“So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
For the Washington Huskies, the old line from Dumb and Dumber is a bit extreme. Surely the UW has a better shot at the tournament — and you know which tournament we’re talking about, for there is really only one — than Lloyd did with Mary.
The Huskies are entering the teeth of their schedule, starting Saturday afternoon at Oregon. Three times in the next four games, and four in the next six, they’ll be playing Oregon, Arizona or UCLA. But at least that represents opportunity, and that’s what Washington needs right now, because it’s on the outside looking in at the tournament.
If somebody had said Washington would be 4-2 in the Pac-12 entering this game, Husky fans probably would have been pleased. They likely would have figured that meant a win at WSU, a split in the Bay Area, a sweep at home against Colorado and Utah, and a loss at Oregon State (or a loss to WSU and a victory over OSU; they’re about of equal caliber).
Of course, that isn’t the road that’s been traveled. When Washington became just the second Pac-12 team in the last quarter-century to start 3-0 on the road, that ignited hopes for something big. Then came a grinder of a win against Colorado, and just when it all seemed set up, the Huskies go and lose to two teams that are surely second-division fodder in the conference.
Gut-level, here’s what I think Washington needs the rest of the way, prior to the Pac-12 tournament: The Huskies are 12-7 with six combined remaining against Oregon, UCLA and Arizona. I’d say they need to win two of those six, which seems do-able. (And obviously, it would help immeasurably if one of them is on the road.)
The other six are against Arizona State (two), USC (two) and one each against OSU and WSU. Washington needs to go 5-1 there, which would get the UW to 19-12 (and 11-7) entering the Pac-12 tournament. At that point, it would likely need at least a victory in Las Vegas, although that’s so far distant it’s difficult to project.
For now, these are the hurdles the Huskies must overcome:
— They don’t have a marquee win. OK, they beat Colorado (13-6) last week, and the Buffs’ RPI computer ranking is at 18-20. But that number seems a bit fraudulent (there are always a few head-scratching RPI examples), given that you have to go all the way to No. 48 to find another six-loss team, and CU is far from a lock to make the NCAA tournament itself. (Having said that, I give the Buffs a good chance to steady themselves after the crushing disappointment at Arizona Jan. 3 and make a run, which is only to the Huskies’ good.)
— They’ve just blown one of the arguments that might have resonated with the selection committee. There will be a committeeman assigned to provide details of Pac-12 teams to his cohorts, and one of those particulars could have been: Washington struggled in November and December because of injuries, and this is a different team now. But that element loses cachet with losses to teams like Utah and Oregon State.
— They’ve been all over the map. Yes, the Huskies have worthwhile wins on the road over teams like Cal and Stanford. But they’ve also lost four games — three at home — to teams with RPIs over 120. That’s a heavy burden to overcome. And one thing the committee hates is inconsistency; it’s going to create a bracket, and it wants to have confidence in the teams it’s rewarding.
It’s not the most optimistic of pictures, but it’s not utter desperation, either. Best thing for the Huskies is, it’s in their hands.