When the Huskies were 5-5 in the non-conference season, including a blowout loss at home to South Dakota State, I figured the chances of the Huskies making the NCAA tournament were pretty much done. After nice victories over Oregon and Oregon State, things were looking up. But, when the Huskies were easily dispatched by Colorado and struggled to beat lowly Utah, I have to admit my frustrations got the best of me.
They were 8-6, had an RPI in the high 90s, and it just didn’t seem like they had what it took to get their act together. But, since then, they have rattled off wins in 6 of their last 7 games. Since losing 4 of 6 in the fall, they are now 9-2 in the their last 11 games.
Now, many of these have not been pretty wins. They only scored 57 points in barely hanging on against Utah. They allowed Seattle U to get within striking distance. They had to come from behind against Washington State, allowed Arizona State to make a late run on them, and gave up a 10 point lead to Arizona before Wroten saved the day with a final second block.
But, as they say, the scoreboard is all that counts. Wins are wins and you don’t get extra credit for style points…or maybe you do when your fate is decided by the NCAA tournament committee. But, the Huskies have put themselves back into familiar territory the last three seasons…The NCAA tournament bubble.
But, the Huskies still have their work cut out for them. Their current RPI is still at 72. They need that to get into the low-50’s to have a realistic shot of being selected. With the weakness of the Pac-12 (rated #9 conference in RPI) and the lack of marquee win opportunities, the Huskies only real shot at making the Big Dance is to just keep on winning. The Huskies non-conference RPI was 124, which is not exactly going to wow the committee. If they keep on winning, their overall RPI will slowly creep up. But, there are not any other opportunities to really make it jump up. Other than this road win over Arizona (RPI 85), there really are not any big games left to use to impress people. Their two best opportunities are a road game against Oregon (RPI 53) and a return home game against Arizona.
The key here is that they simply can not afford to lose any games to teams like USC or Arizona State or Washington State. They may be able to afford one or two more losses from here on out, but it can not be to a team with an RPI in the mid-150’s. At 7-2 in conference, things are looking good for the Huskies. The schedule is favorable with no more games against California, Stanford, or Colorado. They get USC twice, UCLA twice, Oregon and Oregon State on the road, and the Arizona’s coming to Seattle. The only difficult part for the Huskies will be finishing the season with three straight on the road. On the other hand, for all of the well documented road woes they have had in recent years, they are 3-1 in their last four road games. In addition, since road wins count as 1.6, while home games count as 0.6, the more they win on the road the better.
All of their remaining games are winnable. If the Huskies can go 7-2 in the second half of the conference season and finish 14-4 (the same record they won the conference with in 2009) and finish the regular season at 21-9, it would be hard to keep the Huskies out of the NCAA tournament. On the other hand, simply going 20-10, given the weakness of the Pac-12, the lack of a marquee win, and their own relatively weak non-conference season would put them in a very difficult position come Selection Sunday.
It hasn’t been easy this season, but they do seem to be pulling together as a team. They simply can not afford any more lapses. They can not afford to come out slow to USC or have a cold-shooting night against Arizona State. There is very little room to spare at this stage. But, they have clawed their way back into the conversation with these grind them out games and after their woeful start to the season, that is all I could have asked for at this stage.