BY Steve Rudman 07:22AM 03/02/2011

Nobody Asks But Us

If Washington wins 20 games, is it a lock to make the NCAA Tournament?

The Washington Huskies close out their Pac-10 regular-season schedule with games against UCLA and USC this week / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

By losing to Washington State last Sunday night at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Washington fell to 10-6 in Pac-10 play and 19-9 overall. The Huskies have two conference games remaining (Thursday against UCLA and Saturday against USC). If UW wins 20 games, is it a lock to make the NCAA Tournament?

The short answer is this: The odds are in their favor, but it really depends on what the Huskies do — or don’t do — in their two final Pac-10 games and in the Pac-1o Tournament at Staples Center in Los Angeles, assuming they don’t win it.

Since the NCAA Tournament bloated to 64 teams for the 1984-85 season, 96 Pac-10 teams have posted 20 or more wins. Of the 96, only nine failed to receive an invite to the Big Dance. Those snubbed:

In case the numbers blur your vision, two of the nine, Washington State in 1991-92 and Cal in 1998-99, each won 22 games and didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament. All nine of the castoff 20-win teams subsequently received bids to the National Invitational Tournament, small consolation since no one cares about the NIT anymore.

So while only nine 20-win teams out of 96 didn’t make the NCAA Tournament field, there’s no law that says Washington can’t be the 10th.

During the same period referenced above, 1984-85 through 2009-10, 14 Pac-10 teams that failed to reach 20 victories reached the NCAA Tournament.

Washington already has 19 wins, so it should console the suddenly reeling Huskies to realize that not only have five Pac-10 teams with 19 wins made the NCAA Tournament in years past, but nine have made it with 18 or fewer wins. This group includes:

  • 1986-87: Arizona, 18-12
  • 1991-91: Stanford, 18-11
  • 1995-96: California, 17-10
  • 1996-97: USC, 17-11
  • 1998-99: Washington, 17-12
  • 2004-05: UCLA, 18-11
  • 2004-05: Stanford, 18-13
  • 2004-97: Stanford, 18-13
  • 2007-08: Oregon, 18-1

Another method of assessing Washington’s NCAA Tournament chances — assuming, of course, that the Huskies do not win the Pac-10 Tournament, which carries an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament — is by looking at conference victories.

The Huskies currently have 10 conference wins (10-6 overall), with the chance to finish 12-6, which would necessitate victories over UCLA and USC. Going back to 1984-85 (64 teams in the NCAA field), 74 Pac-10 teams finished regular seasons with 12 or more conference wins. Of those, 72 reached the NCAA Tournament. The stragglers:

  • 1984-85: UCLA failed to make the NCAAs and played in the NIT.
  • 1987-88: UCLA finished 16-14 overall, and did not participate in a postseason tournament.
  • 1988-10: Every Pac-10 team with at least 12 conference wins has made the NCAA Tournament Field. Thus, evidence would suggest that if the Huskies sweep the week, they’re in. We’ll get to the “but” later.

Since 1984-85, 27 Pac-10 teams have finished regular-season play with 11 league victories, which Washington will do if it splits with UCLA and USC . Washington swept the Bruins (74-63) and Trojans (73-67 in overtime) earlier this season. Of the 27, 23 made the NCAA Tournament field. Those that didn’t:

  • 1985-86: California got snubbed by the NCAA and played in the NIT.
  • 1987-88: Stanford could do no better than an invite to the NIT.
  • 1992-93: Arizona State failed to get an NCAA bid and went to the NIT.
  • 2005-06: Stanford played in the NIT.

If the 10-win Huskies get swept at home by USC and UCLA — two weeks ago we would have echoed Foghorn Leghorn — “that’s the most unheard of thing I’ve ever heard of” — their NCAA Tournament chances don’t exactly go up in flames, but all of us will be choking on smoke.

Of the 21 Pac-10 teams that won 10 regular-season conference games since 1984-85, just nine played in the NCAA Tournament. A rundown, keeping in mind that in many years no Pac-10 team won exactly 10 league games:

  • 1986-87: UW, California and Oregon State all went to the NIT.
  • 1987-88: Oregon played in the NIT.
  • 1988-89: California went to the NIT.
  • 1989-90: Oregon played in the NIT.
  • 1990-91: Arizona State and USC both went to the NCAAs.
  • 1991-92: Stanford played in the NCAAs.
  • 1993-94: WSU played in the NCAA Tournament; Stanford and Arizona State played in the NIT.
  • 1994-95: Stanford made the NCAAs; WSU played in the NIT.
  • 1996-97: Washington played in the NIT.
  • 1998-99: Washington played in the NCAA Tournament.
  • 1999-00: UCLA played in the NCAAs; ASU went to the NIT.
  • 2002-03: Oregon played in the NCAAs.
  • 2006-07: Stanford went to the NCAAs.
  • 2009-10: Arizona didn’t play in a postseason tournament.

Heading into the final week of the regular season, Washington would seem to have the historically required number of wins, both total and league, to make the NCAA Tournament field (again, assuming the Huskies don’t win the Pac-10 Tournament). But the ultimate decision as to whether UW will actually get selected depends as much on how the Selection Committee feels about the Huskies (are they hot and Tournament ready?) — especially their recent history and their trends —  as it does on wins and RPI.

The Huskies really need to pick it up.


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