It’s March and the Washington Huskies are going to a postseason tournament for the first time in years. This just isn’t the postseason scenario most Huskies fans had in mind as of a month ago.
UW will have to wait until next season to break its seven-year long NCAA Tournament drought. For now, the Huskies (20-12) are turning their attention to The NIT. It’s UW’s first NIT appearance since the 2015-16 season when the Huskies finished the year 19-15 and lost in the second round.
There’s a two-step plan for UW when it comes to the NIT. Step No. 1 is to win as many games as possible while the following sequence is to use the NIT as a chance to develop and improve ahead of the 2018-19 season.
“It’s a great opportunity and we got a chance to get better,” Huskies junior forward and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Matisse Thybulle said of the NIT. “We got a chance to get some more wins under our belt and just get more and more comfortable with each other and end the season on the right note so we can get ready for next year.”
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Most projections have the Huskies as either a fourth or fifth seed and that in itself comes with a little bit of drama.
Should UW get a No. 4 seed, it will host at least one more game at the Alaska Airlines Arena. If it receives a No. 5 seed, UW won’t play another game in Seattle this season, unless there’s an upset in the No. 1 vs. No. 8 matchup.
The Huskies have already been to Madison Square Garden – the home of the NIT semifinals (March 27) and championship game (March 29) – once this season in November when they played in The 2K Classic.
First-year coach Mike Hopkins’ team had bigger things on its mind back in February.
The Huskies were at their high-water mark following their upset over then-No. 9 Arizona in Seattle. That pushed their record to 17-6.
Then, the Huskies would lose three straight and end the year losing six of their last nine games.
UW entered the Pac-12 Tournament with the hopes of playing its way into the NCAA Tournament. There was also a bit of momentum a few days prior.
Junior forward Noah Dickerson was a first team All-Pac-12 selection while freshman guard Jaylen Nowell was chosen to the all-freshman team. Thybulle was initially named to the all-defensive team and was later awarded the conference’s defensive player of the year.
Hopkins was also named the John R. Wooden Pac-12 Coach of the Year for taking the Huskies from a nine-win season to a 20-win campaign in one year.
UW, however, would get into late foul trouble and fall to Oregon State in overtime in a first-round game at the Pac-12 Tournament at T-Mobile Arena.
“Losing, I mean, it happens, and how you handle that is obviously a thing, but the standard of excellence is: What does it take to win?” Hopkins said. “What does it take on a day-to-day basis? And these guys did an incredible job, with more, hopefully, in the season to come.”
Hopkins and Co. will learn more about who they’ll play in the coming days.
Until then, the Huskies will use the next few days to rest while reviewing their offensive and defensive principles.
It’ll also give them time to cope with not making the NCAA Tournament and not letting that fact turn into a potential letdown.
“We still have some season left,” Huskies junior guard David Crisp said. “We just gotta go back to the lab and practice and get better and get ready for that.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark