To Mike Hopkins, there is no question: Washington belongs in the NCAA Tournament.
After the Huskies’ 55-47 loss to Oregon on Saturday night — their second loss in four games — Hopkins was asked if he was now concerned about UW’s seeding or its chances of making the field. His answer was quick and decisive.
“In my opinion, they’ve earned the right to be in that tournament,” he said, “regardless of what happened tonight or what happens in Las Vegas.”
Las Vegas, of course, is the site of Pac-12 tournament. As the No. 1 seed, the Huskies will face the winner of No. 8 USC and No. 9 Arizona at noon on Thursday.
Heading into the regular season against Oregon, UW was projected as anywhere from a No. 7 to a No. 9 seed. The defeat didn’t drop the Huskies out of any predictions, but three updated mock brackets had them as either a No. 9 or No. 10 seed. One kept UW as a No. 8 seed.
- CBS Sports: No. 10 seed vs. No. 7 Louisville
- SB Nation: No. 9 seed vs. No. 8 Louisville
- Sports Illustrated: No. 9 seed. vs. No. 8 Oklahoma
- ESPN: No. 8 seed vs. No. 9 Ole Miss
Here’s a look at UW’s resume as it stands now:
- Record: 24-7
- Pac-12 Record: 15-3
- NET Ranking: 38
- RPI: 24
- Record vs. Quad 1 teams: 2-4
- Record vs. Quad 2 teams: 6-2
- Record vs. Quad 3 teams: 10-1
- Record vs. Quad 4 teams: 6-0
- SOS: 63
- Non-conference SOS: 14
In its bubble watch, Sports Illustrated has UW listed as a near lock. But here’s what CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm wrote about the Huskies: “Washington is lucky the bubble is so bad, because this does not look like the resume of a tournament team. The Huskies stumbled home at the end of the season and look ripe for the picking in the Pac-12 Tournament.”
The consensus still has the Huskies in the field. But losing their first game in the Pac-12 tournament could drop them onto the bubble or dangerously close. And right now, UW doesn’t look like the same team that once had a 12-game winning streak and ran away with the regular season conference title.
“Next game,” senior Matisse Thybulle said after the loss to the Ducks. “We got the Pac-12 tournament. I know we’re going to be ready when we get down there. We got an opportunity to win. We got to put this one behind us and move on.”
During its 13-1 start in Pac-12 play, UW averaged 71 points per game on 47.7 percent shooting. In the last four games, it has averaged 64.5 points on 44.2 percent shooting. The difference is just as striking on the defensive side. In the Huskies’ first 14 conference games, they held opponents to 60.9 points and 42.5 percent shooting. The last four opponents have averaged 67 points and 46.2 percent shooting.
“Every game has been a little bit different,” Hopkins said of the recent slide. “Sometimes it’s match-ups. Oregon State’s played us well every time we’ve played them. Cal shot the ball as well as they’ve shot the ball. We made 10 (3-pointers) in the first half of that game and we were down one. How many times have we made 10 threes?
“And (Oregon) was one of those games where we couldn’t make shots. The turnovers versus their press got them going in our place. That shouldn’t happen. ... I thought we had chances even though we didn’t play well offensively to where we could have made a stand.”
Senior Noah Dickerson suggested Saturday night that one factor is how difficult it is to beat teams twice in a season. But Hopkins wasn’t buying that explanation, pointing instead to UW’s 15 turnovers against the Ducks.
Whatever the reason for the Huskies’ recent struggles, they have less than a week to bounce back before the conference tournament begins. Hopkins had an analogy for the next step in the season. The non-conference was the salad, the Pac-12 schedule was the steak Now, the postseason is dessert.
“Listen, we just got to win,” Hopkins said. “We just got to play our best basketball. The score will take care of itself, the season will take care of itself. We just got to try focus on, how do we get better? Go out and play. That’s what you got to do. That’s what good teams do.
“We’ve been a good team all year. It’s hard to win 15 games, I don’t care what league you’re in. It’s hard to win 15. These guys, night in and night out, are winning on the road, winning against really good teams.”