It happened again.
A heavily favored Washington men’s basketball team dropped a nonconference game at home to a mid-major opponent in November, which will undoubtedly cost them in March if they’re in NCAA tournament contention.
Of course, connecting the Huskies with the Big Dance seems absurd following their embarrassing 73-64 defeat to Cal Baptist on Thursday night.
Washington (3-1) dropped to No. 113 in the unofficial NET rankings (the NCAA NET will be released later this month), No. 125 in the KenPom rankings and No. 134 in the Sagarin ratings.
Certainly, there’s plenty of time for UW to recover, but there’s far less room for mistakes going forward.
Here’s a look at the Huskies’ remaining nonconference schedule, which doesn’t include early Pac-12 games against Oregon State (Dec. 1) and Colorado (Dec. 4).
They play two games next week at the Wooden Legacy in Anaheim, California, starting with Fresno State (1-2) on Wednesday and a Thanksgiving matchup against either St. Mary’s (4-0) or Vanderbilt (1-2).
Washington hosts Seattle University (3-0) on Nov. 28 before traveling to Spokane on Dec. 9 for a big cross-state showdown against No. 2 Gonzaga (2-1). UW also plays three nonconference home games against Cal Poly (1-1), Idaho State (1-2) and No. 13 Auburn (3-0).
Best-case scenario: Washington compiles a 9-2 or 8-3 record in nonconference games, which includes an upset win over the Zags and/or Auburn. The last time UW beat a ranked team was No. 16 Baylor in 2019.
Worst-case scenario: UW splits next week, falls to Gonzaga and Auburn and drops one home game against an upstart mid-major team (we’re looking at you, Seattle U) to go 6-5 against nonconference opponents.
Regardless, the Huskies’ margin for error is razor-thin and another clunker in games that should be tuneups will create even more consternation in a UW fanbase that’s still undecided about sixth-year coach Mike Hopkins.
Here are three more thoughts about Washington.
Remember the past
The Keion Brooks Jr. and Keyon Menifield Jr. pairing is giving throwback vibes to the renowned pairing of Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas, which led the Huskies to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances in 2009 and ’10.
To be fair, it took Pondexter and Thomas two years to figure out how to share the ball and coexist offensively. Everything clicked for them in a big way during the 2009-10 season when Pondexter, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, averaged 19.3 points and 7.4 rebounds while Thomas, a 5-8 sophomore guard, averaged 16.9 points and the Huskies ranked 18th in the nation in scoring (79.2 points) and finished 26-10 in the Sweet 16.
Brooks, a 6-7 senior forward, is a skilled scorer who tallied 20 points in this season’s opener, while Menifield, a 6-1 freshman guard, has had dazzling performances with totals of 21 and 26 points.
They’ve played just two games together, and if Thursday’s outing is any indication, there appears to be little chemistry between them at the moment.
Having Pondexter on the Husky staff could help them speed up their on-court connection.
Go big or go home
The Huskies are being outscored 126-119 in the first half, which isn’t necessarily terrible, but the slow starts are a problem, considering they’ve trailed at the break in the past three games.
Whether it’s the starters or the strategy, something has got to change.
It’s unlikely point guard Noah Williams (leg injury) will be available this week, but Hopkins entertained the idea of tinkering with the lineup to avoid early deficits.
On Thursday, UW started the second half with PJ Fuller II, Cole Bajema, Braxton Meah, Brooks and Menifield.
There’s a chance Hopkins turns to a big lineup featuring centers Franck Kepnang and Meah much earlier in the game. That pairing has been effective in the final minutes of the past two games, particularly when UW switches to its 2-3 zone.
Comparisons can be cruel
Utah Tech gave Washington all it could handle before the Huskies pulled away for a 78-67 win on Monday.
It was astonishing to see UW have difficulties containing Trailblazers forward Tanner Christensen, who bullied and bulldozed his way to a career-high 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting in 35 minutes.
Three days later, Utah Tech was outclassed in just about every way imaginable during Thursday’s 104-77 road defeat against No. 14 Arizona. And the 27-point margin doesn’t accurately portray the disparity between the two teams.
The Wildcats led 49-19 just before halftime and effectively lost interest in the second half while Utah Tech outscored them 56-55.
And Christensen? He finished with two points on 1-for-3 shooting in 16 minutes.