The Pac-10/12 regular season champion has never been excluded from the NCAA tournament, but after losing their last two games, the Huskies could set a precedent. Here's an overview of why UW should -- and should not -- be invited to the Big Dance.
-They are the Pac-12 regular season champions. Never, not once since the league's creation in 1953, has the regular season champ not been invited to the NCAA tournament.
-They were on a roll, at least until recently. Before suffering back-to-back losses to UCLA and Oregon State yesterday, the Huskies had won 13 of their last 15. A strong finish is usually an indicator of a team capable of wreaking havoc in March Madness
-They have more talent than most anybody else. On paper, UW should be contenders for the Final Four. Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross are future NBA lottery picks (perhaps very near future), and C.J. Wilcox and Aziz N'Diaye also have pro potential. Other than the likes of Kentucky, Syracuse, Duke, and North Carolina, there aren't many teams with so many prospects of such high caliber.
-The bubble is weak. Thus far, the non-power conferences have largely been sewn-up by the regular season champs, with only the Mountain West and West Coast Conference likely to earn multiple bids. The Huskies are a marginal team, but the margin for error this year is relatively wide.
The strikes against UW:-They haven't beaten a quality opponent. The Huskies have just one win against teams in the top 75 RPI. Granted, their games against Marquette, Duke, and even Cal (the only other respectable Pac-12 team) were close, but they never got to light-up that victory cigar. Their only marquee road win was against Arizona -- a mediocre team at best -- in the middle of the season.
-They can't shoot free throws. The team shot just 12 of 26 from the charity stripe in yesterday's shameful loss to Oregon State (including four gut-wrenching misses down the stretch by Wroten) and are shooting just 61 percent on the season as a team. Those misses make the difference in close NCAA tournament games.
-They don't pass the eye test. The Huskies might look good on paper (and their 14-4 conference record is the best in school history), but watch an entire game and they often look downright atrocious. There are stretches where Tony Wroten appears unstoppable, where Terrence Ross can seemingly score at-will, and here C.J. Wilcox can't miss a jump shot. But there are also ugly periods where the Huskies simply cannot seem to get the ball through the basket. The last ten minutes of the ugly UCLA loss (when the outright Pac-12 championship was on the line) is a prime example, as was the entire first half of yesterday's Pac-12 tournament implosion. When UCLA came to Hec Ed, ESPN pundit Doug Gottlieb called UW "the single most frustrating team you're going to watch this year." That was on February 12. It was as true then as it is now.
-They have more talent than most anybody else. And yet, here they are, on a bubble that could very well burst.
-The Pac-12 sucks. It has been said many times many ways, and it's absolutely true. The conference simply cannot hang with the Big East, Big 12, SEC, etc.
Where does that leave Washington?
Where does that leave Washington?
If other bubble teams from the power conferences crap the bed like the Huskies, the Dawgs still have a decent shot. If the likes of Tennessee, Texas, Northwestern, and UConn win a few games in their respective conference tournaments, the Huskies will almost certainly end up on the outside looking in.
Honestly, the Huskies probably deserve the ignominy of the NIT. Lorenzo Romar has coached this team to the best of his ability, but unfortunately that just hasn't been good enough. Far too often this UW squad plays uninspired, forgets how to rebound, and settles for contested three-point shots early in the shot clock. On any given night, they could come out and upset one of the top-ranked teams in the country, but they are equally likely to lose to mediocre opponents like Oregon State.
Perhaps the best solution, however, might be for the tournament selection committee to put the Huskies' fate in their own hands: give them a berth in the field of 68 in one of the new-ish first-round play-in games. If the Huskies can perform on a neutral court with their season on the line (something they haven't done since last year) they advance to the round of 64. If not, they go home and try again next year.