Sports

Gonzaga to Final Four? Huskies in NCAAs? Will Cougs finish last? What basketball experts are saying

University of Washington guard Jaylen Nowell (5) shoots a free throw in the first half. The Washington Huskies played Seattle Pacific University in a preseason exhibition basketball game at Hec Edmundson Pavilion in Seattle, Wash., on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018.
University of Washington guard Jaylen Nowell (5) shoots a free throw in the first half. The Washington Huskies played Seattle Pacific University in a preseason exhibition basketball game at Hec Edmundson Pavilion in Seattle, Wash., on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

College basketball season tips off Tuesday starting a run by the Cougars, Huskies and Bulldogs towards “March Madness.” Here’s a breakdown of each team coming into the 2018-19 season.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

2017-18 record: 32-5 (17-1 WCC)

2017-18 postseason finish: Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament loss to Florida State, 75-60

Talking bout the Zags

“The Zags have depth, versatility and experience. It’s going to be hard to beat them this year.” -Jeremy Fuchs (Sports Illustrated)

“Gonzaga. Who else? The Bulldogs’ streak of four consecutive Sweet 16s is the longest in the nation. With four of the 10 pre-season all-WCC picks on their roster, they’ll start the season ranked No. 3 in the nation — though they have lost Killian Tillie for up to eight weeks with a stress fracture.” -Mike Lopresti (NCAA.com)

“KenPom takes strength of schedule into account, which hurts Gonzaga even though it runs through the WCC year after year. The Bulldogs were ranked third in the AP Poll and check in at No. 9 in KenPom’s rankings.” -Joe Boozell (NCAA.com)

The biggest test comes…

Very early in the season for the Bulldogs as they had to the Maui Invitational, their path to the title in Maui would have them seeing Arizona, Iowa State, Auburn, Xavier and possibly Duke in the final. At least four of those five teams will more than likely reach the NCAAs. While the West Coast Conference provides little resistance, the Zags will have NCAA tournament like-games early in their schedule.

Season forecast: 1st in WCC, NCAA Tournament Regional Final

Washington Huskies

2017-18 record: 21-13 (10-8 Pac-12)

2017-18 postseason finish: Second round NIT loss to St. Mary’s, 85-81

Talkin bout the ’Dawgs

“This was already a staunch defensive unit, and another year together should produce gains on both sides of the ball. With the conference’s traditional powers all retooling, there’s ripe opportunity for the Huskies to take a leap this season.” -Jeremy Woo (Sports Illustrated)

“Not to read too much into an October exhibition, but Washington had its way in the second half with a preseason top-10 Nevada team, and that was without (Noah) Dickerson available. If the Huskies’ offense shows up this year more often than not, they’ll make plenty of noise.” -Molly Geary (Sports Illustrated)

Bracket projections

The Huskies have not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2011 but early season bracket projections across the board have the Huskies dancing.

Andy Katz (NCAA): No. 5 Seed (West Region)

Joe Lunardi (ESPN): No. 7 Seed (Midwest Region)

Michael Beller (Sports Illustrated): No. 7 Seed (East Region)

Jeff Goodman (Watch Stadium): No. 8 Seed (East Region)

Season forecast: Second in Pac-12, NCAA Tournament round of 32

Washington State Cougars

2017-18 record: 12-19 (4-14 Pac-12)

2017-18 postseason Finish: None

Talkin bout the Cougs

“ A mass exodus didn’t help the Cougars in their quest to get out of this funk. Robert Franks can be a difference maker. But the Cougars have to establish Pullman as a tough place to play from day one, especially on the back-end of the two-game swing through the state of Washington. Teams will be locked in on the Huskies. The Cougars have to be the spoilers. Take care of business at home, and Wazzu can be respectable again.” -Andy Katz (NCAA.com)

“Coach Ernie Kent is on the hot seat with a 47-77 record since he began his tenure with the Cougars in the 2014-15 season. Senior forward Robert Franks (17.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) could be Kent’s saving grace after having a breakout season in which he made 40 percent of his 3-pointers and 85 percent of his free throws. Franks returning to school after testing his stock in the 2018 NBA Draft could reinvigorate the Cougars, but don’t count on them going far in the league play.” -Dana Scott (Arizona Republic)

Ernie Kent can save his job if…

The Cougars can make their way out of a very busy Pac-12 basement. Most, if not all of the bracket projections have the conference getting three, possibly four teams in the NCAA Tournament. That means seven to eight teams will be fighting for the midsection of the conference. Schools like Oregon State, Cal, Stanford and Arizona State could be within the Cougars reach. The first month of Pac-12 play is quite generous with games against Colorado, Cal, Utah and Stanford. Get through that as clean as you can and you’ll have some confidence going into the midsection of conference play.

Season forecast: 11th in Pac-12, No postseason.

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