The chairman of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee says Washington probably will be the subject of lively debate come selection time on Sunday.
“It’s something we’re going to spend some time on,” selection committee chairman Bob Bowlsby said. “If you look at historical factors, there certainly are some issues there. If you look at the body of work that constitutes Washington’s season, then clearly, they have played some terrific basketball.
“I don’t want to get into an evaluation of them as a candidate, but it will be a situation that will challenge us.”
Although the Huskies (17-10) can eliminate any debate about themselves if they earn at at-large berth by winning the Pacific-10 Conference Tournament, a strong showing at the league tourney may also get them in. A winner of 12 of its past 14 games, Washington can point to its record in its last 10 games, including a victory over former top-ranked Stanford, to impress the committee.
On the other hand, a loss in the opener against UCLA tonight clouds the Huskies’ fortunes. Indeed, the Huskies represent a case of extremes. How heavily does a 5-8 start count, a start that included losses to lower-rung teams such as Houston, Wyoming and UCLA, versus their off-the-charts, late-season push?
The Huskies also would like to bring down their Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), which was 77 Wednesday. No team with an RPI higher than 74 has ever received an at-large berth.
“We’d love to make it as easy as possible on the committee,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “To do that, we have to keep winning.”
Also working against Washington may well be upsets in other conference tournaments around the nation. Surprise winners of conference tournaments may muscle bubble teams such as Washington out of the 34 at-large NCAA tournament berths.
For example, Missouri Valley Conference champion and 24th-ranked Southern Illinois likely nailed down a berth without its conference tournament. However, it was upset by Northern Iowa, which eventually won the tournament and flagged down what would have been an at-large berth to The Dance.
Bubble teams also held their breath as Santa Clara almost scored an upset over third-ranked Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament, nearly taking another precious at-large berth away.
“Bubble teams have to hope that conference tournaments go according to predictions,” Bowlsby said.
Causing more uncertainty is the human element of the selection process. One committee member may place greater importance on RPI than others. Another may consider a team’s last 10 games as a deciding factor.
“We have a lot of tools to bring into this,” Bowlsby said. “Sometimes, it seems like we have too much information.”