Respect not coming easy

SEATTLE - With just five games remaining in conference play, the 10-3 Washington Huskies just can't seem to get anyone's attention outside of Puget Sound. While UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona continue to garner the lion's share of the national press, the Huskies have done nothing but win – and usually win convincingly.

One would expect that the conference's most dynamic scoring offense would attract a little more love, but the Huskies may as well be living on the NCAA's version of No Man's Land.

One clueless basketball analyst, Yahoo's Jason King, went so far as to rank the Huskies fifth in the Pac-10 after their win over Oregon State Thursday night. And even those that have given UW some run, like the crew from ESPN, cautioned that the Huskies still had yet to face the Los Angeles schools on the road.

"We can come back next week, come back next Monday and we're in third of fourth place," Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said after the Huskies' 103-84 win over Oregon Saturday to put UW at 10-3 in league play.

"That's how this league is right now."

True enough, but it's not like the numbers don't add up. Washington has an RPI ranking of 19th, tops in the Pac-10 and the only team in the conference ranked in the top-25. Ken Pomeroy, using his mind-bending statistical formulations, ranks the Huskies 16th in the country, yet the Associated Press doesn't consider them worthy of a top-25 ranking.

In some respects, Washington has simply been a victim of bad timing. After racing out to an early 6-1 start, the Huskies found themselves earning brief sidebars in national media publications. A disappointing loss in Tucson ended their brief flirtation with the glare of the national spotlight. Apparently, it didn't matter that two nights later the Huskies blew out the then-No. 14-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils by 13 in Tempe - the same team that just beat UCLA at home.

Despite the presence of one of the country's most highly respected players in Jon Brockman, Washington apparently lacks star power. There's no All American like ASU's James Harden producing highlight reels on Sports Center, or headline-grabbing turmoil like you'll find at Arizona. They certainly aren't playing in the center of an entertainment universe either, like UCLA, nor do they benefit from their affiliation with rap stars and NBA lottery picks like USC does.

The Huskies just play hard and win.

A 5-2 road record in the Pac-10 and big victories over UCLA, USC and Arizona State should be worth something. Washington has easily been the Pac-10's most consistent team, lacking the glaring flaws that plague their conference rivals. They're balanced, legitimately going nine deep in their rotation, and don't rely on gimmicky defenses to stop opponents.

Coach Romar and his staff will tell you that they aren't paying much attention to any of that stuff, understanding that eventually it will work itself out on its own come tournament time. "Again, do we have focus?" he queried after the Oregon win. "Are we going to practice right this week? Are we going to pay attention to detail? That's all we can worry about. It's great we're in that position, we've worked hard to get there. But the moment we start to relax Oregon can score 59 on us in a half and so can Arizona."

Washington was so overhyped heading into the 2006-2007 season that the attention became a negative force within the program. Three years later, it appears they've finally recovered from the bad taste left in their mouths from those trying seasons.

Before people jump up and down about how no one should care what people like ESPN and Yahoo think, media attention is important for a number of reasons; not the least of which is its impact on recruiting. Elite recruits grow up dreaming about one day seeing their number called in front of a national audience, not to mention NBA scouts, and they're going to pick a school where they're going to be seen.

The fact that the Pac-10 rarely gets on national television due to its contract with Fox makes attention from national media publications that much more important. It's no surprise that the Associated Press poll isn't giving Washington much respect. They're known only by reputation, and at the moment, that reputation doesn't come with any flashy trappings or glamorous stories. There's no Cinderella story here: No over-the-top personality or NBA lottery pick blowing up the stat sheets like Nate Robinson or Brandon Roy used to do back when getting to the Dance was as certain as a Tre Simmons 3-pointer.

To be sure, Brockman is known as a bit of a folk hero in some circles because of his ability to rebound and the fact that he leads the country in double-doubles. And even Isaiah Thomas is starting to earn his stripes outside of Seattle, but the fact that he's just a freshman puts a serious crimp in any national analyst giving him anything more than lip service at this point in the season.

In short - if you listen to what the reporters outside of Seattle have to say, Washington is a nice story right now, but they haven't done anything. And Romar couldn't be happier about that.

But media attention can have serious implications, including its influence on the NCAA tournament selection committee. Being a household name definitely has its benefits come selection time. Higher seeding, games closer to home – it's not determined by national perception, but there is influence at work.

How else do you explain Gonzaga's continued relevance despite the fact that their post season performance has clearly proven that they don't belong in the upper half of the tournament brackets? All Washington does is win, and right now they are doing it better than any team on the west coast.

It's time for the rest of the country to start paying attention.


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