There’s no better adage in sports than this: You are what your record says you are.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Washington men’s basketball team, which completed the regular season at 16-14 and finished in a three-way tie with Oregon and Washington State for fifth in the Pac-12 at 11-9.
Against the top six teams in the conference, UW was 3-8 while posting an 8-1 record against the bottom five teams.
The Huskies were 11-6 at home, including 8-2 against Pac-12 opponents. They were 3-7 in true road games and 2-1 at a neutral site.
Washington won 11 conference games for just the third time in 2012, although it needs to be noted the league expanded to a 20-game schedule for the 2020-21 season.
And here’s another record to keep in mind, UW is 2-4 at the Pac-12 Tournament under fifth-year coach Mike Hopkins. More on that below.
These are three impressions on the Huskies following Saturday’s 78-67 win over Oregon State in their regular-season finale as they head into the Pac-12 tournament.
Energy. Belief. Confidence.
Hopkins believes those are the key ingredients to winning a Pac-12 tournament title.
With the return of senior guard Daejon Davis, who missed six of the last nine games due to a right shoulder injury, the Huskies are back at full strength at a time when Hopkins has shortened the rotation and relied on just seven players.
No. 6 seed Washington begins the Pac-12 Tournament with a first-round matchup against No. 11 seed Utah, which was 11-19 and 4-16 in the Pac-12 under first-year coach Craig Smith.
The Huskies beat the Utes 77-73 in double overtime on Jan. 29 at Alaska Airlines Arena and 74-68 at Huntsman Center on Jan. 6.
According to KenPom, UW has 50.1% chance of advancing to the quarterfinals where it would meet No. 3 USC. The basketball analytic website gives the Huskies 13% odds to advance to the semifinals, 2% odds to make it to the championship game and 0.3% odds to win the conference tournament title.
Due in part to its No. 117 ranking in the NET, Washington has no chance to capture an NCAA at-large berth. UW’s only path to the NCAAs is winning the Pac-12 tournament and securing the league’s automatic berth to the Big Dance.
“Let’s win them all,” Hopkins said. “Let’s go one game at a time and let’s go win. Let’s prepare. The hay is already in the barn in the sense of who we are and what we’re about. We’ll have our scouting report now can we go out and execute it. We’ve proven for a lot of games that we can. I feel like we’ve gotten better.
“Let’s just go one at a time. Let’s focus on that game. Let’s lock in. Let’s have great energy. I’m a big energy guy. How do we manage it? How do we maintain it? We have it and major confidence and belief. We’ll have a chance to do it in every game we play.”
Every team with the exception of tourney favorites Arizona, UCLA and USC will head to Las Vegas hoping to repeat Oregon State’s miraculous postseason run to the Elite Eight last year.
After a 10-10 conference record, the Beavers had the No. 5 seed and a modest 15-10 overall record before the league tournament. They won three straight games — the Pac-12 adjusted the format due to Arizona not playing — and captured an automatic NCAA tournament berth.
Seeded 12th, Oregon State upset No. 5 Tennessee, No. 4 Oklahoma State and No. 8 Loyola Chicago before falling to No. 2 Houston in a thrilling NCAA quarterfinal matchup.
How far can UW go?
This really is the million-dollar question.
On paper, the Huskies got a favorable draw considering Utah has a three-game losing streak and UW would avoid No. 1 seed Arizona until the conference tournament title game.
After winning 3 of its last 4 games, UW is riding a lot of momentum into Las Vegas and no one is hotter than redshirt junior forward Nate Roberts, who has tallied double doubles in his past two outings.
A year ago, we identified Roberts as UW’s most important player in part because of his ability to defend the basket, rebound and score like he did last week against Oregon (career-high 18 points and 16 rebounds) and Oregon State (13 points and 16 rebounds).
In the past two games, Roberts converted 14 of 20 shots while unveiling an extensive offensive repertoire that included lob finishes for dunks, dribble drive layups and midrange jumpers along the baseline.
At its best, Hopkins’ offense relies on a high-percentage shooting big man generating points in the paint such as former Huskies Noah Dickerson and Isaiah Stewart, who were both all-Pac-12 performers.
If Roberts can become a reliable scorer around the rim, then he’s arguably the missing piece to a championship-contending team that’s been overly reliant on Terrell Brown Jr.’s Pac-12 leading 21.7 points per game.
Washington’s defense, which ranks 10th in the Pac-12 while allowing 73.3 points in conference games, hasn’t always been dependable and UW’s perimeter game (32.2% on three-pointers) has also been spotty.
However, a resurgent Roberts has given Washington a dominant big man that’s been missing since Stewart left two years ago.
“I always knew Nate could do this,” Brown said. “It’s confidence. We’re giving him the opportunity to score like that and helping him out. I’m telling him, I’ll find you guys and calling plays for him. … He’s been playing out of his mind. That’s what I’m used to seeing in practice.”
Run it back, sort of
By all accounts, Hopkins secured his return with an 11-game improvement from last season’s team that finished 5-21.
The 52-year-old coach has three-years and $9.3 million remaining on a deal that expires after the 2024-25 season.
Now the question becomes, does Hopkins want to stay at Washington or perhaps return to Syracuse where he played and spent 22 seasons alongside Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim.
In 2015, Syracuse named Hopkins the head coach designate to take over after Boeheim’s expected retirement.
However, Boeheim didn’t retire and Hopkins left for Washington in 2017 where he has guided the Huskies to an 84-74 record and 45-39 in the Pac-12.
The first two years Hopkins rebuilt the Huskies into a conference contender, which included the Pac-12 regular-season title and a trip to the NCAA second round in 2019.
The next two years were an unmitigated disaster as UW finished 15-17 in 2019-20 and 5-21 last season.
Last year, the Huskies were hit with a mass exodus in which eight players left, six via transfers, that forced Hopkins to revamp the roster with seven newcomers, including six transfers.
If Hopkins returns, he’ll have to find success in the transfer portal once again to replenish a veteran team that includes nine seniors.
“I think every day about getting our program the University of Washington back to where we were two years ago,” Hopkins said weeks ago when asked about the Syracuse job. “Syracuse built me and gave me the opportunity to do what I do here. Just so excited to get this place back to where it deserves to be. We work daily on trying to get that. That’s my focus day in and day out and hopefully we can end up strong here this season.”