Kaid Benfield Archive


Beware the Ides of March Madness: brackets based on walkable urbanism

Kaid Benfield

Posted March 15, 2010 at 1:27PM

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This time of year does funny things to me.  I eat bad food in front of the television.  I run weird calculations, some of which you’re about to see.  I yell.  I despair.  I vanish at odd times of the day to find TV sets.  I spend a lot of time in Lisa’s office where there is both a TV and another rabid fan just as crazy as I am.  Georgetown's Chris Wright earlier this season (by: HoyaHoops.com)I really get insane after about the 50th sappy commercial for the upcoming Masters golf tournament on CBS (cue hushed voice: “a tradition unlike any other . . .”).  Oh, please.

I do all this because I. Love. This Game.  Not golf, mind you, which isn’t even a sport as far as I’m concerned, but college basketball.  And the brackets are upon us, yes they are.  I follow two teams closely, and they are both in the big dance and highly seeded this year.  I’ll certainly be rooting for them.

But for whom do I cheer in the other games?  There are a couple of schools I’ll cheer against because their fan bases are classless (and Lisa knows who they are), but the rest is kind of arbitrary, really.  This got me thinking: what if I ranked schools on their neighborhoods, their relation (or not) to smart growth – I mean, it’s as good a reason as any, right?

So I took the top 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament, tracked down the location of the gyms in which they play home games, and ran Walk Score to get rough values for the walkability of each neighborhood.  Here’s the ranking:

  1. Georgetown     98
  2. Kentucky         95
  3. Wisconsin         91
  4. Vanderbilt        85
  5. Kansas State    77
  6. Kansas             77
  7. Pittsburgh         72
  8. Syracuse          72
  9. Purdue             60
  10. Ohio State        54
  11. Villanova          52
  12. West Virginia    51
  13. Maryland          48
  14. New Mexico    48
  15. Baylor              34
  16. Duke                29

Walk Score considers anything scoring 90 or above to be a “walker’s paradise.”  Above 70 is “very” walkable.  Below 50 is car-dependant.  (When I’m in Durham, I do walk to Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium from the hotel, but I guess there really isn’t a lot else in walking distance.)

  the Hoyas play in DC's Verizon Center (by: NCinDC, creative commons license)  Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium (by: Live4Emma(L4S), creative commons license)

And then I thought, well, some schools have off-campus arenas (like the downtown Verizon Center where my Hoyas play), and others put their arenas in strange corners, so maybe it’s not entirely fair.  To address this, I also ran Walk Score for central points on the main campuses, in each case using the admissions office as my locale.  I then averaged the two scores.  This helped Syracuse and hurt Villanova:

  1. Georgetown     94
  2. Wisconsin         93
  3. Vanderbilt        88
  4. Kentucky         86
  5. Syracuse          79
  6. Pittsburgh         75
  7. Kansas State    74
  8. Ohio State        68
  9. Kansas             64
  10. Purdue             64
  11. West Virginia    62
  12. Maryland          60
  13. New Mexico    60
  14. Baylor              51
  15. Villanova          45
  16. Duke                39

  the University of Wisconsin (by: Shih-Pei Chang, creative commons license)  the U. of Kentucky, foreground, and Lexington, KY (by: Tombrarian, creative commons license)

Assuming all of these teams made the final sixteen (which of course they won’t), four in each of the regions where the NCAA has placed them, here’s how the official brackets would play out if results were based on walkable urbanism:


Wisconsin beats Kentucky, West Virginia beats New Mexico.  Wisconsin then beats WVU to advance to the Final Four.


Kansas beats Maryland, Georgetown beats Ohio State.  Georgetown then beats Kansas to advance to the Final Four.

Vanderbilt's Lance Goulbourne last year (by: Christopher Evans)South

This is by far the weakest bracket for urbanism (and probably for basketball, too).  Purdue beats Duke, Baylor edges Villanova.  Purdue then beats Baylor to advance.


Vanderbilt beats Syracuse, Pitt squeaks by Kansas State.  Vanderbilt beats Pitt to advance.

Final Four

Georgetown beats Vanderbilt easily, Wisconsin trounces Purdue.  Your national championship then features the Hoyas versus the Badgers.  Georgetown has the stronger arena for smart growth, but Wisconsin has slightly more urban destinations close to its campus.  In a game for the ages, your urbanist winner is Georgetown – the arena is downtown on top of several Metro lines, walkable from my office and many others, and the main campus is in DC’s oldest and most walkable neighborhood.  Hoyas win!

But wait, where’s North Carolina?  Comcast Center, where the Maryland Terrapins play (by: Don Mitchell, U-MD)Seriously, I must have made a mistake .  How could I leave out the Heels?  I’ve looked all over the NCAA brackets and can’t find them anywhere.  I don’t understand, is it a typo?  Must be in here somewhere . . .

Incidentally, if you’re curious (I was), here’s how the top 16 seeded teams stack up by the NCAA’s official graduation success rate, based on the most recent official data:

  1. Duke                92%
  2. Villanova          92%
  3. Vanderbilt        85%
  4. Georgetown     82%
  5. Wisconsin         78%
  6. Pittsburgh         75%
  7. Kansas             73%
  8. Kansas State    62%
  9. Purdue             64%
  10. Ohio State        60%
  11. Syracuse          55%
  12. West Virginia    44%
  13. New Mexico    43%
  14. Baylor              36%
  15. Kentucky         31%
  16. Maryland          08% (not a typo)

UNC, had their team been good enough to make the tournament this year, would have ranked decently (75%) on graduation success, by the way.  At least they have that to go with their trophy from last year.  The Walk Score for the DeanDome, though, is only 38.  The admissions office scores a much better 78, bringing the average up to 58.  Not good enough to advance against stronger competition, just like real life this year.