At the beginning of the season, nobody would’ve predicted the Washington Huskies basketball team to have a chance at the NCAA tournament. They were picked to finish 12th in the conference, as many were skeptical of how much the roster turned over in the offseason. Nine new players. Seven freshmen. One senior. Talent and athleticism everywhere, but hardly any experience and certainly no chemistry. There was simply just too much to overcome for this team to make any noise during their 2015-16 campaign. What Lorenzo Romar was building was a two-year project.
To the surprise of many, UW raced out to a fast start in Pac-12 league play, winning five of their first six conference games. Senior Andrew Andrews was an early favorite for conference player of the year as he led UW to early season success. Possibly the most impressive part was that the young Huskies were winning close games.
However, it was still evident that the Dawgs struggled with maturity. Many of the freshmen got in early foul trouble. The concepts of the defense Romar wanted to run seemed difficult for the young players to master. The lack of a true big man to match up with many of the taller players in the Pac-12. These things caught up to the team in the second half of the league season, as the Huskies limped to a 9-9 record after starting 7-3. They lost the close games that they were winning earlier in the year.
This is when Dawg fans once again voiced their displeasure with Coach Romar and another year without an NCAA Tournament appearance – this would be five straight seasons. Yet another frustrating year for a fanbase that has come to expect more from a coach that put this program on the map a decade ago. But the season is not over.
Now, as the Huskies prepare for their first Pac-12 Tournament game against Stanford tomorrow, they have an opportunity in front of them. Many experts think if they can get win a few games in the conference tournament and beat some superior competition along the way, that they may have a chance for an at-large bid. Though, the only way for the Dawgs to make the tournament for certain is to win the Pac-12 Tournament. And that’s a tall task for a young squad.
Is it possible? If there’s anything that I’ve learned from watching college basketball over the years it’s to expect the unexpected. The Huskies are full of talent and are athletic enough that they can cause some problems for their opponents.
On the other hand, it’s tough to believe this young of a team can pull off this difficult feat. But the Huskies’ youth is also the reason for optimism for fans. I truly trust what Coach Romar has done with the last two recruiting classes, headlined by 2016 five-star point guard Markelle Fultz. Even if blossoming talents like Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss leave for the NBA – which I don’t think they will, barring a huge tournament from them – this program is headed the right direction. There are plenty of freshmen on this team that will be tremendous four-year players: Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp, Noah Dickerson, and Dominic Green.
Overall, this season has been a success, even if UW is left out of the Big Dance. It’s the definition of a rebuilding year after cleaning house a season ago. Although it’s difficult to be patient, I think next year could be a special and memorable season for Husky basketball. I guarantee it.