This morning the NCAA revealed the first version of the new NET ranking which is to replace the RPI as the primary metric used by the NCAA selection committee (Washington came in at 58th). The NET is an attempt to blend some predictive models with the strictly resume-centric focus of the RPI and take a step towards more logical selection criteria. The system clearly has its flaws but its initial release confirms that the Pac-12 is already in crisis mode if they want to earn more than a couple of bids to the NCAA tournament.
The Dawgs have had a solid start to their season with wins over Western Kentucky, San Diego, and Texas A&M and their only losses on a near buzzer beating
travel 3-point shot against a very respectable Minnesota team and on the road against a top-10 Auburn squad. In most seasons that start would put the Huskies in good position for a team expected to win 11+ games in the Pac-12.
But for the 3rd straight year the Pac-12 is the garbage dump of the power conferences. In order for conference wins to mean something you have to beat quality opponents. And there are very few quality opponents out there this season on that Pac-12 schedule. In the initial NET rankings there are 0 Pac-12 teams in the top-25 and just three in the top-50.
The NCAA shifted last season to a system that is based on quadrants rather than top-50 or top-100 wins. The quadrant system at least makes an attempt to give increasing weight to wins on the road or on a neutral court. So far, Pac-12 teams have played 23 quadrant 1 or 2 (Q1 or Q2) contests. They are 5-18 in those games. For context, the ACC is 14-11, the Big 10 is 12-11, the Big 12 is 12-7, the Big East is 11-14, and the SEC is 7-20. While the SEC is nearly as bad they at least have a pair of top-10 teams that have lived up to expectations in Auburn and Tennessee. The Pac-12 doesn’t have that fallback plan and those lack of wins now are going to come back to bite the conference’s behind in a big way come Selection Sunday.
The bottom of the league in particular appears to be woefully inept. Those 5 wins in Q1 and Q2 have been by ASU (2), plus one each by Washington, Oregon, and Arizona. The other 8 teams have all put up a respective goose egg. The lack of wins is one thing but there have also been some bad losses. Utah got stomped by Hawaii, Cal lost to Yale, and the Cougars lost to Seattle U albeit without their star Robert Franks. Those Q3 defeats will take a major upset along the way in order to have their damage undone on each team’s resume.
There are still another 31 games that are expected to be Q1 or Q2 in the non-conference for Pac-12 teams before the formulas become a closed circuit. So we’re only about halfway through the meat of the non-con schedule. But given the start the conference has had so far there’s no reason to expect a dramatic improvement coming.
The Huskies still have 2 more games remaining of the Q1/Q2 variety and they’re both major challenges. The road game against Gonzaga is likely the hardest game on the Huskies’ schedule and given how the Dawgs played at Auburn, a win seems like it will be a big ask. KenPom agrees and gives UW just a 13% chance of victory.
The game then that may be make or break for Washington’s NCAA hopes is the “neutral” contest against Virginia Tech. KenPom is slightly more optimistic about UW’s chances in that one with a 30% chance for a win but that doesn’t take into account a few factors. While the game is technically a neutral contest it also is much closer to VT’s campus and they won’t have to change time zones. The Hokies also beat the crap out of the Huskies last year with almost the same team and have a roster full of exceptional shooters to launch over the UW zone yet again.
Even with the Pac-12’s struggles there are still 8 conference games for UW that fall into either Q1 or Q2. The opportunities are out there. But the math is already against them. Let’s say Washington wins every game it’s supposed to and goes 10-0 in the Q3/Q4 games (plus undefeated in those non-conference games). That’s 19 wins right there but with no more than 1 win over a projected tournament team (if WKU wins Conference USA once they get back to full strength).
If the Huskies go 4-4 in those final 8 conference games they’d be 14-4 in the Pac-12 but is 23 wins with your best win coming from a game like at ASU going to cut it? That’s almost identical to USC’s resume from last season when they were a surprising exclusion from the NCAA tournament. It’s also hauntingly similar to 2012 when the Huskies were relegated to the NIT despite winning the Pac-12 because of a lackluster 6-5 non-conference schedule.
Washington entered this season with a clear goal of making the Tourney but unless they and the rest of the conference step up their play over the next month then that light in the distance is already beginning to fade.
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