The Huskies, who have played two games this season at New York’s Madison Square Garden, get their biggest test so far against the unbeaten Jayhawks, who are favored by 22.
The Washington men’s basketball team carries a four-game winning streak, burgeoning confidence and an anything-can-happen attitude into Wednesday’s game against No. 2 Kansas.
On the surface, the KU-UW matchup, which airs at 6 p.m. on ESPN2, appears to be a decisive disadvantage for the Huskies on the scale of David and Goliath.
But David may have had better odds than the Huskies, who are a 22-point underdog.
Despite a preponderance of indicators that foretell a lopsided loss, first-year coach Mike Hopkins is looking forward to his biggest game with his new team.
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“Very few times in life do you have an opportunity to play a team the caliber of Kansas — No. 2 in the country,” Hopkins said. “That’s why you come to these big schools is to have those opportunities. I think the guys will be excited.”
It’s a cliché, but a game against a storied program like Kansas (7-0) is a measuring stick for Washington (6-2), which began the season with modest expectations following a 9-22 season in 2016-17.
The Jayhawks reside among the blue bloods in college basketball royalty alongside Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky.
Kansas’ esteemed resume includes three NCAA titles, 14 Final Four appearances and an NCAA-leading 29 consensus All-Americans, including Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, Paul Pierce and Frank Mason III, the national player of the year last season.
Under coach Bill Self, who was inducted in the Naismith basketball Hall of Fame in September, the Jayhawks have claimed at least a share of every Big 12 championship since 2005 — a 13-year run of conference dominance matched only by UCLA (1967-79). He also guided KU to a national title in 2008.
Conversely, Washington hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in six years, which is a big reason why the school went out and hired Hopkins.
Under the guidance of the former Syracuse assistant, UW has made steady improvement but there have been few surprises this season.
The Huskies compiled six home wins against mostly middling to below-average mid-majors with a combined 20-30 record. But they’ve also lost when expected, including a pair of defeats last month at New York’s Madison Square Garden to Providence (77-70) and Virginia Tech (103-79) in the 2K Sports Classic.
“We got battle tested when we went to New York and played those two really good teams,” junior guard Matisse Thybulle said. “We can hang with just about anyone.
“Knowing that, we’re just taking all of that confidence and we’re just going to roll with that the rest of the season.”
In reality, the Huskies never kept pace with Virginia Tech in a game in which they trailed 59-28 at halftime. UW outscored the Hokies 51-44 in the second half, but it also trailed by 34 points after the break.
However, the Huskies rebounded from a slow start and a 37-30 halftime deficit to pull a point behind (69-68) with 2:16 left in the loss to Providence.
“We played on the biggest stage in sports against really high quality East Coast teams who (are) really tough,” Hopkins said. “Obviously Kansas has so many great players and it’s such a great program.
“Being on that stage is a really cool thing. That’s why they play the games. It’ll be a lot of fun. It’s a heckuva challenge.”
Kansas, which advanced to the Elite Eight last season, has championship aspirations again thanks to a four-guard lineup led by senior Devonte Graham, the preseason Big 12 player of the year.
The Jayhawks average 91.9 points, which ranks sixth nationally. They’re the only team in the country with five players scoring at least 11.9.
In its last outing, Kansas torched Syracuse 76-60 behind 35 points from Graham, who had seven of KU’s 11 three-pointers.
That game gave Hopkins a preview of how the Jayhawks will potentially attack UW’s 2-3 zone that Syracuse also employs.
“It helps,” Hopkins said. “We get to watch it. And we get to see it. I’m excited about it.”