Ever since I graduated from the University of Washington in 2006, my fascination with college basketball has declined. This isn’t any surprise; I wasn’t really a huge college basketball follower to begin with (my attention more on the NBA). It really didn’t pick up until my freshman year in high school when I realized that it was my next stepping-stone into my basketball career, and it would probably be best to start paying attention to it. Nowadays, when I do get back into the mood, it tends to be around the time the conference tournaments are starting up. One thing that never changes: I do check on my alma mater every week or so to see how they’re doing, which leads me to my mid season report card for huskies men's basketball team.
The high expectations for this year’s group have been the most realistic (in my opinion) since I was back on the team. I say that because last years squad had a strong finish that was capped off with an appearance in the Sweet 16. And with the majority of the players all returning you would expect them to at least accomplish what they did last year, if not even more. I have also been hearing comparisons to the 2004-05 team, and that they could perhaps be better.
At first I was skeptical, but this year’s team does share some resemblances to the 2004-05 team (In my opinion the best Washington basketball team ever ensemble). For starters, this year’s bunch does have a deep bench just like we did. The more depth a team has, the more lineups your able to present for various situations within a game. Their guard play is above average; they have different guards who bring distinctive strengths to the table (the injury of Abdul Gaddy does hurt a lot). They thrive in an up tempo style game, which is always hard to prepare for and play against. Virtually all of the core players were on the team last season, the more experienced the player the better. But the most similar trait this group has with the 04/05 team is how they transitioned into the team they are now (the coming of age of sorts). A mid season turn around (2009-10) made this season (2010-11) easier for them to sustain the momentum/chemistry they had already established. Just as we did in 2003-04 (turn around season), we started the next season (04-05) just as we left off the season before, winning games.
The Huskies were off to their best start in the Pac-10 in over 24 years. Yet, in the back of my mind I’m still thinking, “How good are they really?” and “How much of an impact can they make in the tournament?” Right off the bat, it’s easy to notice that the competition in the Pac-10 (right now) isn’t very good, at least when you measure it up to when I was playing. Every year, the PAC-10 (2002 to 2006) would get at least six teams into the NCAA tournament, and from those, three teams would make it into the second weekend of action. So yes, the teams I was a part of were more frequently battle-tested, week-in and week-out during conference play. Fast forward to now, the Pac-10 would be lucky to get three teams into the “Big Dance”. So as far as an opportunity for this current Huskies team to be tested by a high caliber team just isn’t there, and that could hurt them when it comes to getting a favorable seed from the selection committee (the amounts of quality wins aren’t there). Nevertheless, I expected them to dominate conference play this season and disappointed they're not right now. So without a doubt they will have to dominate the remainder of conference play (hope Arizona and UCLA stumbles along the way) and win the Pac-10 tournament to make up for the 3 game skit they had.
Until the season is over with, we won’t actually know where to rank this year’s team. How far they go into the post season will in the end help determine their all-time positioning. We finished the 2004-05 season with a 29-6 record (#1 seed in the NCAA tournament) and lost to Louisville (which ended up going to the Final 4) in the Sweet Sixteen. If they were to fall short and not even reach the Sweet 16, I would have to consider it an underachieving year. Therefore not putting them ahead of any of the three teams that made the tournament when I was there. On a side note, as much as I enjoyed the 2004-05 team and season we had, the other two Washington teams that reached the tourney (03-04, 05-06) were equally as good and unique in their own way also. This season’s group of guys has all the necessary pieces to make themselves a “special” team to remember for years to come. Regardless of my analysis and outlook on the current team, I do believe in the hype and wishing them a strong finish to the season. Mid Season grade C+