During an unusually mild winter, the University of Washington men’s basketball team has spent far too much time sweating out its postseason fate.
After Saturday afternoon, the Huskies can finally let out a sigh of relief.
Getting into the NCAA tournament is no longer a concern, now that UW has won the conference tourney by way of a 79-75 win over California and earned the automatic invitation to the Big Dance. All that matters now is when and where the Huskies will play later this week – fates that will be unveiled this afternoon.
The most desirable spot would be Spokane, which will host regional games Friday and Sunday at the Arena. The Spokane pod includes No. 12 and 13 seeds from the West and Midwest regions, and those would be realistic projections for the Huskies (22-9).
San Jose, Calif., could be another likely destination for UW. The Bay Area city will host Thursday-Saturday games for Seeds 3, 6, 11 and 14 in the West Region and Seeds 4, 5, 12 and 13 in the South Region.
Other first- and second-round sites include Oklahoma City, Providence, R.I., Milwaukee, Jacksonville, Fla., New Orleans and Buffalo, N.Y.
The selection committee tries to put teams in geographically-friendly sites – though it’s assumed Gonzaga will be traveling as perhaps a No. 7 seed after being beaten in the West Coast Conference title game – but also aims to avoid having multiple teams from the same conference in each other’s early paths. Based on that, the Huskies would seem to be a logical Midwest Region No. 12 or 13 seed in Spokane, with Cal earning a West Region No. 12 or 13 seed in San Jose.
Despite UW’s impressive run – the Huskies went 12-2 over their final 14 games while winning the Pac-10 title – it seems unlikely that UW will be any higher than a No. 8 seed in the tournament.
The Huskies appear destined for a double-digit seed, based on an RPI rating that ranks 46th in the country.
UW’s seed could be affected by three of today’s conference championship games. If Minnesota (Big Ten), Mississippi State (Southeastern Conference) and/or Georgia Tech (Atlantic Coast Conference) pull off upsets, that could elevate the Huskies in the eyes of the tournament committee.
The last time UW entered the NCAA tournament as a double-digit seed, the No. 11 Huskies knocked off Xavier and Richmond to advance to the Sweet 16 of the 1998 tourney. The other time the Huskies had a double-digit seed was in 1986, when No. 12 UW lost a first-round game to Michigan State in Dayton, Ohio.
The Huskies have made the NCAA tournament in four of the last six seasons before this year. In 2008-09, UW beat Mississippi State in a first-round game at Portland but lost to Purdue in Round 2.
The last three times UW made the tournament, it opened in cities near the West Coast: Boise in 2005, San Diego in 2006 and Portland in 2009. In all three of those tournaments, the Huskies won their first-round games.