Little to root for around here come NCAA tournament time

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comMarch 2, 2014 

The calendar flips to March, and madness descends.

Except around here, it’s not madness in the sense of frenzied behavior of hoop-crazed fans but the more colloquial usage, as in fans getting angry that their basketball teams are so ordinary as the NCAA tournament approaches.

Of the major teams in Washington state, Gonzaga locked up its 13th West Coast Conference regular-season title in Mark Few’s 15 seasons as coach.

And Washington showed some spark by dusting off Washington State on Friday night, 72-49, at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.

The Cougars, well, the 49 points against UW tells you all you need to know — they can’t score. And those 49 points came against a Huskies team that, before this game, was last in the Pac-12 Conference in scoring defense.

A look at Saturday’s unofficial RPI ratings of the three teams is uninspiring: Gonzaga is at 31, Washington at 77 (behind Harvard, Iona and Delaware), and Washington State at 195 (behind, well, almost everybody).

And look back. At this point last season, Gonzaga was on its way to the No. 1 ranking in the country. The Zags (24-6), who were scheduled to face Saint Mary’s on Saturday night, are not even in the Top 25 now.

Although they enter the WCC tournament as the top seed, they have looked vulnerable with losses in three of their previous six games.

Considering their regular-season conference title and NCAA history, the Zags seem likely to end up in the NCAAs for a 16th consecutive season. But it might

not be a lock yet.

Washington (16-13, 8-8 Pac-12) has time to pad the résumé with UCLA coming to Seattle on Thursday and USC visiting for the regular-season finale Saturday.

In the spanking of WSU, the Huskies were led by the promising backcourt tandem of freshman Nigel Williams-Goss (17 points, four assists and 12 rebounds) and sophomore Andrew Andrews (16 points, four assists and nine rebounds).

That’s 33 points and 21 rebounds from a pair of guards. Equally impressive is that they combined for just two turnovers.

But, again, that’s against the Cougars.

A couple of good wins and a run in the Pac-12 tournament could boost the Huskies toward the bubble.

Still, the home arena hasn’t been filling up, and after coach Lorenzo Romar led the Huskies on a stretch that included three consecutive NCAA appearances and a pair of Pac-12 titles, this is the second season in which it looks as if UW is headed for a middle-of-the-pack finish.

That feels like a loss of momentum for the program.

The Cougars (9-19, 2-14) continue to slip. They had 13 wins overall and four in the Pac-12 last season. In the five seasons under coach Ken Bone, the Cougs are 28-60 in conference play.

Bone got 25 somewhat heroic points out of Curtis High School product DaVonté Lacy on Friday against the Huskies. Lacy missed a good portion of the season because of injury and illness. And now the Cougars are 340th in the country in scoring and 333rd in field-goal percentage.

Those aren’t numbers that bode well for continued employment.

Some of the issues, at least with UW and GU, are those so many programs face when they lose their best players early to the NBA.

Romar knew ahead of time that Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten were possible early defectors, but, still, those two could have been on UW’s roster this season.

GU All-American Kelly Olynyk could have been back this season, too.

All three were first-round picks, and leaving college was an obvious decision.

Ross banged in 51 points for the Toronto Raptors in one game this season. Wroten is averaging 13 points a game for the Philadelphia 76ers, and Olynyk is adding five rebounds to his seven-point average for the Boston Celtics.

Unless you’re steadily cycling in other talents like them, which is almost impossible, your team is operating at a deficit.

It’s a reality of contemporary college hoops.

But when your team is in one of those down cycles, especially as the NCAA tournament approaches, it’s enough to replace your madness with anger.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling

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