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Hard-to-peg Huskies sitting on the bubble for NCAA invitation

Sun., March 11, 2012

Washington basketball coach Lorenzo Romar, second from left, made his case for NCAA invite. (Associated Press)
Washington basketball coach Lorenzo Romar, second from left, made his case for NCAA invite. (Associated Press)

Sitting on a podium in front of a room crowded with media, Lorenzo Romar pleaded his case for Washington to receive an invitation to the NCAA tournament.

It was as if the Huskies were on trial and he was speaking directly to the selection committee, the basketball jury that will decide their postseason fate.

“I know we haven’t won as many games as we should have in nonconference as a league,” he said following an 86-84 defeat in Thursday’s Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals. “I would think the Pac 12 champion would be able to find a place in the NCAA tournament.

“We certainly didn’t help ourselves  but I would think we’d be able to find ourselves in there. I am not on the committee. The committee, they’re meeting, and we’re kind of at the mercy of their decision.”

Minutes later in a Staples Center hallway, Romar said if Washington is left out of the NCAA tourney, then the Huskies would accept a request to play in the National Invitation Tournament.

Washington submitted paperwork and cleared dates to host as many as three games at Edmundson Pavilion. “Just covering all of the bases,” he said. It doesn’t mean the Huskies (21-10) aren’t hopeful of making a fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, but their path to the Big Dance seemingly closed following their most recent losses to a pair of opponents (Oregon State and UCLA) outside the top 100 RPI.

ESPN bracket guru Joe Lunardi projects Washington is the first team outside the tournament. college basketball analyst Jerry Palm predicts Pac-12 tournament winner Colorado (23-11) and California (24-9) will represent the conference in the NCAAs.

At issue is how much credit will the selection committee give Washington for winning the conference title and how much it will punish the Huskies for an unimpressive nonconference performance.

One way or another, the Huskies will make history today. No BCS conference winner has been excluded from the tournament in the modern era while no team with an RPI of 69 or higher has received an at-large berth.

In 1944, Washington was the last regular-season major-conference champion to not make it to the dance.

“We talk about it in games all the time, when you don’t take care of your business and put your fate in other people’s hands, you have nobody to blame but yourself,” Romar said. “We didn’t do what we needed to do, so now here it is. Now we wait.”

Today the committee will distribute 31 automatic bids. Thirty are given to conference-tournament champions while the remaining bid goes to the Ivy League regular-season champion.

The remaining 37 slots are filled by teams receiving at-large berths. Romar participated in an NCAA tournament mock draft with selection committee members, and that experience tells him Washington is a long shot.

“The conference that you’re in is irrelevant,” Romar said on Seattle radio station KJR-AM Friday. “They look at our body of work. The only argument is we won our league, but there’s other leagues that the winner wins the league with maybe 25 wins and they don’t get invited to the big dance because the body of work of the entire league wasn’t where it should be.

“The only part that may be in our favor is if they look and say there are not 68 teams out there that are better than this team.”

Some have argued the NCAA tournament expanded last year to make room for bubble teams like Washington. Perhaps the Huskies are destined for one of the four play-in games in Dayton, Ohio. USC was sent there last year.

“I hear what everyone is saying, but for some reason I think there’s room in the tournament for a team like Washington,” Fox Sports Northwest analyst Don MacLean said. “You set a terrible precedent if you don’t take them.

“You’re basically saying, we don’t care about the 18-game (regular-season) schedule and we put more value in three to four games one week at the end of the season. Not sure if the NCAA wants to open up that can of worms.”

If an NCAA tournament berth eludes the Huskies, then they’ll set their sights on the NIT. Conference regular-season winners such as Washington are guaranteed a spot in the 32-team field. The first three rounds of the tournament are played at home sites of the team with the highest seed, unless the higher-seeded team declines the right to host.

Quarterfinal winners advance to New York’s Madison Square Garden for the semifinals on March 27 and championship on March 29.

UW has made four NIT trips and posted a 1-4 mark. Romar was a starting guard for UW in 1980 when it lost at UNLV in the opener.

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