Will the Pac-12 send multiple teams to the NCAA tournament? Who will win the conference MVP crown? And will Jaylen Nowell be back for another year? Beat writer Percy Allen answers your questions.
The Washington men’s basketball team is on fire and closing in on a Pac-12 regular-season title and a likely trip the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight years. You had questions about the team, and we have answers.
Let’s get to it.
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A: Certainly. And I would go so far as to say there’s a chance – albeit not a great chance – the Pac-12 sends three teams to the NCAA tournament. Follow me here.
With six weeks remaining before Selection Sunday, Washington (19-5, 10-1 Pac-12) has positioned itself to receive an at-large berth to the Big Dance. The Huskies are No. 31 in the NCAA’s new NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) ranking and 19 in the old RPI metric. UW still needs 3-4 wins among its final seven games (and possibly 3-4 more if you include the Pac-12 Tournament) to virtually guarantee its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011.
Now here’s where things get a little tricky.
Arizona State (16-7, 7-4) is still very much in the hunt for an at-large berth. The Sun Devils are lagging in the NET (72), RPI (54) and KenPom (63), but they’re still alive in several NCAA tournament projections, largely because of their impressive non-conference wins over Kansas, Mississippi State and Utah State.
That’s three quality wins. And if Washington rises a tick in the Net, then ASU will have four quality wins, which is more than any other team in the Pac-12.
However, Arizona State finishes the regular season with five of seven games on the road starting this this week with a trip to Colorado and Utah. The Sun Devils host Stanford and California before wrapping up with games at Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona.
A handful of predictive metrics project ASU losing all of its remaining road games and winning at home for an 18-12 record and 9-9 in the Pac-12.
I suspect, the Sun Devils would need to go 5-2 in its last seven games for a 21-9 record (12-6 Pac-12) to remain in the hunt for an at-large berth.
Of course, Oregon State (15-8, 9-4) could put itself in the conversation with a 7-0 run to end the regular season. The same holds true for Oregon (15-9, 6-5), Colorado (14-9, 5-6) and possibly Utah (13-10, 7-4). But they would need a perfect storm of the right combination of teams above them in the NET falling out to gain significant ground.
The Pac-12’s best chances are Washington and Arizona State.
If the Huskies and Sun Devils finish the regular season strong and secure an NCAA at-large berth, then a third team can “sneak” into the NCAA tournament by winning the Pac-12 Tournament and securing the league’s automatic berth.
It’s premature, but the Huskies are the early favorites to win the conference tournament right now. However, the regular-season champion isn’t a shoo-in to win the tournament title. Since the Pac-12 expanded in 2012, the regular-season champion has won the tournament title three times.
A: On his weekly radio show weeks ago, coach Mike Hopkins raved about Green’s competitive spirit and joked that he worried things were getting too heated in practice. Hopkins went on to say that Green, the high-profile transfer from Kentucky, is a no-nonsense performer who wanted to make a strong impression with his new team.
I also spoke to UW senior guard David Crisp about Green and he said the Huskies will be in good hands next year with the 6-foot, 170-pound sophomore. Crisp said Green has helped him and the Huskies in practice, particularly when they simulate teams that like to press full court.
Not sure what’s going on with Elijah Hardy.
I thought the 6-2 freshman point guard from Oakland would be able to carve out a spot in the rotation considering former UW Husky Michael Carter III averaged 7.4 minutes in 17 games as a true freshman last season.
Rather than bring a point guard off the bench, Hopkins is splitting the playmaking duties between starters David Crisp and Jaylen Nowell.
Hardy, who missed a few weeks with a hand injury, has appeared in just five games and played a total nine minutes.
In limited action, he’s displayed quickness and an ability to get around defenders.
Next season the Huskies will rely heavily on Hardy early in the season until Green is eligible in January 2020. Green will miss the non-conference games due to NCAA transfer rules.
The UW sophomore guard is the top scorer (16.4 points per game) and leads in assists (3.4) on the presumptive Pac-12 champion. He’s also second in rebounds (5.3) and steals (1.3) among the Huskies.
Simply put, Nowell does a lot that leads to winning basketball.
That’s not to suggest that Matisse Thybulle is slacking.
Quite the opposite. Thybulle is highly productive, particularly on the defensive end where he leads the Pac-12 in steals (3.3) and is second in blocks (2.2).
You could make a convincing MVP argument for Thybulle considering he’s the defensive ace on a defensive-minded team that allows a league-low 62.1 points per game against Pac-12 teams.
And don’t rule out David Crisp as well as a host of other candidates including Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle, Arizona State’s Remy Martin and Zylan Cheatham, Utah’s Sedrick Barefield and USC’s Nick Rakocevic and Bennie Boatwright.
It’s a fluid debate, but for now this is Nowell’s award to win or lose.
I hate these questions because they force me to put myself in the shoes of a 19-year-old kid and make assumptions – sometimes without much credible information – about their life and value system.
To be honest, I don’t know what Nowell is going to do. It may sound cliché and corny, but I think he’ll make the best decision for him and his family.
That being said, I’ll refer a bit to the previous question.
If Nowell wins the Pac-12 MVP and returns next year, then he would be the first person to do that since Arizona’s Sean Elliott more 30 years ago. The former Wildcat star won the Pac-12 MVP as a junior in 1988 and a senior in ’89.
Since then, there have been 16 non-seniors who won the award and chose to leave school early to enter the NBA draft.
The list ranges from star-studded freshmen (Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Kevin Love and DeAndre Ayton), breakout sophomores (Jason Kidd, Mike Bibby and James Harden) and late-blossoming juniors (Luke Ridnour, Allen Crabbe, Nick Johnson and Dillon Brooks).
Nowell reminds me of Johnson, a 6-3 hybrid guard taken No. 42 overall in the second round of the 2014 draft by the Houston Rockets.