Non-Conference Season Preview: How Many Wins Equals a Successful Start? Vote Now!

Ryan Petitt /
Ryan Petitt / /

The Huskies start their 11-game non-conference schedule this Friday night. What kind of record can fans expect from the team during this first part of the season? And, what should we be happy with?

Last season: Starting the 2008/09 season with only modest expectations, the Huskies went 9-3 in their non-conference slate (10-3 if you count the midseason game vs. Seattle U.), before going 14-4 to win the Pac-10 championship. Two of those non-conference losses were to Kansas and Florida, teams (arguably) stronger than any on this year’s non-conference schedule.

This season: The Huskies non-conference schedule this year isn’t particularly rigorous. In order, the Dawgs have Wright State, Belmont, Portland State, San Jose State, Montana, Texas Tech, Cal State Northridge, Georgetown, Portland, Texas A&M, and San Francisco. (We also have Seattle U. in late January in the midst of the Pac-10 season.)

The two thorniest looking games: At this point, the two Husky opponents generally considered the toughest are Georgetown (December 12 in Anaheim) and Texas A&M (December 22 at home).

Georgetown is currently ranked #21 in the ESPN/USA Today poll, and has one of the best big men in the country, Greg Monroe. Texas A&M, though unranked, is expected to compete for a solid finish in the Big 12, and has made the NCAA Tournament the past four seasons.

We’re not playing world-beaters, but we aren’t playing losers either: Seven of our eleven opponents finished in the top half of their conference last season (Wright State, Belmont, Portland State, Portland, Montana, CS Northridge, and Texas A&M), and two that didn’t are Georgetown and Big 12 opponent Texas Tech (December 3 in Lubbock, TX).

Three games that could be tougher on the court than on paper: There’s no telling when the Huskies might come out flat on a given day and leave themselves open for an upset, or when the Dawgs’ opponent will come out at and play out of its mind, but these are three I’m uneasy about:

Portland State (November 15 at home) came from 16 points back in the final six minutes, and almost shocked the Huskies at home last season in a game the Dawgs salvaged by holding on 84-83.

Cal State Northridge (Dec. 6 at home) returns several key players from their squad that won the Big West conference last year and led Memphis with eight minutes to go in their first round NCAA Tournament game before falling by 11.

Portland (Dec. 19 at home) beat the Dawgs last season in the first game of the season. They know they can play with us and will be anxious to make it two in a row.

What kind of record can fans expect after the first 11 games?: It’s hard not to look at these 11 games, 10 against teams regarded as inferior to the Huskies, and fully anticipate being 11-0 or 10-1 at the end of this stretch.

While that’s possible, it’s more likely, I think, that the Huskies will lose three or four of these 11 games. With such a young team, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll beat Georgetown and win at Texas Tech and beat Texas A&M at home and not drop even one of these other games.

We’re a young team with a huge ceiling, but if I were betting, I’d say 8-3 is what I expect. (And, for what it’s worth, if I’m off by a game, I think 7-4 is much more likely than 9-2.)

So, how many non-conference wins = success?: Entering the season ranked thirteenth in the nation means the Huskies will be defending that mark of distinction as long as they can hold onto it. They’ll be a target for their opponents every time out, since for many of these teams, the Dawgs will be the best they’ll play against all season.

That said, it’s entirely possible that these Huskies could lose three or four of these non-conference games without it signaling that the season is doomed at all. If the Huskies are sitting at, say, 8-3 when they host Oregon State on December 31st, they’ll likely still be ranked, or be close to it, and have proved that they’re a winning team, while also seeing that they’re not invincible. For my money, I’d say that would count as a successful start to the 2009/10 season.