How Can Losing Still Be a Positive?

Washington's Huskies qualified for the NIT Season Tip-Off Semis at Madison Square Garden over Thanksgiving weekend and ended up losing to Texas A&M 77-63 and then to Syracuse 91-85 to finish 4th. Should we panic?

Lorenzo Romar's squad went into the NIT at 3-0 after beating New Jersey Institute of Technology 88-47, Utah 83-77 and Eastern Washington 82-68 (three average to terrible teams).

The bad news is that the Huskies lost both of their NIT games. The good news is that they played some really good teams so the experience was a total positive compared to last year when Washington got off to a 10-1 start by beating a bunch of nobodies.

Entering the NIT, Sagarin rated Ohio State 20th, Washington 28th, Texas A&M 30th and Syracuse 38th. Following the tournament, Sagarin rated Texas A&M 6th, Ohio State 23rd, Syracuse 37th and Washington 61st.

Texas A&M beat Ohio State 70-47 to win the NIT while Syracuse finished 3rd by turning back Washington. The Ohio State loss was noteworthy as the Buckeyes lost to Florida in last year's national championship game 84-75. So Texas A&M's stock zoomed up, Ohio State's dropped slightly, Syracuse's remained essentially the same and Washington's stock dropped with a thud.

In the process, Husky Coach Lorenzo Romar found out his team really suffers when junior standout Jon Brockman is on the bench, when Brockman is double-teamed and the Huskies cannot hit 3-pointers to open up the paint when needed, and when Washington's young team gets lax on defense.

It is likely that playing subpar competition would have meant that the Husky deficiencies would not have been noted until later in the season.

For the moment, it is clear that sophomore forward Quincy Pondexter, Washington's most athletic player with the biggest upside, must score and rebound whether Brockman is in the game or in foul trouble on the bench. The Huskies also need senior guard Ryan Appleby, one of the nation's best shooters behind the arc, to get back from rehabbing a broken right thumb.

It is already clear that when freshman guard Venoy Overton is on the floor, the Huskies are a better team. Overton is fast and speed kills, both in football and basketball. Overton can push the offense up the floor quick time. He has great hands and his scoring will improve every game he plays.

Against Texas A&M in the opener, the Huskies led at the half 36-32 and when the Aggies came back in the second half, they immediately double-teamed Brockman low and got away with it when Washington could not drain shoots beyond the arc. Brockman had a double-double (13 points and 11 rebounds) in the first half and finished with 21 points and 15 boards.

Against Syracuse in the consolation round, the Huskies were whistled for 35 fouls and the Orange for 17 (they were playing in New York, home state of Syracuse). In short order, Brockman was in foul trouble, followed by the 7-footer Joe Wolfinger, Venoy Overton and Quincy Pondexter.

Is it any wonder Washington could not hang on? The wonder is they only lost by 6 points. Pondexter did pick up a double-double (20 points and 13 boards) before exiting in foul trouble. As good as Brockman is, he needs help from Pondexter and better guard play from everyone.

Washington has 2 seniors—guards Ryan Appleby and Tim Morris (a transfer from Stanford)—and 4 freshmen—guard Venoy Overton and forwards Justin Holiday, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Darnell Gant.

I am so pleased with Romar's schedule early on. I would rather be 3-2 against better competition than 5-0 against a bunch of cupcakes.

The NIT competition was extremely important as Washington's next 8 opponents before its Pac 10 opener against Washington State the first Saturday in January (1-5-08) are nothing to brag about. Six of the 8 games are at home and 2—Oklahoma State and LSU—are away.

Five of the 8 opponents are terrible—Long Beach State (rated 233rd out of 341 Division 1A teams), Portland (219th), Portland State (150th), Cal State Northridge (177th) and Idaho State (242nd).

Only 2 opponents are decent—Oklahoma State (92nd) and LSU (80th)—and one is currently rated top flight—Pittsburgh (10th). Washington is currently rated 61st. If the Huskies are to get on with it, they need to win 7 of these next 8 games.

These ratings change at least weekly and some teams will be rated higher or lower, but rest assured the 5 opponents who I flagged as terrible are not going to get better anytime soon.

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Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley Top Stories