The Dawgs traveled to Honolulu over the Christmas holiday for the eight-team Diamond Head Classic. While the tournament field was not as laden with blue-bloods as some preseason tourneys, it still offered UW a legitimate test in the final. The Dawgs held serve in the first two rounds against Ball State and Hawaii. You could be forgiven if you don’t think of those as traditional basketballs schools, though both teams have been fairly respectable. UW did enough to win both games fairly comfortably to set up a final match-up with a strong Houston team.
Although only the Dawgs came into the game in the top 25, the betting line for the game was a pick’em, which shows that it was an even match-up. UW looked dominant at times in the first half, but the Cougars made tactical adjustments that allowed them to find holes in the UW zone after halftime. They got better shots, made more of them (especially from three), and capitalized on poor UW play at the other end. Jaden McDaniels struggled in the second half with bad shots and turnovers after a strong start. Hameir Wright had one of his worst shooting games even though Houston left him all alone to double-team other threats. Isaiah Stewart was a major bright spot with 25 points. For the tournament, he averaged 23.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game.
The loss means UW finishes non-conference play with only one win (over Baylor) that will stand out to the committee at tournament selection time. There will be chances against the likes of Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado to improve their standing, but the poor second-half will definitely go down as a missed opportunity. The Huskies are off the rest of this week before they open Pac-12 play by hosting the LA schools next weekend.
Most of the rest of the conference was similarly unimpressive over the last week. Arizona lost a neutral-site game against a St. John’s team that is no better than decent. Oregon State was walloped by Texas A&M, who already has five losses on the year. Arizona State would have liked to get a home win against Creighton, but came up short. Fresh off a big win over Kentucky, Utan was thrashed by San Diego State. While none of these losses were devastating, they will not help the conference’s perception into March.
The big exception to the conference let-down was Colorado’s win over Dayton. I recently wrote about how Obi Toppin has evolved into one of the best players in the country for the Flyers. With Dayton up one and seconds left in overtime, Colorado tried to get the ball inside. When the double-team arrived, they kicked it out to a wide open D’Shawn Schwartz, who drilled the three at the buzzer to give his team the win. McKinley Wright IV, the versatile junior guard for the Buffs, put up 29 in the game, which might be a sign that he is getting out of his early-season shooting slump. Tyler Bey has been more consistent on the year than Wright and has been an excellent rebounder for being a wing.
Colorado’s only two losses were an understandable one against Kansas and a hangover loss to Northern Iowa the next time out. Their offense will need to come around- they have not shot well and they have turned the ball over far too much. Their calling card has been their defense, which ranks 21st nationally in defensive efficiency. Even on defense, there are some questions about sustainability. Their biggest strengths have been limiting three point attempts (although not accuracy) and creating non-steal turnovers. Both of those stats could reverse with smarter play by their opposition. I still think Colorado will be a good defensive team, though perhaps not the elite one they have been so far. To meet their lofty pre-season projections- as high as second in the Pac- they will have to improve their offensive performance.
It was a very rough week to be ranked in the top 10. Consider a few of these results for teams ranked in the top 10 in the Week 7 AP poll:
- #1 Kansas traveled to Philadelphia for a rock fight with Villanova. Devon Dotson missed a wild lay-up at the buzzer in a 56-55 loss.
- #6 Kentucky got caught looking ahead when they lost to Utah, then lost to #5 Ohio State anyway. The Buckeyes were ranked #5 because they dropped an unexpected game to Minnesota the week before.
- #7 Maryland opened the season with 10 straight wins, then lost to Penn State and Seton Hall back-to-back. Seton Hall was without their two best players, but still held the Terps to 26.9% shooting and 48 points.
- #9 Virginia, who is perennially one of the best defensive teams in the country, allowed an uninspiring South Carolina team to shoot 55% from the field en route to a 70-59 win that wasn’t even close down the stretch.
When the dust settled, Gonzaga moved to the top spot in the polls. Ohio State made it back up to #2, followed by Louisville and Duke. The early part of this season has demonstrated that there is no super-team, but quite a few teams who are excellent in certain areas and lacking in others. That sort of parity should make for wide-open conferences and an unpredictable NCAA tournament.
This weekend is relatively quiet on the hoops front while the CFP takes center stage. If you’re looking for one game to watch, check out the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry game on Saturday.