Huskies Earn Spot in NIT Season Tip-Off Semis

Lorenzo Romar's Washington Huskies will take a walk on the wild side Thanksgiving weekend after knocking off New Jersey Institute of Technology and Utah to qualify for a spot in the NIT Season Tip-Off Semis at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

What a difference a year makes. Last season Romar picked up Spencer Hawes for a brief season before Hawes turned pro, but Washington did not exactly impress with the presence of Hawes who opted for the big money rather than return to the Huskies.

Last season the Husky fans and team members were flooded with hope. The Huskies opened their season with 7 straight home victories against a bunch of nobodies and cupcakes, got their backside handed to them in a 20-point loss to Gonzaga in their first away game, then won 3 more nothing victories at home to be 10-1.

The season all but ended when they started Pac 10 play against much tougher competition. Washington was 17-2 at home, 1-10 away and 1-1 on neutral courts to finish 19-13. They did not get a bid to the NCAA tourney and were even snubbed with no bid to the NIT tourney.

This season is a much better start. They are 2-0 and headed toward playing much better teams at Madison Square Garden before entering Pac 10 play.

Will it make a difference? I think so. If you want to be among big time competitors you must play big time competitors rather than playing cupcakes to build up a winning record that does not mean squat.

Washington will meet Texas A&M and Ohio State will face Syracuse Wednesday (11-23-07) with the winners playing in the championship game and the losers in the consolation bracket on Friday (11-25-07). The NIT should give the Huskies national exposure and a major test.

To get a handle on NCAA basketball you first need to know that there are 119 Division 1A football teams and 341 Division 1A basketball teams. Yikes, following basketball is like going to the zoo.

Washington opened its season at home by committing 12 first half turnovers before easily beating New Jersey Institute of Technology 88-47. All Husky fans really need to know about this game is that NJIT is rated exactly 337th among the 341 Division 1A teams. In other words, they are terrible and getting worse at 0-3.

Utah, the Huskies second opponent, decided not to lie down and roll over in another game at Hec Ed Pavilion. Washington had a 9-point lead at the half and then gave back the momentum as Utah opened the second half with 3 straight 3-pointers during a 10-0 run.

Rather than fold like they might have last year, the Huskies put together an 11-2 run to end the game and win 83-77, which prompts the question, "Who needs Spencer Hawes?"

When it really counted, Junior inside man Jon Brockman set career highs with 31 points and 18 rebounds.

Brockman, a 6-foot-7, 255-pound plow horse who is not afraid to mix it up under the basket, was up against Utah's 7-foot-1, 265-pound junior center Luke Nevill.

All you really need to know about this game is that Washington out rebounded Utah 14-2 on the offensive boards and 40-26 overall (the plow horse outplayed the giraffe), Nevill and 2 other Utes fouled out, and the Huskies did not fold when it counted, all good signs heading into season.

Freshman guard Venoy Overton, out of Franklin High School in Seattle, played significant minutes with significant impact, and 6-foot-6 freshman forward Justin Holiday showed up down the stretch with defensive intensity, unselfishness, and a great defensive assist to keep the Huskies comeback effort intact.

Kudos to Coach Lorenzo Romar for throwing caution to the wind by facing much better teams on the historic and dangerous boards at the granddaddy of competition for many major sports—Madison Square Garden.

For the record, Utah is rated 84th nationally by Sagarin, Syracuse is 38th, Texas A&M is 30th, Washington 28th and Ohio State 20th. Now we're talking. Go Dawgs, carpe diem (that would be Latin for "seize the day").

Note: Read more of Ed Bagley's articles at Ed Bagley's Blog
Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley

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