No matter what happens at the Pac-10 men's tournament later this week, the beaten-down league should have three teams at the NCAA basketball dance and the University of Washington has one of them. The Huskies have won their recent four games — three of them on the road — by an average of 15 points. The Dawgs will end non-NCAA-tourney competition no worse than 21-10 and could finish 23-10 without even winning the league tournament. A Pac-10-tourney victory, of course, assures a spot amid the national brackets.
Much has been made of the diminished condition of the men's-basketball circuit, absent for weeks amid the top-25 rankings in either national poll. Human computer John Clayton, for example, during his weekly uber-authoritative sports broadcast on KIRO radio prior to the Huskies' 82-70 win at Oregon State Saturday (March 6), dismissed the league as unworthy of having any but its tournament winner as part of March Madness.
But the national tournament actually hosts 40 entrants beyond the top 25. During recent seasons, the Pac-10 routinely sent half its conference to the Big Dance. As the league's current young teams mature, it's reasonable to predict that the Pac-10 will be back among top-25 competitors (the Huskies, with just one senior and three juniors, were ranked amid the elite teams during the early part of the present season).
One of the best arguments for shunning nine of the Pac-10 from the NCAA tournament has to do with league teams' poor performances against good non-conference competition. But those games were played months ago. A claim could be made that Pac-10 teams actually have improved since the first of the year. If so, their mediocre win-loss records could be attributed to parity of talent.
In any case, Washington should join Cal and Arizona State at the NCAA tournament.
"Should,' of course, scarcely means "will." Many no doubt believe just as likely a scenario would be for Washington State, the lowest Pac-10 bracket seed, to beat Oregon Wednesday and proceed to breeze through three more playoff games and emerge &mdash at 20-14 — as the class of the conference.