MONDAY MORNING FALLOUT: Huskies take care of business; Cougs shaky in another close loss

OK, so it's actually Tuesday. Sue me. I don't have a lot of time to write, so let's cut to the chase.


It was a wild weekend for the Pac-10, but two clear winners emerged. One of them was Washington, who beat then-No. 7 Oregon and Oregon State at home to keep their fading NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Never mind the fact that Oregon played without Pac-10 Player of the Year frontrunner Aaron Brooks -- it was a much needed win for a program that had taken a beating the previous weekend at WSU.

The wins don't put UW back in the NCAA picture yet -- especially with LSU, the Huskies' lone big non-conference win, absolutely falling apart -- but it was a good start to the most critical stretch of the season.

That said, we'll know in the next three weeks whether this team is serious about getting back onto the bubble. The Huskies travel to the Arizona schools this week, and a sweep is not out of the question. The Sun Devils are terrible, and the reeling No. 20 Wildcats have lost five of their last seven, including a blowout loss at home to No. 3 North Carolina. Then UW returns home for three against Cal, No. 23 Stanford and No. 18 WSU before traveling to No. 7 Pitt. Rest assured, if the Huskies go through that stretch without going at least 4-2, they'll be out on Selection Sunday.

As for the Cougs, their rankings show the kind of respect the Pac-10 is getting, as a good win over OSU and a heartbreaking overtime loss to Oregon was good enough to move them up in both polls (No. 18 AP, No. 17 Coaches). That said, I'm getting a little bit disturbed by the Cougars' lack of ability to finish close games.

I know this team "arrived" about a year early, and that our current expectations might be reaching unrealistic levels given where this team was a year ago. But you hate to see the close ones slip through your fingers. This team is now 2-3 in games decided by four points or less, including three-point losses to ranked teams (UCLA, Stanford and Oregon). Additionally, one of those wins was against Arizona after blowing a seven-point lead in the final two minutes.

Granted, Oregon needed a bank in 3-pointer and a little help from the refs to pull this one off, but I'd like to see this team take a moderate lead against a quality opponent into the final four minutes and hang on for a comfortable victory at some point.

The loss to the Ducks was a bit of a blow to the Cougs' RPI, dropping them to No. 34 in Jerry Palm's rankings. Don't be surprised if they've moved down a bit seedings-wise when the latest projections come out. Braketologist Joe Lunardi had them on a No. 5 seed before when they were No. 24 in the RPI; expect them to now be on a 6 or 7 line.

It would be nice for the Cougs to really get back on track this week with a sweep on the road, but methinks that trip to Tucson on Thursday looms as a bit of a trap. Something tells me the wounded Wildcats aren't going to roll over after suffering the worst home loss in Lute Olson's tenure at U of A.

Meanwhile, Gonzaga continues to win, but hardly look impressive doing so. The Bulldogs have climbed back up into first place in the WCC, but the game that really matters this week is their trip to Palo Alto tomorrow to take on newly-ranked Stanford. This is the kind of quality road win the committee likes to see should the Zags get upset in the WCC tournament and miss out on their conference's automatic bid.

Eastern Washington continues to yo-yo up and down in the hypercompetitive Big Sky, where seven of the nine teams are within two games of first place. The Eagles missed out on a great opportunity to draw into a first place tie when it lost to now-first place Weber State by nine on the road. Two more games on the road finish up EWU's toughest stretch of the season. The Eagles then get a chance to gain some momentum heading into the Big Sky tournament with four straight at home to finish the regular season.

The other big winner of the weekend was Stanford. Bubble teams always are looking for that signature win to hang their hats on, and the Cardinal certainly grabbed one of those with its come-from-behind upset of UCLA. Lunardi said he thought Stanford would be a team that straddled the bubble most of the season, but if the Cardinal can avoid the bad loss the rest of the way -- such as tomorrow against the Zags who, for better or worse, are not a quality RPI team this season -- it should be in good shape to make it the sixth Pac-10 team in the tournament.

What has happened to Arizona? I know Marcus Williams was hurt, but my goodness, that loss to UNC was embarrassing. The Wildcats absolutely quit on that game, looking completely outclassed by the Tar Heels. One has to wonder at this point if U of A -- which only goes six or seven deep -- is hitting a wall with their starters having logged so many minutes. Let's see how they respond to the Cougs, who already have beaten the Wildcats once.

Everyone else seems to be cruising along adequately, as the top six teams in the conference are all within two games of the lead. The big question is this: Would it be possible to get seven teams in the dance? In my mind, there's only one way that happens -- if either Cal or Washington goes on a tear, and the other goes in the toilet. Otherwise, there just won't be enough wins to go around.

1 comment:

Katina said...

Go Dawgs!

The end.