After missing on their chance for an NCAA Tournament bid, the Washington Basketball team can now focus on the NIT
The National Invitational Tournament is a great competition for NCAA basketball in its own right. It is not the NCAA Tournament. And as such, the NIT is overshadowed by the mania known as March Madness in NCAA basketball circles. But the competition delivers electrifying entertainment and compelling competition in its own right. Right now, after an early departure from the Pac-12 conference tournament, this Washington Basketball team is in need of both.
With no NCAA Tournament invitation in the mail, the Washington Huskies did not last beyond round one in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament. And while that allowed fans and sports writers alike a moment to pause and appreciate the incredible season, it’s not over. Not yet anyways.
Washington NIT history
The last appearance of the Washington Basketball team happened at the end of the 2015-2016 season. In that year, the Huskies finished the season 19-15 and advanced to the second round. There, they ran aground of the San Diego State. The Huskies lost that game by the score of 93-78. Still, that contest featured the last game of senior Andrew Andrews for the Washington Huskies.
Not conincidentally, Andrew Andrewa made the news this years as he was signed to a contract with the Philadelphia 76ers and subsequently moved to the Delaware 87ers. Two other Washington players, Marquese Chriss (pick 8 Sacramento Kings) and Dejounte Murray (pick 59, San Antonio Spurs) defected to the NBA. That NIT contest also boasted a technical foul by then freshman Matisse Thybulle for six men on the basketball court. Fellow freshman, Noah Dickerson, did not join his teammates due to curfew violations.
New NIT memories
Current players from that game include Thybulle, whose 20 minutes yielded four points, two rebounds, one assist. David Crisp played 15 minutes for zero points three rebounds and one assist. Noah Dickerson did not play. Now those young players must find a way to remake those memories into something positive.
The latest NIT Bracket has the Washington Huskies as a 4-seed facing off against the five-seed and last NIT opponent San Diego State. The irony of that is the Washington Huskies are now the defensive standout, with Coach Hopkins winning Pac-12 Coach of the Year with renewed emphasis on defense. And the Washington Basketball team boasts the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in Matisse Thybulle. And it would be sweet revenge indeed to win a round one contest against the last NIT opponent this Washington Basketball team faced. This Washington team has an opportunity to win some games in the NIT.
No sure wins
San Diego State has a lot of big bodies, and make ample use of them. When comparing similar opponents, Washington was 3-1. San Diego State was 1-2. But as the Huskies cooled off as the season concluded, the Aztecs heated up. Currently, they are on an 8-0 run and have beaten nationally-ranked Nevada twice over that span of time.
Two of the team’s top scorers stand at 6-foot-10: freshman Jalen McDaniels and senior Malik Pope. The only player Washington has on their roster at or taller is center Sam Timmons. The obvious strategy to defeat a taller opponent on the basketball court is to outflank them. Simply post up often enough to ensure that the defense is honest, and then rain down three-point shooting. But that perimeter shot didn’t develop quickly enough for the Huskies. In fact, in the last two losses, the Huskies failed to crack 30 percent perimeter shooting.
What to look for in NIT play
In previous wins against larger opponents, the Washington Huskies successfully ran their offense through the phenomenal play of 6-foot-8 forward Noah Dickerson. The team must find a way to renew that critical element of their offense which drives the entire machine.
Defensively, the Huskies must play energetically and with lots of chatter. Matisse Thybulle has to be very active disrupting passing lanes. And the team must get enough low-foul quality minutes from their own big man Sam Timmons to allow Dickerson time to rest on the bench. Dickerson can hold his own against much bigger opponents. But a San Diego State team with two solid bigs on the court can overwhelm even Noah.
NIT holds the key to next season
For now, the Washington Basketball team can heal and regroup. Competition resumes soon. And in this year’s NIT, it will be a contest of wills as much as skills. How badly do these Huskies want to advance? How much are they willing to commit to achieving their best? The NIT may not be the NCAA Tournament. But it is likely the better of the two stages for this young and improved team. A good showing can be the springboard into an even better 2018-2019 season.
A bad showing can be equally impactful. It could build a barrier for progress. The loss to San Diego State and the subsequent defection to the NBA of two key players hurt the Washington Basketball program. So the hope is to play competitively. Walk in and walk out with heads held high. #TougherTogether has been a wonderful rallying cry for the team. Now, it must become more. Each player and coach must reach down deep within and find a way to not let one another down. Do that, and the way to success next season will be a much smoother ride.