The Washington Huskies return to the NCAA Basketball Tournament for the first time in three years when they play the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Thursday afternoon in Portland.
For seniors Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon this will be their last Big Dance as Huskies. Both played important roles as freshman the last time UW was in the tournament. It is fitting they go out as the same way they came in as valuable components of a team that could go deep in the tournament.
The initial draw didn't do them any favors as they face a tough Mississippi State team that is coming off an SEC conference tournament championship. The Bulldogs depend on 6'9 pivot Jarvis Varnado who is one of the best shot blockers in the country. He reminds a little bit of USC's Taj Gibson who swatted away more than a few shots in two losses the Huskies this season.
Mississippi State isn't as deep as the Huskies and they aren't as talented. If you take Jarvis Varnado out of the equation this is a very average team that wouldn't be playing in this tournament. Washington will try to drive the ball inside early to try to get the big guy in early foul trouble to negate his impact on the court.
Washington matches up well with the Bulldogs at every position on the court and having a bull like Brockman to battle it out with Varnado gives Washington an edge that most teams don't in the muscle category. Varnado only is listed at 210 pounds so you have to think that the 6'7 255 pound Brockman will be able to dominate him in most categories going into this one.
Varnado doesn't only block shots. He can score to and leads the team with an average of 13.1 points per game going into the tourney. He was voted to the first string SEC All Star team this past season.
On the outside the Huskies have an advantage when it comes to speed and depth. The Bulldogs like the Huskies sport a freshman point guard in Dee Bost who has been impressive this season averaging 11 points per game. Head to head I have to give the edge to Isaiah Thomas. When you add Venoy Overton to the mix you factor in a lot of pressure all game long for Bost to deal with.
Other Bulldogs to contend with are swing man Ravern Johnson who averages 12.2 points per game and shooting guard Barry Stewart who averages an even 12. Like the Huskies the Bulldogs spread out the scoring and have a pretty balanced offense.
Washington State had no problem beating these guys on a neutral court earlier this season. Defensively even with Vanardo's shot blocking ability I give the Huskies an edge because of the pressure and depth they can deploy with the guards out on the perimeter. I give Washington the overall advantage in this one because the Huskies just seem to have a little more talent and depth on the roster.
Like almost every game the Huskies have played in this season it will be close. UW doesn't blow away opponents they wear them down. Washington has that extra energy to win the last ten minutes of most games. Factor in the semi home court advantage of playing in front of a lot of purple in Portland and I pick the Huskies by nine points in this one.
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