Right now, the Washington Huskies are a bubble team and that notion alone sets up two realities.
The first being UW (17-7, 7-4 Pac-12) continues to win and strengthen its resume for a postseason bid. Or, with each loss, the Huskies put themselves at risk of missing the NCAA Tournament for a seventh straight season.
College basketball experts such as the Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy, ESPN’s Seth Greenberg and CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein each weighed in on the Huskies’ postseason chances.
All three agreed. It’s going to be close.
“It’s too early to say,” Rothstein said.
CBS, ESPN, SB Nation and USA Today each project UW reaching the NCAA Tournament.
But again. It’s going to be really close.
CBS has the Huskies as an No. 8 seed but still considers UW to be a bubble team. ESPN has the Huskies among the “Last Four In” while SB Nation has them in but on the cutline. USA Today has the Huskies as an eight seed.
“Obviously, this is not a banner year for the Pac-12,” Rothstein said. “You have two things. There’s a limited opportunity for good wins but there’s more opportunities for bad losses.
“They have to take advantage of the opportunity to move the needle but not to shoot themselves in the foot.”
UW has seven games left and none of those remaining contests are against teams that projected to reach the tournament.
If anything, the Huskies will be playing teams trying to claw into the NCAA Tournament discussion like Oregon (16-8, 6-5) and Utah (14-9, 6-6).
They have two games — including a 7 p.m. Saturday tilt — against Oregon State. They finish the year against California, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford and Utah.
“I lived on the bubble for four years,” said Greenberg, whose Virginia Tech teams had three, 20-win seasons but still missed the NCAA Tournament. “You want to eliminate those bad losses and get good wins. Thing about the league this year, there’s not a ton of opportunities to get good wins.”
UW, based off ESPN’s Bracketology, has wins over six teams — Arizona, Arizona State, Belmont, Kansas, Montana and USC — that are projected to reach the tournament.
There’s also the team’s Ratings Percentage Index or RPI. The RPI is a metric the NCAA Selection Committee uses to evaluate teams.
Washington’s average RPI is around 39. Although those numbers are strong, those figures could dip should the Huskies suffer any bad losses.
For example, losing to California (8-17, 2-10) and OSU (12-11, 4-7) would be considered “bad losses” in the eyes of the committee.
“You must eliminate bad losses,” Greenberg said. “The Kansas win resonates. No doubt about it. But they still cannot afford a bad loss.”
Greenberg said one thing helping UW’s chances is a lack of strong mid-major teams.
ESPN projects the American, Mountain West and West Coast conferences could combine to have seven teams reach the tournament.
The Atlantic Coast Conference alone, by comparison, could send up to nine.
“This is the time of year that unless you’re one of those programs that’s in, all you want to do is be in the conversation,” Greenberg said. “And you don’t have a bad loss.”
DeCourcy said it’s a bit premature to discuss the NCAA’s Field of 68 because a lot can happen in seven games.
A member of the US Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, DeCourcy said he’s seen too many strange outcomes in his career.
He recalled how Pittsburgh started off 13-5 during the 1993-94 season. The Panthers ended the year on a nine-game losing streak and missed the NCAA Tournament.
“If you were doing projections then, Pitt would have been a lock,” DeCourcy said about their fast start.
Both DeCourcy and Greenberg agreed having first-year coach Mike Hopkins at the helm of the team should guard against any pie in the sky expectations.
Hopkins played four seasons at Syracuse and went to the NCAA Tournament every year. As an assistant for more than 20 years, he’s also won a national title while being a part of teams that missed the tournament too.
“He’s been in competitive league races before,” DeCourcy said. “Even though the Pac-12 is not having a good year nationally, it is competitive from top to bottom.”
The top nine teams in the conference are separated by three wins. Arizona is atop the standings with a 9-3 record while Colorado is 6-6 and is lowest team with at least a .500 mark in conference play.
It’s another reason why UW’s final seven games are pivotal.
UW has already lost to three of the teams — Oregon, Stanford and Utah — it finishes the season against.
“Every team is going to have a bracketologist in the locker room,” Greenberg said. “One thing I tried to explain is if you’re in the conversation, you’re having a pretty good year. But you gotta finish and it can’t be a burden.
“You can’t hide from it and you have to control the controllable.”