The face of the always optimistic, incessantly chipper Mike Hopkins seemed momentarily hijacked. The Huskies men’s basketball coach couldn’t hold back the anger; couldn’t contain the frustration after the embarrassment that was Tuesday’s season opener. 

Talking with reporters following a 71-64 loss to Northern Illinois, Hopkins’ smile turned into a scowl as he unloaded on his team — and himself. 

“This is on me. That team played harder than us in the first part of the game. They played harder than us, and that’s unacceptable. They played harder,” said Hopkins, whose team was a near 20-point favorite against NIU. “There were loose balls, and we didn’t get them. They got them. We got to do it from the get-go. We got to be tougher. We weren’t tough enough at the beginning of the game. On our home court — that’s not acceptable.” 

What’s going through Hopkins’ mind right now? Could it be that last season’s 5-21 record might look enviable compared to what’s to come? Could it be bewilderment about how something that started so auspiciously has devolved into disaster? 

Maybe Tuesday’s loss can be partially explained by NIU’s hot hand (the team was 12 of 23 from three-point distance) and the Huskies’ ineptitude from deep (they were 3 of 18 from beyond the arc). Perhaps Washington missing 15 of its 36 free throws was more unlucky than it was reflective of its ability from the stripe.

But if you’re a fan who’s been watching this program spiral over the past two years, that defeat at the hands of Northern Illinois likely felt similar to the football team’s season-opening loss to Montana. It might not get any better.

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It might even get worse. 

That’s the hard truth about this program, which is on the second floor of a 100-story building. It seems like all it can do is go up, but there’s still a chance for a descent. 

Eight players from last season’s team — which finished 4-16 in the Pac-12 — are gone. Next year’s recruiting class, meanwhile, is ranked 54th in the country according to 24/7 Sports.

But even when Hopkins lured two of the top 10 players in the country two seasons ago — Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels — Washington finished last in conference. Hop won Pac-12 Coach of the Year twice with his predecessor’s players, but in terms of building something of his own? Seems he’s missing a tool kit. 

These aren’t fun words to write, because Hopkins may be the kindest, most endearing coach in the Pacific Northwest. You can tell he loves life and frequently does his part to help others enjoy it, too. He’s engaging, he never snaps at or talks down to people, and can win pretty much anyone over with his personality. He just isn’t winning games. 

Normally, coaches don’t react to preseason rankings. Earlier in the month, however, it seemed Hopkins was perturbed. He mentioned how one writer had Washington ranked 13th in a 12-team conference, and wasn’t grinning when he said it. 

“I’ve never seen that before,” he said. 

It’s not as though the Huskies are talentless. Forward Nate Roberts had 19 rebounds — including seven on offense — in just 24 minutes Tuesday. Terrell Brown Jr., the Garfield product and Arizona transfer, put up 22 points. But from poor shot selection (the Huskies were 20 of 75 the field) to defensive miscues (their goal is to allow no more than five three-pointers a game) UW just looked lost.

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Perhaps Tuesday’s game wasn’t indicative of what’s to come. It’s not often you have three of your starters shoot a combined 6 for 33 from the field, as Daejon Davis (1 of 10), Emmitt Matthews Jr. (2 of 12) and Jamal Bey (3 of 11) did against NIU. Might have just been jitters combined with errant shooting.

But considering this team has finished 12th and 11th, respectively, the past two seasons — what you saw is likely what you’re getting.

Thursday is chance for Washington to get back on track with a home game vs. Northern Arizona. The Huskies are a 16-point favorite right now, but we’ve learned that means very little.

UW fans steaming about the football team’s struggles might have thought they’d find relief in watching men’s basketball. That’s still possible, but is looking highly improbable.