Monday Morning Fallout: Cougs move up in both polls, Pac-10 picking up steam

THIS IS THE BEGINNING of what I hope to be a regular Monday feature: The Monday Morning Fallout. With the Pac-10 schedule the way it is (two games, Thursday/Saturday or Thursday/Sunday) and with the new polls coming out Monday morning, it seems like as good a time as any to size up the state of college basketball in the state of Washington and in the Pac-10.

One quick note: When talking about field projections by Palm and Lunardi, they're telling us what they think the field would be if the season ended today -- not what they think the field will be in March. It's useful both to show what work teams need to do to get in and to show how secure a team is in its performance so far. It evolves tremendously as the season moves along, but I'll tell you that these guys are usually pretty spot on by Selection Sunday.


Fresh off their dismantling of the Huskies on Saturday, the Cougars have moved up in both major polls, climbing to No. 18 in the coaches' poll and jumping back into the AP poll at No. 20. Additionally, CBS Sportsline's Gary Parrish has his own rankings in which the Cougs are No. 12. In ESPN's Power 16 (voted on last Thursday), a number of their "experts" have WSU in their top 16.

The love doesn't stop there. The Cougs are up to No. 24 in Jerry Palm's RPI rankings (generally considered the closest approximation of the Tournament committee's own secretive list), and his latest projection has the Cougars in the Tournament field as a No. 5 seed. Joe Lunardi's "Bracketology" has the Cougs in as No. 7 seed. Both projections came before Saturday's win.

And how about this from ESPN's Andy Katz to wrap things up: "The atmosphere at Wazzou (sic) looked like it could have been at any big-time college basketball arena. That's saying something for a program that practically had to beg for fans in previous years. The Cougars actually have a realistic shot to win the Pac-10 and get a top-two or three seed in the NCAAs."

Gonzaga, in the meantime, is surprisingly sitting squarely on the bubble. Obviously, the Bulldogs can still win the WCC, but as of right now, Palm has them out of the Tournament, while Lunardi has them in as an at-large No. 9 seed -- generally one of the final spots given out by the committee. Their RPI stinks -- No. 57 despite playing the 27th ranked schedule in the country -- and they're currently mired in a four-way tie atop the WCC after a stunning loss to St. Mary's. The committee claims that it doesn't look at past performance in making decisions, so if the Bulldogs want to avoid sweating it out on Selection Sunday, they need to pick up the pace.

Washington better turn things around fast. The Huskies aren't projected to be in the field right now by anyone, and they don't just need to start winning -- their No. 83 RPI number says they better start getting some good wins. Their strength of schedule is still high enough (No. 63) to suggest that they can climb back up the rankings, but they better get with it. A win against an Oregon team that will be playing without Aaron Brooks would go a long way for this team.

Eastern Washington, behind the best guard in the state -- Rodney Stuckey -- still has hope of returning to the dance. The Big Sky is a one-bid conference, but the Eagles have proved their right in the mix with a 4-4 record. Never heard of Stuckey? Too bad -- he's averaging 23.4 points, 5.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds. If you get a chance to see him, do it. He's awesome.


It was a good week for the Pac-10, tournament wise. All of the teams in tournament mix performed well, which is what this conference needs: If the bubble teams just beat each other up, the Pac-10 won't get those six teams it dreams of. UCLA swept a home set with the Arizona schools, as did USC; Oregon swept its home set against the Bay Area schools; and WSU beat up Washington. Stanford helped its cause by picking up a road win at Oregon State, and trust me, any road win is a good road win in this conference.

Arizona was the only potential tourney team to take a beating this week, as its conference losing streak was extended to three and the Wildcats now find themselves 2 1/2 games back in the conference standings.

What it adds up to is five "comfortable" bids for the conference -- UCLA, Oregon, Arizona, Washington State and USC -- with a sixth team apparently sitting on the bubble. In fact, none of those five "locks" are lower than a No. 6 seed in Palm's more recent projection, which featured only five Pac-10 teams. Lunardi had Stanford as one of his last four in the field, which probably didn't change after last weekend.

For a full look at the Pac-10 schedule this weekend, click here, where you'll find the Pac-10 weekly release on Monday night.

No comments: