Not Invited to the Tournament. That's not actually what NIT stands for, but it might as well be for the UW hoops squad. They suffered the ignominy of being the first Pac-10/12 regular season champion left out of the Big Dance, and ended up instead as the top seed in the inconsequential NIT. Tonight, however, they have a shot at redemption.
The perennial joke about the NIT is that the champion can only lay claim to being the 69th-best team in the country, since 68 others were picked ahead of them during March Madness. Taking home the trophy is a dubious honor. A victory against the Ducks, on the other hand, offers a measure of satisfaction for the Husky faithful. Beating bitter rivals is enjoyable even if it happens in an otherwise utterly forgettable postseason competition.
The Huskies split their games with Oregon earlier this year, with each team winning big on their home courts. The UW players are still bitter about the 82-57 shellacking they received in Eugene.
"We owe them something," Darnell Gant told reporters after Friday's lopsided win over Northwestern. "They got us good at their place and no one has forgotten that."
A loss would seal this as the most disappointing campaign in the Romar era (this is his first NIT at UW, and the fourth time in 10 seasons his Huskies haven't gone dancing). It would also seriously tarnish the legacy of NBA-bound stars Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross. Wroten has proven to be a brilliant individual player who still struggles to get his teammates involved, while Ross routinely makes spectacular plays but seems to disappear in clutch moments. The Huskies will need both in top form this evening.
Despite their regular season conference success, Washington probably deserved a tourney snub. They only prevailed once in close game on the road against a decent team (Arizona), and choked hard in their last two games against UCLA and Oregon State. But defeating the Ducks -- a team that improved markedly over the course of the season -- in the year's final game at Hec Ed would at least end things on high note. To borrow a phrase from football season: beat Oregon, nothing else matters.