Will UW’s bubble burst?

  • By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
  • Monday, March 8, 2010 12:14am
  • SportsSports

The weekend was good to the University of Washington men’s basketball team.

And not just because the Huskies extended their winning streak to four games by beating Oregon State in Saturday’s regular-season finale.

When it comes to UW’s NCAA tournament hopes, the Huskies (21-9 overall, 11-7 in the Pac-10) were also the beneficiary of a few results in other parts of the country.

Losses by Connecticut, Florida, Mississippi State, Rhode Island, Dayton, Georgia Tech and Alabama-Birmingham helped push UW toward the top of the NCAA bubble conversation. Northern Iowa’s Sunday win in the Missouri Valley Conference finals kept hopes alive that it would be a one-bid league, while Butler, Old Dominion, Siena and Gonzaga have thus far prevented upsets in their respective tournaments.

Whereas just three weeks ago the Huskies looked dead in the water, they’re quickly moving up the list of NCAA hopefuls. A 9-2 record over the past 11 games, four consecutive road wins and a third-place finish in the Pac-10 — not to mention the recent struggles of fellow bubble teams — have UW back in the thick of the talk for an at-large bid.

The Huskies are now ranked 50th in the ever-important RPI, which weighs record, opponents’ records and strength of schedule in determining which teams are among the nation’s best. Since the turn of the century, five Pac-10 teams have earned at-large bids despite RPI rankings in the 50s or lower.

The weekend action helped UW move up four spots in the RPI rankings. The Huskies are behind 10 other perceived bubble teams that are fighting for around 15 open bids — not including the 30 automatic bids and the 20 or so other tournament spots that are virtually locked up by high-ranked teams from big conferences.

ESPN’s Bracketology, which has been one of the most reliable gauges of the NCAA selection process, currently projects just one Pac-10 team — Cal — in the 65-team field. But Arizona State has moved into the “First Four Out” category, and Bracketology listed UW among the “Next Four Out” as of Sunday afternoon. Essentially, that means UW is six or seven teams away from making the field, according to the ESPN projections.

As the bigger conferences begin league tournament play this week, UW fans should be rooting for teams like San Diego State, UNLV and Memphis to struggle. The Atlantic Coast Conference tournament should be of particular interest in that three ACC teams — Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech — are all just ahead of UW in the RPI rankings.

Of course, the best way for the Huskies to earn an NCAA tournament bid would be to win the Pac-10 tournament this week. But based on some of the weekend results, including UW’s victory over Oregon State, a win or two in the Pac-10 tournament might be enough to earn an at-large bid.

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