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How Safe are the Huskies to Make the NCAA Tournament?

Are we reliving 2012 like some kind of cruel Groundhog Day scenario?

NCAA Basketball: Oregon State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The 2012 Washington Huskies won the regular season Pac-12 title in a historically down year for the conference. They proceeded to lose the final game of the regular season to UCLA then lost to #8 seed Oregon State in the 1st round of the Pac-12 tournament. Washington did not earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

The 2019 Washington Huskies won the regular season Pac-12 title in a historically down year for the conference. They proceeded to lose the final game of the regular season to Oregon then will play either #8 seed Arizona or #9 seed USC in the 1st round of the Pac-12 tournament.

The first part of each of those paragraphs is way too similar for most Husky fans. And if the Huskies were to lose on Thursday afternoon...

Washington fans are forgiven for having deep mental scars after becoming the first power conference to have its regular season champion fail to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament back in 2012. But how realistic are those fears of Groundhog Day in the here and now?

The RPI was the primary selection criteria used for the NCAA tournament back in 2012 while this season will utilize the NET for the first time. Since we don’t have the capability to apply the NET to 2012, I’m going to substitute it with KenPom’s efficiency rankings which are generally within about 10 spots of the NET for most teams this season.

The 2012 team was ranked 67th in KenPom entering the NCAA tournament. They had a stretch in the non-conference where they went 2-5 with a trio of losses away from home against top-20 teams but also an OT road loss against a sub-100 Nevada team and a home loss to South Dakota State who ended up making the NCAA tournament but was 7-4 against D1 competition entering the game. Their best win was at #51 Arizona who finished 4th in the conference standings and ended up with a #1 seed in the NIT. They finished with a 7-10 record against Q1 and Q2 competition but were undefeated in Q3 or Q4 games.

This 2019 squad is ranked 47th in KenPom entering the Pac-12 tournament. They lost a trio of games away from home to top-20 teams as well as a neutral loss to top-75 Minnesota who it looks like will make the NCAA tournament. Their best win is at #61 Oregon who unless they win the Pac-12 tournament will certainly not be an NCAA tourney team. Washington currently has an 8-6 record against Q1 and Q2 competition but also dropped a Q3 game (barely) at last place California.

Those resumes are not dissimilar although I think the 2019 team has the edge even if you were to add an additional Q2 loss on Thursday afternoon. In order to compare resumes I created a system that grants points for wins based on their quadrant standing and subtracts points for losses based on their quadrant standing. This year’s Washington currently has 52 victory points and -11 defeat points for a net total of 41. That would move to 39 if they were to lose on Thursday. The 2012 team entering the NCAA tournament was at 42 and -14 for a net total of 28.

This year’s resume is better than 2012 but let’s also compare this season’s team to the rest of the bubble. Here are the resumes of each team between a 9 seed and an 11 seed in the consensus. Factoring in some bid thieves you can expect that approximately 8-10 of these 12 teams will end up in the NCAA tournament.

2019 NCAA Tournament Bubble (Pre-Conference Tournament)

Team Wins Losses Resume Margin Q1/Q2 Record Wins over Proj 1-8 Seeds NET KenPom
Team Wins Losses Resume Margin Q1/Q2 Record Wins over Proj 1-8 Seeds NET KenPom
Washington 24 7 41 8-6 0 38 47
Ole Miss 20 11 33 7-11 3 34 43
North Carolina St 21 9 29 8-8 1 32 31
Baylor 19 12 28 12-9 5 36 35
Florida 17 14 24 6-12 1 33 30
Utah State 25 6 27 4-5 1 30 40
TCU 19 12 29 8-12 2 47 48
Minnesota 19 12 30 9-12 3 56 46
Syracuse 19 12 26 7-10 2 44 38
Texas 16 15 21 9-14 6 39 27
Seton Hall 18 12 32 12-10 4 62 59
St. John's 20 11 29 10-9 4 66 75

Resume margin refers to the combination of victory and defeat points referenced just above. If that’s what the committee ultimately looks like then the Huskies are in without any question at this point. Washington scheduled a very tough non-conference schedule and the lack of opportunities is due to a down year in the conference rather than any attempt to duck a challenge. The Cal loss is bad but it’s their only loss outside of the top two quadrants and at least for now counts as a Q3. But that formula has the problem of treating all Q1 games the same and all Q3 games the same. Does the committee actually view a road win at Colorado the same as Syracuse’s road win at Duke? They probably don’t and definitely shouldn’t.

Washington has a lot of games that are just on the right side of the divide between quadrants. The Cal loss is barely Q3 and not Q4. The Colorado wins are barely Q1/Q2 and not Q2/Q3. Those two teams play each other in the 1st round of the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday so it should be impossible for them to both drop to the next quadrant but it’d be nice if they played just close enough of a game to keep their standing.

Regardless of what element you value in that table, the Huskies are certainly in the upper tier of those resumes. Realistically, it would take a loss on Thursday in the first round of the Pac-12 tourney plus just about every one of those teams winning at least one game in their respective conference tournaments when most will be a coin flip. Most bracket analysts have them as a lock. There are a lot of things that would have to go wrong. But it isn’t completely impossible. Especially, if the committee adopts the mindset they seemingly appeared to in 2012 which is that the game on Thursday is a play-in game for Washington. If you want in, then prove it.

And frankly I don’t know if I could blame the committee for taking that stance. 2 weeks ago the Huskies were 22-5 with 0 losses in Q3/Q4 games and 0 losses at home with 3 Q3 or home games remaining. They proceeded to go 1-2 in those games. If this team wants to be in the NCAA Tournament then they absolutely need to win on Thursday. I’d rather back door into the Tournament to end the streak than not get in at all but for this group of seniors it would be so much more satisfying to go out there and win the Pac-12 tournament to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that this team has gotten what it has earned: an NCAA tournament berth.

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