The Washington Huskies officially announced this morning that they will be playing in the James Naismith Classic this fall against the Tennessee Volunteers. The game is scheduled for Saturday, November 16th in Toronto, Canada as part of a triple-header event.
Last season’s Volunteers squad ended up as a #2 seed and were upset in the Sweet 16 by Purdue 99-94 in OT. They were viewed as the best team in the country for part of the season and were a top-ten team by just about every metric.
Unlike Auburn last season however, Tennessee is expected to take a significant step back entering this upcoming campaign. 2-time SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams is heading for the NBA and it’s expected that starting PG Jordan Bone will join him (the deadline to withdraw is tomorrow). The Vols also lost starters Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander to graduation. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish has Tennessee 20th in his most recent Top 25 and 1 update this morning although there will surely be some movement following the draft withdrawal deadline tomorrow.
It looks like Washington can expect to have another top-heavy non-conference schedule again next season. Here’s what we currently know about Washington’s slate.
The Huskies will take on Baylor in the Armed Forces Classic in Anchorage, Alaska on Friday November 8th. Baylor won a 1st round game over Syracuse as a #9 seed in the NCAA tournament last season and enters at #21 in Parrish’s rankings after losing only a pair of rotation players from that team.
Washington will also take part in the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas in Honolulu, Hawaii with games on December 22nd, 23rd, and 25th. The 8-team event also includes Houston (12), Georgia Tech (115), Boise State (139), Ball State (133), Hawaii (201), UTEP (299), and Portland (326) with their final finish in KenPom’s rankings last season in parentheses. Match ups have yet to be announced but if the bracket is set up according to team expectations then Washington (if they keep winning) can expect a 3-game stretch of something like UTEP, Georgia Tech, and Houston.
Houston made the Sweet 16 as a 3-seed last season and are currently ranked 17th in the CBS pre-season rankings. They lose leading scorer Corey Davis and starting PG Galen Robinson Jr. but will still be dangerous. Georgia Tech has been exceedingly mediocre under coach Josh Pastner and hasn’t made an NCAA tournament since 2010. But the yellow jackets were incredibly young last year (306th in experience) and return all 5 starters so they can be expected to improve.
The rotating home-and-home series with Gonzaga moves back to Hec-Ed this year after Washington came oh so close to pulling off the monumental upset in Spokane last season. The Zags are currently 9th in Parrish’s Top 25 and 1 for next season with the decision of Killian Tillie for the draft tomorrow likely making a big difference. Gonzaga lost as a #1 seed in the Elite 8 to eventual runner up Texas Tech this past season and will lose their top 4 scorers from a year ago. However, like Washington they’ll bring in a stacked recruiting class and will continue to be active on the grad transfer market for a new starting PG.
Finally, Jon Rothstein has previously reported that the Huskies will host Lehigh at some point. The Mountain Hawks led the country in 3pt% and finished 20-11 in the Patriot League last season so they should present a solid mid-major challenge. It will be a homecoming for Seattle Prep grad Nic Lynch who was a freshman at Lehigh this year and at one point held a UW offer although the Huskies ended up with Bryan Penn-Johnson and Nate Roberts at the center spot instead.
Last year the Huskies’ non-conference schedule ranked 93rd in difficulty per Ken Pomeroy. If the Diamond Head Classic goes to form and the Huskies get to take on Houston and Georgia Tech then this slate seems just as tough with the chance for it to get even more difficult pending the last few additions. It seems unlikely despite the drain of talent that Gonzaga falls out of the top-25 which means it will count as a Q1 game even though it’s at home. Tennessee, Baylor, and Houston all look like clear top-50 teams which would make any neutral site contests against them also Q1 opportunities. And it’s not impossible that a neutral game against Boise State or Georgia Tech could sneak into that range although Q2 seems more likely.
Washington put themselves behind the 8 ball last year by going 0-4 in their primary non-conference games last season. That meant that even with a 15-3 Pac-12 record they still couldn’t even get to a #8 seed come NCAA tournament time. That result was especially disappointing with a veteran team that you would have expected to be close to its peak in November with maybe less room for growth during the season. With a completely revamped roster and potentially no PG Quade Green in the non-conference it will be a major challenge for Washington to win at least 2 of their premier games. But in order to make fans feel good about their chances for a return to March Madness, that’s exactly what the Huskies are going to have to do.
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