At 15-6 and 5-3 in Pac-12, Washington is sitting on the NCAA tournament bubble six weeks before Selection Sunday.
Six weeks until Selection Sunday and the Washington men’s basketball team is headed to the Big Dance, according to projections from NCAA tournament analyst Jerry Palm at CBS Sports.
If the long-time sports writer who has been tracking tourney brackets for the past two decades is accurate, then the Huskies’ seven-year drought will finally come to an end.
And first-year coach Mike Hopkins won’t have to buy a cup of coffee in this town anytime soon.
In his latest NCAA tournament projections, Palm has Washington at No. 10 in the East facing No. 7 Rhode Island in the first round.
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Think about that for a second.
Washington began the season with modest expectations after losing leading scorer Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, from a 9-22 team that finished 11th in the Pac-12 at 2-16.
The Huskies were picked to finish 10th in a preseason media poll, but turns out those expectations undersold Hopkins’ ability to quickly turn around a program that had consistently underachieved in the final years under Lorenzo Romar.
But Hopkins, who spent the past 22 years as an assistant at Syracuse, knew what was possible at UW.
“Our main focus for this team is just getting our system in place and right,” he said following Sunday’s 80-62 win over Washington State. “It’s a proven system. It’s one of the most consistent winning systems in the history of college basketball. It’s been proven.”
There’s no arguing the results.
Washington is 15-6 and tied for third in the Pac-12 at 5-3 with 10 games remaining.
For comparisons sake, a year ago today UW was 9-12 and 2-7.
But that’s enough looking in the rear view mirror because it’s much more fun (and dangerous if you ask Hopkins) to examine UW’s rosy projections.
The Huskies are 50th in the RPI and their resume is highlighted by wins over Kansas, USC and Belmont.
Here’s a look at where the Pac-12 teams are in the RPI: Arizona (14), Arizona State (41), USC (42), Utah (48), UW (50), Colorado (63), UCLA (68), Oregon (85), Stanford (94), Oregon State (155), WSU (162) and California (177).
Palm projects five Pac-12 teams will make the NCAA tournament. Here’s a look with the seeding in parenthesis: Arizona (4), Arizona State (6), USC (10) and UW (10).
ESPN’s bracket guru Joe Lunardi has UW fourth among the “First Four Out” in his projections. He’s down on the Pac-12 and includes just three teams in his latest bracket: Arizona (3), ASU (8) and USC (10).
And Michael Beller at SI.com puts Washington on wrong side of the bubble. He essentially has the Huskies as the fifth team on the outside of the projected 68-team field. Here’s a look at where he has the Pac-12 teams: Arizona (4), ASU (7) and USC (10).
Basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy projects Washington will lose its next four games (at home against ASU and Arizona and on the road at Oregon and Oregon State) before rebounding to win five of its final six games and finishing the regular season at 20-11 and tied for fourth in the Pac-12 at 10-8.
If Pomeroy is correct, then UW would capture a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament. In the past three years, the top four qualifiers in the conference tourney has advanced to the NCAA tournament.
None of the Huskies have ever played in the postseason beyond the conference tournament, but they say they’re not thinking about what could possibly be UW’s first appearance in the Big Dance since 2011.
“It’s not (a conversation) worth having,” junior forward Noah Dickerson said when asked about NCAA tournament projections. “You just have to take it one game at a time.”
Hopkins added: “You just got to keep the distractions away and you got to focus on how we can get better. I know that’s probably unrealistic. Everybody has got Twitter and Facebook and ESPN. I try to just focus and try to keep them focused. You try to eliminate interference.”
Hopkins alluded that the Huskies could help their tournament chances this week with wins against No. 25 Arizona State on Thursday or Saturday against No. 9 Arizona at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“(The NCAA tournament) is based on your resume and not what it could be,” he said. “And we got to be able to go in there and prove it. Take care of business and execute our game plan.”