Men's Hoops Enters Stretch Run

Now that we are halfway through the conference hoops ledger and the tournament season dawns just beyond the horizon, we thought that it might be fun to scatter a few March Madness bubbles before football National LOI day takes's center stage beginning Wednesday.

In noting Washington State's historic upset of Arizona in Tucson, let us hope that the Huskies don't fall under the same spell when they face Southern California this Thursday at BOA. This one qualifies as the ultimate "trap" game, as Washington – who beat USC by 25 before suffering their first conference loss at UCLA – looks for redemption with the Bruins on Saturday. The selection committee loves to point out "bad losses", and a home loss to the last place Trojans would definitely qualify with regards to seeding.

Of course, there is the current 18-game home winning streak to consider. A win over USC would advance the run to 19 games – longest in 52 years. The Huskies' all-timer is 25 games, set in 1931.

As for the rest of the second-half schedule, the obvious two "biggies" are at home against Arizona on February 26 and the regular-season closer at Stanford on March 5. But the three consecutive Northwest roadies could also prove sticky. Oregon has won four out of the last five meetings with Washington at Mac Court, and truly is in desperate need of a "marquee win" for any chance of getting back on the NCAA radar; Oregon State will want to atone for their debacle in Seattle that saw coach Jay John head for the hospital at halftime with a dangerously high blood-pressure reading; and Washington State could still be building its way towards a late-season run with their precious Tucson pelt in tow. The Cougars have only played badly once in their seven games at home – a 12-point loss to California.

Stanford is currently making a run similar to Washington's 12-game march of a year ago – their upcoming trip through the desert will be most telling. And does anyone really want Washington State in the first round of the conference tournament?

So – knowing full well that while pre-seeding is dangerous, none of us has to suit up so we are afforded the luxury of looking ahead - let's assume that the Huskies finish decent enough and wind up with a three or four-seed at the NCAA tournament, thereby facing a 13 or 14-seed in the first round. Knowing that 15 and 16-seeds are reserved for the inevitable "lesser conference" tourney upsets, and that the lowest at-large placements are normally given a 12-seed, here is a cursory look at some of the teams that might fall in the 13-14 range (assuming they don't get knocked off in their own league tournaments) that could be first-round opponents for Washington:

Vermont (10-0 America East, 15-3 overall): Two of their three losses are at Kansas (by seven) and at North Carolina. They boast one of the nation's best all-around players in Taylor Coppenrath (23 ppg).

Winthrop (6-1 Big South, 16-5 overall): Winners of seven straight in conference play, they lost at Oregon by twelve and at South Carolina by 10.

Old Dominion (9-1 Colonial Athletic, 19-3 overall): Only step-up game was a 13-point loss at DePaul, but ODU has a pair of seven-game winning streaks sandwiched around it.

Holy Cross (6-1 Patriot League, 15-5 overall): A three-point loss at Boston College and a five-point loss at Vermont help keep these guys under the radar. They like to keep it slow ala Washington State.

Davidson (10-0 Southern Conference, 14-7 overall): Lost by 13 at Duke, by 10 at Seton Hall and by three at UMass. Beat Missouri by three in Columbia. The Wildcats have won nine straight since a two-point loss at Princeton.

The "other" Wisconsins (Green Bay and Milwaukee – combined 15-5 in Horizon Leauge, 29-11 overall): They've split their season series. Green Bay played tough at the Bigger Wisconsin, and Milwaukee played Kansas tough. One of them most likely comes out of the Horizon tournament.

(As a side note – Kansas has beaten three of the above teams. Small wonder they have the top RPI in the country at this time.)

Speaking of the Ratings Index and the proverbial NCAA bubble, there are currently seven PAC-10 teams with an RPI of 50 or better. Five of them are knotted between 35 (Stanford) and 46 (Washington State) – bubble slots all. If the league keeps beating itself up, it's conceivable that five NCAA bids could go to the conference – especially if someone other than Washington or Arizona wins the conference tournament.

That would no doubt anger the Billy Packers and Jay Bilases of the world.

And isn't it a bit ironic that Quin Snyder – three years removed from an NCAA Elite-Eight appearance while being a popular choice among Husky fans as the man to replace Bob Bender – could be in a bit of trouble at Missouri? He survived the Ricky Clemons mess, but Monday's 73-61 loss at Kansas after an 11-point home loss to Kansas State dropped his going-nowhere Tigers to 2-6 in conference and 10-11 overall …

USC @ WASHINGTON – Thursday, February 3 (7:00 PM, no TV)

First meeting: January 6 – Washington 84, at USC 59

Leading scorers: UW – Simmons 22, Jensen 14 USC – Nick Young 20, Lodrick Stewart 10

Quick recap: The Huskies scored the first 10 points of the game, eventually stretching to a 36-19 halftime lead. A 10-3 Washington run to begin the second half increased the advantage to 46-22 and the Trojans never seriously threatened after that. The 59 points scored by USC remains their season low. Errick Craven missed the contest but will be back for this one. Mike Jensen scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half, while the Trojans' Nick Young tallied 18 of his 20 in the second half.

UCLA @ WASHINGTON – Saturday, February 5 (2:00 PM, Fox Sports Net)

First meeting: January 8 – at UCLA 95, Washington 86

Leading scorers: UCLA – Dijon Thompson 29, Brian Morrison 19 UW – Robinson 21, Simmons 19

Quick recap: Washington blitzed to a 30-9 lead in the first eleven minutes – perhaps their best stretch of basketball the entire year. But then fouls began to add up and UCLA crept back by finding the mark from long range, pulling to within 52-42 at half. Led by the combined 17-for-25 shooting by Thompson and Morrison, the Bruins pulled even at 72 with eight minutes to go and put it away late when Morrison scored eight points in the final three minutes. It was the Huskies' 19th consecutive loss at Pauley Pavilion.

Rick Samek can be reached at Top Stories