answered correctly two-thirds to just more than half of the time. Iona, Xavier, College of the Holy Cross and Fairleigh Dickinson threw people for a loop, but all managed to obtain majorities. It’s these enigmatic Jesuits, I’m telling you.

But without further ado, let’s break down the Final Five. A majority of respondents couldn’t place Hampton, St. Joseph’s, Southern and Weber State universities. Philly-based St. Joe’s was matched up with three other heavily Catholic Northeastern states; Southern, in Louisiana, was matched up with other states in the Deep South; and Utah’s Weber State — already a hell of a deep cut when it comes to nomenclature — was, according to 29 percent of respondents, in Montana.

The last of this group is Austin Peay State University, a 16-seed doomed to fall to Kansas in the first round. Austin, while it is indeed a city in Texas, is also a first name on occasion, which is how the Tennessee institution obtained its name. Not only did a majority of respondents not know that Austin Peay is in Tennessee, but also a plurality of them thought it was in Texas. It was the only time in the set that more people picked one incorrect state over the school’s home state.

But seriously, call a Yalie and tell them that one in 10 people think they’re in Massachusetts. They’ll flip.


  1. The states were always the same, but the order was randomized for both questions and answers.

Walt Hickey was FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.