The Huskies (6-2) have beaten the teams it should beat and lost when expected. We take a look at UW as it heads into Wednesday's big showdown against No. 2 Kansas.
The Washington men’s basketball team finished its four-game homestand Sunday with its fourth straight win – an 86-73 victory over Nebraska Omaha.
Here are a few observations on the Huskies.
NICE START, BUT IT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: The best way to sum up the season at this point under first-year coach Mike Hopkins is, the Huskies have won the games they should have. But there’s been few surprises, which is both good and bad.
Washington (6-2) has six wins at home against mostly middling to below-average mid-majors with a combined 20-30 record. A few of the teams UW has beaten have notched some notable wins, but only UC Davis (5-2) looks like it poses a serious threat to win its conference.
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Belmont (5-4) and Seattle University (5-4) are the only other opponents UW has beaten with a winning record. In addition to Eastern Washington (3-5), Washington’s resume contains a blowout win against Kennesaw State (1-7) and a closer-than-expected victory against Nebraska-Omaha (1-8), which goes a long way to instilling confidence in a team that was 9-22 last year. But ultimately, those games will be forgotten next month when the Pac-12 season begins.
Washington is 0-2 against Power 5 teams, which is just as telling as their wins. The Huskies were competitive during a 77-70 loss to Providence, but they were overwhelmed by Virginia Tech in a 103-79 defeat. Providence (6-2) and Virginia Tech (7-1) are far more representative of what UW will see when conference play begins.
And an upset or two would have given the Huskies added confidence for what they’re about to face. Speaking of which …
THAT WAS FUN, BUT HERE COMES THE REAL CHALLENGE: Ask yourself – and be honest – is it a moral victory if Washington stays within 10 points of No. 2 Kansas during Wednesday’s game? If you answered no, then you probably don’t believe the Huskies are in the same class as the Jayhawks (7-0), which already has wins over then-No. Kentucky and Syracuse. If you answered yes, then you likely think Hopkins’ 2-3 zone can slow down a KU team that averages 91.9 points per game. The Huskies will also need to generate offense against a team that allows opponents 61.3 points.
And if you’re pondering moral victory scenarios, then you really don’t give the Huskies a chance of staging an upset against Kansas on a “neutral” court at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. (Yes, it was a trick question) And that’s indicative of the state of the Huskies at this point. Or at least, it gauges expectations of UW fans.
But to be fair even in its heyday, Washington would be a heavy underdog against a heavyweight like Kansas. Since 2003, the Huskies are 2-7 against teams ranked No. 2 or higher. And it’s been 10 years since UW captured a win against a No. 1 or No. 2-ranked team – a 61-51 victory against No. 2 UCLA on March 3, 2007.
Following the Kansas game, Washington returns home to face No. 12 Gonzaga on Sunday at Alaska Airlines Arena in a battle for state supremacy that carries tremendous emotional baggage for the Huskies. There was a time when the game between the state’s preeminent Division I teams meant more to the Bulldogs fans than the UW faithful largely because of the big brother-little brother relationship that more aptly describes the size differential of the two cities (Seattle pop. 704,352 vs. Spokane pop. 215,973) and not the team’s basketball stature.
During’s Gonzaga’s rise to prominence, the Bulldogs have dominated the Dawgs while winning 10 of the past 11 matchups. And the most recent games haven’t been close. Last year the Zags clobbered UW 98-71 and in 2015 the Huskies fell 80-64.
LET’S LOOK AT THE NUMBERS: Of course it’s early, but let’s see what the advanced metrics think about the Huskies.
Here’s a look at the Pac-12 teams in the RPI: Arizona State (17), Utah (36), USC (42), Colorado (52), Washington State (56), Washington (103), UCLA (104), Arizona (107), Oregon State (181), Oregon (184), Stanford (200) and California (276).
Think about that for a second.
Arizona (5-3), which is the runaway favorite to win the Pac-12, is ranked lower than UW in the RPI. The other so-called contenders such as USC (4-2) and Oregon (5-3) have stumbled against quality competition while UCLA (7-1) hasn’t impressed the computers largely because its strength of schedule is ranked 263rd among 351 Division I teams.
Basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy and RealTimeRPI.com predict Washington will lose handily against Kansas and fall by double digits to Gonzaga. Both predict UW will win its three other nonconference games and begin Pac-12 play with a 9-4 record. They’re also aligned in forecasts that has the Huskies finishing with a 6-12 conference record and 15-16 in the regular season.
Not sure if anyone is going to get too excited about a team that’s slightly below .500, but let’s see if the Huskies can muster a surprise or two this season.