The Huskies are 18-7 overall and 10-3 in the Pac-12. If you had told me that they would be 10-3 in the Pac-12 at this stage in the beginning of the season, I’d have been ecstatic. But, this is no ordinary season. Well, perhaps I should rephrase that, this is no ordinary season over the normal history of the heralded Pac-10. But, this has become all-to-common in the last three seasons for the conference, where East Coast pundits speculate on whether the conference will be the first ever Big-Six Power Conference to have only one bid.
The Pac-12 is ranked #10 in conference RPI behind conferences such as the Mountain West, Atlantic-10, Missouri Valley, and Conference USA. In fact, they are just 2/10,000ths of a point above the West Coast Conference for 11th. Joe Lunardi currently has the Huskies on his list of FIRST FOUR OUT behind Minnesota (RPI 61) and Cincinnati (RPI 91) and sitting out with teams like Belmont (RPI 79) and Northwestern (RPI 43). Lunardi currently has Arizona in (11th seed) along with California (9 seed), but no Huskies or Oregon (NEXT FOUR OUT).
So, here the Huskies stand on the very edge of the bubble. For Darnell Gant, he is on the very knife’s edge of making Washington history as being the first ever player to play in four consecutive NCAA tournaments (or playing in four period). If he doesn’t make it, no one in this current group will, except maybe Scott Suggs next year.
Their current RPI is #62. This is at the very edge of what you could reasonably expect to earn an at-large bid. But, there are still five conference games left, plus the Pac-12 tournament. There are still opportunities to earn their way into the NCAA tournament. If they keep winning, that low-60’s RPI will rise into the low-50’s, but probably not much higher. So, they will need to rely on a few other factors as well.
25% of their RPI score is based on winning percentage. This is something they can control. But, they don’t have a lot of opportunities to get it much higher and lots of chances to lower it. At 17-8, their current winning percentage is 68.0%. If they were to win 4 of the next 5 in conference play and go 1-1 in the Pac-12 tournament, it would be 22-9 and their WP would rise to just 70.9%. However, if they only manage to win 4 games the rest of the way, they will end up with a record of 21-10 and their winning percentage of 67.7%.
25% of their RPI is based on the winning percentage of their opponent’s opponents. This will not change drastically since everyone the Huskies play from here on out will have played other Pac-12 teams and thus it will basically even out.
50% of the RPI is based on the winning percentage of their opponents directly. This will most definitely change. The current records of their opponents is 332-266 (.538). The Huskies still have to play Arizona State (8-17), Arizona (18-8), Washington State (12-12), UCLA (13-11), and USC (6-20). These teams have a combined 59-68 record (.468). Also, by the time they play those last three teams, those records could be even worse. So, the overall winning percentage of their opponents may drop by the time this is all said and done.
So, it may be difficult in this weak conference for the Huskies to dramatically raise their RPI above its current level even if they keep on winning. Perhaps the only hope for the Huskies to rise in the RPI is not so much to raise their own RPI value, but hope teams around them lose. When you look at some of the teams around them that they might be able to surpass you have Minnesota (61, 17-8), Akron (60, 17-7), Northern Iowa (52, 16-10), Purdue (56, 16-9), St. Josephs (48, 16-10), among others.
The good news for the Huskies right now is that they are 2nd in the conference in RPI. Granted it is a close 2nd with Arizona (RPI 66) and Oregon (RPI 67). They also have the advantage of being tied for 1st with California in the conference standings. If they can maintain that position, it would probably be good news for them. Perception is just as important as RPI for the NCAA selection committee. A 1st place tie with California would certainly bode well for them. A strong finish in conference after a tough non-conference start would look good. If they can make the case that this young team just took time to gel in the early season and got it together late, that is a compelling story.
Making some noise in the Pac-12 tournament would also help. The committee needs to believe that the Huskies are peaking at the right now to give them a chance over other bubble teams like North Carolina State (RPI 51), Cincinnati (RPI 91), or Xavier (RPI 57). But, perhaps their most serious competition is with Arizona. Their RPI and records are nearly identical. But, Arizona is a more compelling team nationally and we should not underestimate the importance of that. ESPN and CBS will have some say in the matter, if not officially, than subconsciously. If the conference is indeed destined for just two bids, then the Huskies must make the case it should be them above Arizona.
The best way to put that story to bed is for the Huskies to beat the Wildcats in Seattle this weekend and take the season sweep. That win will not only help UW’s resume, but will set the Wildcats back significantly.
By my calculations, the Washington Huskies need to win 5 more games to make the NCAA tournament. If they were to win 5 more games, they would have 22 wins, which should most definitely pass the eye-test for the NCAA selection committee. Those five games could come in any combination, but five seems like the minimum.
- If they win the last 5 and tie for the conference title, they could afford to lose the 1st round game in the Pac-12 tournament. (22-9)
- If they go 4-1 in the last 5, then they will finish 2nd or 3rd in the conference and need to win at least one in the Pac-12 tournament. (22-10)
- If they go 3-2 in the last 5, then it seems likely they would have to win two in the conference tournament and at least make the conference title game. A loss to Cal in that final would then be forgivable. (22-11) But, depending on how things shake out, they risk getting the 5 seed and needing to play 4 games in four days.
- If they go 2-3 in the last 5, then they would definitely need to win 4 games in four days to make the NCAA tournament with the conference’s automatic bid. Winning three in the tournament and making the final would put them at 22-12, which might not be enough this year.