It seems like so long ago that Washington’s Jon Brockman and Ryan Appleby graced the cover of Sports Illustrated’s college basketball preview issue.
In three incredible days, the Huskies looked like the team everyone expected them to be as they closed out the regular season with an 85-74 win over Southern California and a 61-51 win over UCLA.
“Everyone is finally on the same page now,” freshman Spender Hawes said.
And everyone else asked, “What the heck took you so long?”
The Huskies won 10 of their first 11 games (all in Seattle) and were ranked as high as eighth in the nation earlier this season. They followed up their nonconference success by losing 11 of their next 17.
Washington is 17-2 at home and 1-10 on the road.
Though the team’s RPI jumped about 25 spots into the low 70s thanks to the weekend sweep of the Los Angeles schools, it’ll probably need to win the Pac-10 tournament to advance to the big one for a school-record fourth consecutive year. That’ll mean four wins (probably over Arizona State, Washington State, USC or Stanford and UCLA) in four days.
“It’s a joy to watch, as we’ve had our struggles this year, we’ve been up and down, to see things perhaps start to come together,” coach Lorenzo Romar said.
Unfortunately, one of the league’s three most-talented teams didn’t come together until the end of a lost season.
With the end of the Pac-10 season comes Pac-10 postseason awards.
Normally we wouldn’t bother to personally make such selections, but since the Oakland Tribune asked us to fill out a survey, we figured we’d share our answers.
Our all-conference team includes guards Darren Collison and Arron Afflalo of UCLA and Aaron Brooks of Oregon and forwards Marcus Williams of Arizona and Brockman of Washington.
Our player of the year is Collison, our coach of the year is Tony Bennett of Washington State and our freshman of the year is Ryan Anderson of California.
And for a little local flavor, we tabbed as our most underrated players Glendale Deer Valley High graduate Law Hill of Stanford and Arizona State star Jeff Pendergraph.
Penn became the first team to clinch an NCAA tournament berth this season when it defeated Yale in a regular season game March 2.
“We had to treat this like a conference championship game,” Mark Zoller said.
That’s because the Ivy League is the only conference that forgoes a championship tournament and instead awards its automatic tournament bid to its regular season champ.
However, the New York Times recently reported that the anachronistic Ivy may soon buck tradition and begin its own conference tourney. Brown coach Craig Robinson even told the paper, “It’s closer than I would have ever imagined it.”
Not surprisingly it’s Penn and Princeton, programs that have combined to win 38 of the last 40 Ivy titles, that are most opposed to introducing a three wins in three days requirement on their Big Dance tickets. (Sounds familiar to the agitating you’ll hear in Tucson this week).
Apparently, the NCAA’s recent decision to invite regular season conference champions to its little dance (the NIT) has helped to soften the position of the Ivy’s heavyweights.
TO THE VICTORS …
The fears of Penn and Princeton are the realities for other low-profile powers.
Prior to Tuesday night, five small conference champions had bitten the dust in their conference tournaments and, therefore, will be dancing in the NIT.
We bid a sorrowful adieu to Marist (24-8, RPI 106), Austin Peay (19-11, RPI 116), East Tennessee State (22-9, RPI 118) and South Alabama (18-11, RPI 132).
The saddest goodbye is reserved for Appalachian State, which with neutral-court wins over Virginia and Vanderbilt and road victories over Davidson and Wichita State was one team that could’ve given a major program fits in the first round of the tournament.
The Mountaineers drive for the Southern Conference’s automatic berth died in a two-point semifinal loss to College of Charleston and Dontaye Draper, who scored 29 of his career-high 38 points in the second half and overtime.
An RPI rank around 60 and a 5-2 mark against the RPI top 100 is probably not enough to put the Mountaineers in the field for the first time since 2000.
Thad Matta has been chewing for nearly 40 years, but that experience didn’t keep his gum from flying out of his mouth as he yelled in the closing minutes of Ohio State’s win over Wisconsin Feb. 25.
That wouldn’t be so bad, except that he picked the gum up off the court and popped it back in his mouth under the watchful eyes of ESPN, which replayed the scene relentlessly.
“Driving home after the game I call my mom and she’s like, 'Oh, my God! You spit your gum out!’ ” Matta said. “Like I told her, when I go to court for littering, I’m going to claim insanity. And I’ll get off on that one, I’ll guarantee you.”