Washington Huskies: The Toast of the West Coast
by Max Powers, Doc's Basketball Handicapper - 03/03/2009
It appeared to be a typical year in the Pac-10 during the lead up to the season, as most experts had penciled in UCLA for the top spot in the conference. This came with good reason, as the Bruins had dominated the league, winning three straight conference titles and the Bruins had made three straight trips to the Final Four. UCLA appeared to be on their way to a fourth conference title after winning four straight games out of the gate, but things have not been the same since their loss to Arizona State on Jan. 17.
They have struggled to score points in some games and their once-revered defense has vanished and teams are consistently hitting the high 70s in points against UCLA during conference play. With the Bruins recent struggles, once team has jumped them in the standings and that is the Washington Huskies. Although the Huskies are led by a freshman in scoring, this team is just one victory away from the Pac-10 title. The following will examine the rise to the top and what to expect come tournament time.
Coach Lorenzo Romar has already shown that he can recruit talent and he usually has one of the most athletics teams in the west. Most of us can remember his teams from three/four years ago that featured current NBA players in Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson. Twice this team made it to the Sweet 16 but could not advance any further then that despite being a No. 1 seed in 2005. But since 2006, the Huskies have fallen on hard times and have not made the tournament in two straight years. Many of Romar's starters had left and critics began to wonder if he was the right man for the Washington job. One thing in his favor was that he is an alum of Washington and thus was given a longer grace period then other coaches might have gotten.
This appeared to be another rough season for the Huskies, as they started off cold, losing three of their first five games this season including an embarrassing loss to Portland. But after back-to-back losses in Kansas City to Kansas and Florida, this team found their grove and rattled off nine straight wins and 13 wins in 14 games. Their only loss came against California at Bank of American Arena in triple overtime. This team has remained consistent since December and now is just one victory away from claiming their first Pac-10 title since 1984. They have already clinched a share of the top spot and need to beat Washington State in Seattle on Saturday for the outright title. They will be a heavy favorite to accomplish this since they already beat Wazzou by 20 points in Pullman earlier this season.
So what has caused a remarkable turnaround this season from the start of the season? Much of their success is due to the play of freshman guard Isaiah Thomas. No, not that Isaiah Thomas (no relation). Even though he shares a name with the Detroit Pistons great, that is not all they share. Their games are very similar and the young star has become a great leader for this Husky team. Thomas currently leads this team in points. However, he is just one of many key components that make this team successful. Along with him has been old reliable Jon Brockman, a senior power forward that carried this team through rough times the past two years. He is currently averaging a double-double and is a beast inside the paint. This team is starting to play Husky basketball once again this year and the squad is averaging 80 point per game. This includes four players averaging more than 11 ½ points per game and this frustrates opposing defense as any one of four players can beat their opponent one on one. The have great balance of size and speed and when you throw Brockman in the middle they can match-up with anybody in the country.
That being said, what are the prospects for the upcoming NCAA Tournament? Despite winning the Pac-10, they will likely not get higher then a No. 4 seed unless they are run the table in the Pac-10 Tournament next week at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. How can that be? The conference does not get much respect as a result of a weak conference RPI ranking that currently sits in the fifth position nationally, just ahead of the SEC. This doesn't make much sense to me and I believe the top five teams have much better talent then the top five teams in the Big Ten, the No. 2 conference in the RPI rankings. The bottom of the Pac-10 is weak and they did not perform well in the non-conference portion of the season and, thus, the entire conference has suffered. I feel the Pac-10 will get five teams in and all will be seeded from No. 5 through No. 9. That means that they will have tough first round draws that include some strong conference mid-major champions.
Will any of these teams be able to make it out of the first weekend? The Huskies have an excellent opportunity to be playing in Portland and that will give them a major home crowd edge. Assuming they take care of business this week against Wazzou and make a strong showing in the Pac-10 Tournament, they could move up to a No. 3 seed and that would all but guarantee them first round tournament games in Portland.
The Huskies have been a major surprise this year in the Pac-10 and are just starting to get noticed. Coach Romar is building a solid foundation in Seattle and appears to be well equipped for success for the next couple of years. A deep run in the tournament will only increase their recruiting efforts and that is something I expect to happen. This team has proven they can win on the road and I would not be afraid to lay the small number that they will likely see once the tournament rolls around in two weeks.
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