It was some kind of week for the University of Washington men’s basketball team.
The Huskies entertained Arizona State and Arizona last week, with both teams coming into Hec Edmundson Pavilion ranked in the Associated Press top 25. On Thursday Washington topped No. 25 Arizona State 68-64 behind 21 points and 16 rebounds from Noah Dickerson, then on Saturday the Huskies stunned No. 9 Arizona 78-75 behind this moment of magic from Dominic Green:
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) February 4, 2018
The victories moved Washington into third place in the Pac-12 at 7-3 in league and 17-6 overall, and it’s absolutely remarkable the Huskies find themselves in this position.
No one expected anything from Washington this season. The Huskies were coming off a dreadful 2016-17 campaign in which they finished in second-to-last place in the Pac-12 at 2-16, losing their final 13 games to finish 9-22 overall. The season cost popular longtime coach Lorenzo Romar his job. With star player Markelle Fultz departing to become the first-overall pick in the NBA draft, and with highly-touted recruits Michael Porter Jr., Jontay Porter and Daejon Davis defecting upon Romar’s firing, new coach Mike Hopkins seemed destined for a challenging first year in charge.
But Hopkins, a longtime assistant under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, has done wonders with the Huskies. Washington is playing primarily with the players it had last season — of the team’s six core rotation players, all but freshman guard Jaylen Nowell were part of last year’s team. Yet with this same team the results are vastly different. Nowell is averaging a team-leading 16.7 points, junior forward Dickerson is averaging 14.2 points and 7.8 rebounds, while junior guards David Crisp (11.8) and Matisse Thybulle (11.3) are also in double-digit scoring.
And the excitement is back in full as Hec Ed was rocking for both of last week’s games.
The original intent of this week’s poll was to ask readers to predict whether the Huskies would get into the NCAA tournament his season. However, looking at Washington’s resume that may no longer be an appropriate question. The Huskies are not only in third place in the Pac-12, they’re now right on the cusp of the AP top 25, and they’re up to No. 35 in RPI. They also have multiple signature wins, with Saturday’s victory over Arizona joining the early-season 74-65 upset over Kansas in what was essentially a road game.
Looking at the rest of Washington’s schedule the Huskies are past their most difficult stretch. The Huskies have eight games remaining, and none are against teams ahead of Washington in the Pac-12 standings. The only games I can possibly see the Huskies being underdogs in are Thursday’s game at Oregon (iffy, as the Ducks aren’t as strong as they have been, but the game is at McArthur Court) and the Feb. 22 game at Stanford (the Dawgs lost to the Cardinal at home 73-64 on Jan. 13). No other team on Washington’s schedule has a winning record in the the Pac-12.
So let’s take an optimistic view with this week’s poll. At 7-3 Washington is just a-game-and-a-half behind first-place Arizona and a half-game behind second-place USC. The Wildcats still have home games against UCLA, USC and Stanford, while having to play Arizona State and Oregon on the road. The Trojans still have games at Arizona and Arizona State, home games against Oregon and UCLA, plus the trip to the altitude to take on Colorado and Utah. There certainly seem to be more pitfalls in Arizona’s and USC’s path than Washington’s.
So can Washington, against all preseason prognostications, claim the Pac-12 title? Make your prediction here: