The Huskies, who have had periods of roaring success under Romar, are on track to miss the NCAA tournament for a fourth consecutive year.
Five weeks ago, after Washington dismissed Robert Upshaw from its basketball team, I dialed up an NCAA basketball committee member to get thoughts on how that group might parse the Huskies’ season down the road.
You know, on the premise that sometimes teams draw strength from adversity and Washington could rally after the departure of its shot-swatting center.
Mmm, well, hold that thought.
Far from rallying, the Huskies have shriveled, and at 15-13 they actually could finish with a losing record after spending Christmas break undefeated.
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Post-Upshaw, and cramped by a succession of injuries, the Huskies have allowed nine opponents to combine to shoot .534. Nobody figured them to play defense like they did with Upshaw, but did it have to become an autobahn to the rim without him?
All this has stoked discussion about coach Lorenzo Romar, on the griddle in what looms as a fourth consecutive season out of the NCAA tournament bracket.
What the Huskies are enduring is, if not unprecedented, at least highly unusual – an entrenched program that had periods of roaring success followed by several in the soup lines.
In the power-five conferences, there are 18 coaches who have been on their jobs for eight years or more. Five, prospectively including Romar, have had stretches of four years without an NCAA tournament appearance, but three of those came at the start of a tenure.
Only Herb Sendek of Arizona State had an NCAA season (2009) followed by four without and was around to talk about it the next year. In other words, it’s rare that a program builds to a high profile, then pretty much falls off the map for such an extended time.
An examination of Romar’s time here is nuanced, more complicated than some are making it.
With a backdrop of Pac-12/10 regular-season and tournament titles and a No. 1 seed once in the NCAA bracket, it’s said that he has outshone any other UW coach in at least a half-century.
True, but the trappings were different. Unlike his predecessors, Romar started his regime in a renovated Hec Edmundson Pavilion, not the glorified airplane hangar he played in here under Marv Harshman. And he benefited from a gusher of Puget Sound-area high-school talent through many of his 13 seasons.
Each of Romar’s six NCAA teams here was heavily influenced by local players, people such as Brandon Roy and Isaiah Thomas. It didn’t diminish the accomplishment. It just made it easier.
The spigot began slowing to a trickle after Thomas (then Tony Wroten Jr.), and if you connect those dots, it’s unsettling to think that Husky basketball has to be dependent merely on the vagaries of who might be coming up in Seattle.
In recent years, Romar has changed a lot of things, from his staff to his offense. You can read that either as groping for solutions or flexibility.
As for Upshaw, some have written it off to a bad break, like an injury. It’s not. Accepting him was no sin; coaches take on problems all the time, risking relapse vs. upside. But when the gifted Upshaw stumbled, he only reinforced his troubled history.
So it’s come to this: The boffo recruiting class Washington has assembled seems to represent sort of a last hurrah for Romar, a thoroughly likable, classy-to-the-core guy. Maybe an influx of young talent propels the Huskies back to the glory days of breakneck offense and harassing defense.
Perhaps it’s straining to make a point, but there’s something worth remembering through all the potholes.
The greatest two coaches in ACC history, each in the news this winter, are Mike Krzyzewski and the late Dean Smith. A ton of Duke fans wanted Krzyzewski gone after three years of going 13-29 in conference play when he began. Smith, awkward and unpopular early in his time at North Carolina, was hung in effigy.
It worked out pretty well for both of them. Sometimes an ounce of patience is worth a pound of search firm. Washington has to hope so.