The University of Washington men's basketball team hosts Oregon on Saturday night in the final game of the regular season. The Huskies are still hoping to get to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011. KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel talked to Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick about why it's more of an uphill climb now.
STRONG START, FALTERING FINISH
"It's been a tumultuous end to the Pac-12 Conference regular season," Thiel said.
"The Huskies last week lost to the worst team in the conference, Cal. Then they beat Stanford by one point. And then Wednesday of this week they had to take overtime to beat Oregon State. And all three of these teams are either mediocre or bad.
"So they're entering the final game Saturday against Oregon really needing to have kind of a dominant win to restore faith in the populous because they've had some struggles that have been uncharacteristic of their run to date.
"The defense isn't as tight. The offense is slow. And it's just causing a lot of neurotic twitching among the Husky fans."
CLEAN SLATE IN POSTSEASON
Thiel explained that the Huskies winning the Pac-12 regular season championship doesn't mean much in the postseason.
"It means that they will get the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 Conference tournament that's coming up in Las Vegas March 13-16," he said.
"The winner of the postseason conference tournament gets the automatic entry into the 68-team NCAA field. Right now, the Huskies as the regular season champions doesn't mean a whole lot other than they're one of four teams getting byes in that tournament in Las Vegas starting Wednesday."
TWO PATHS TO MARCH MADNESS
Thiel said there are two ways for the Huskies to get to the NCAA tournament — winning the Pac-12 tournament or getting an at-large bid from the tournament selection committee.
"And the tournament selection committee is skeptical of the Pac-12 for very good reasons because the Pac-12 Conference is terrible," he said.
"This could be the year that they get no other bids besides the automatic tournament winner. They'd probably would get one (at-large bid) but the Huskies really don't want to hang their hat on that.
"Winning the tournament outright makes that Selection Sunday, March 17, an easy day for them but at-large means that randomness can enter the thinking of the tournament committee.
"The fact that the Huskies have not had a signature win this year — in other words, a big win over a higher-ranked or higher-seeded team — that just hasn't happened. And with that in mind, they're going to say, 'This team, as an at-large, isn't very good. We're not going to take them.'
"That could happen and that would be a huge disappointment. One thing to remember is the Huskies, right now, are 15-2 in conference with one game left. Two years ago, they finished the regular season 2-16.
"This is a remarkable turnaround and it really does deserve, I think, the reward of an NCAA tournament berth.
"Mike Hopkins has done a great job in his second year as coach and I think these players really deserve that shot. Beating Oregon Saturday is going to be the start. And they're going to still have to prevail, I think, in the tournament to be assured of the NCAA berth."
WHAT ARE THEIR CHANCES IF THEY MAKE IT?
"I think the chances, actually, in the tournament might be pretty good. They're a hard team to scout for a one game, do-or-die. They play a great zone defense. Teams typically don't see a lot of zone defenses.
"The Huskies do it as well as anyone in the tournament. And they can be difficult to beat in that early-round match. And I could even see them winning a second time. It's getting there that's the challenge."