Husky men are putting themselves into an NCAA tournament squeeze

The season had been so promising, but recent weeks have changed the picture.

The season had been so promising, but recent weeks have changed the picture.

It’s difficult to decide which direction looks worse for the University of Washington men’s basketball team. Looking backward reveals an 11-game skein in which the Dawgs won five and lost six, including two of the regular-season-ending three at home.

The forward view may actually be worse. The Huskies play Washington State on Thursday (March 10) during the Pac-10 tournament and the third Coug-Dawg contest in five weeks may not be any more charming than the first two, which resulted in seven- and 11-point home-and-away Wazzu wins. Even beating Washington State might not be enough to earn the Huskies an invitation to the NCAA tournament, a berth that seemed assured at midseason.

How did this happen to a team that, two months ago, rode into league play with a steady defense, a deep bench, and a fearsome offense producing NBA-like numbers? Check out the key stat from Saturday’s 62-60 home loss to USC Saturday (March 5). It graphically indicates precisely what fans witnessed during an agonizing night when the Dawgs never led.

The statistic reads 2-for-16. Washington threw up (no double-entendre intended) three-point tries 16 times. If they’d made three of them (and if the game otherwise had been played the same) they would have won by a point.

Speaking of points, here’s one: High-school teams can sink more than two of 16 from beyond the long stripe. Blindfolded contest participants in half-time diversions probably would shoot better than .125 from the arc.

The Huskies at times passed, shot and “defended” as though they were wearing invisible blindfolds. Coming off a claw-back win against UCLA Thursday, the defense-challenged Dawgs let the Trojans dominate their way to early and persistent double-digits leads. A UW club once accustomed to putting up 45 or more per half had just 26 midway through and trailed by 10.

Husky mentor Lorenzo Romar told reporters during the solemnity of post-game interviews that he expects toward the end of a season that his guys will be “playing pretty consistent basketball.” They are. The Dawgs have been playing consistently second-tier Pac-10 basketball. Their 11-7, third-place conference finish includes losses to six of their nine league opponents, five of the six happening since Feb. 3.

Fortunately the Huskies still enjoy a relatively high estimation as far as the Ratings Percentage Index, a statistical analysis favored by representatives of the NCAA-tourney selection committee. The Dawgs obviously would qualify for March Madness with victory in the upcoming Pac-10 tournament, meaning an improbable three wins during a 48-hour stretch. But a Thursday loss to Wazzu would change the Dawgs’ current R.P.I. rank of 45 to something more indicative of R.I.P.

In any case, the R.P.I. must not place much weight on teams’ inability to lead games early, a detail not lost on Isaiah Thomas, the star guard who led the Huskies with a modest 16 points. “We need to start games and halves off better than we have,” he said after the latest loss. “We get ourselves down and then we always come back but, in this instance, it was a little too late.”

With that summation Thomas on behalf of his teammates could have been looking at the season in either direction, neither seeming all that appealing as far as NCAA-tournament aspirations go.

Maybe Thomas should instead have a gander back to last year, when he was most-valuable player while leading the Huskies to the Pac-10 tournament championship and being a key partner in two wins at the Big Dance.


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