My fellow Cougars, this was an excellent week for the state of Washington. But for a moment, let's focus on Cougar Basketball (because I'm avoiding making a presentation for school). A somewhat convincing sweep of the Oregon schools helped us level our conference record at 2-2 and reach 12-4 overall. We were certainly expected to win both games and outside of a rally by Oregon State we did so easily. Since we've reached approximately the halfway point of the regular season, let's look around the interwebs to evaluate the State Of The Cougs.
First, of course, is the excellent KenPom Cougar page. We're currently rated 33rd in the country, good for 3rd in the Pac-10, behind UW (5) and Arizona (17) and just barely ahead of USC (37). Ken gives us about an 80% chance to finish with 20 or more wins, and sees us most likely ending up at 21-9 (11-7 conf.). Game-by-game, however, sees us only favored to lose in three more games - @Arizona and both UW games. Sounds about right to me. Other than hosting Arizona, every other game is a game we should win with 60% probability or better.
KenPom also has myriad miscellaneous pieces of information that may be of interest. The only statistics where we are not at least average are FTA/FGA and Offensive Rebounding - neither of which should be a surprise to fans who've watched the games. The only Coug who ranks in the top 500 players in free throw rate is Marcus Capers, and the only reason he ranks high in that is because all he does is dunk and shoot free throws. I'm a little surprised that Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore aren't higher on the list and perhaps that's something we'll work on over the year. Another interesting tidbit - despite playing at least 50% of the available minutes, Abe Lodwick and Capers both register as limited contributors to the offense. Luckily we've had total man-crush posts about both players to help us recognize their roles!
Over on ESPN, Lunardi has updated his NCAA bracket projections. He's had us taking a
play in first round spot for the last few projections but now we're a solid 10 seed (if you're looking, we're in the Southeast region against Temple). Washington gets a 5, Arizona gets an 8, and USC gets a play in first round spot for the right to play as a 12 seed. UCLA is about 8 spots away from making the field. Our RPI (might be Insider, sorry) is 59th, with our best wins coming against Gonzaga and Portland (!). The RPI will get straightened out as good teams play each other more often in-conference, so the value of those two wins will probably decrease while the Baylor win will become more helpful and the K-State & USC losses look less bad. Unless K-State has truly gone off the deep end... Our best news is probably that we have no bad losses, and if we can avoid losing to ASU, Oregon and Oregon State the rest of the year we will finish with zero sub-100 RPI losses. Overall, while it's still early, we're on pace to make the Big Dance.
That opinion is confirmed by several bracketologists other than Lunardi. I encourage you to click that link and check out the Bracket Matrix website. They compile rankings from a whole host of bloggers and analysts along with the date they were last updated. I don't know which ones are actually worthwhile but the matrix is good at least for gauging the wisdom of the masses. We are generally in the 10 - 12 seed range. Another good psuedo-projection is Andy Glockner's Bubble Watch, which is a fun read and is usually updated weekly. He has us "in the mix" and currently as an 11 seed.
Before the season, I think most of us felt we could finish in the top half of the conference and maybe sneak into the tournament but more likely make the NIT. Now it looks like we can play our way into the tournament without needing to do something crazy like finish with a 14-4 conference record plus a couple Pac-10 tourney wins. My best guess is that we would lock a spot, regardless of Pac-10 tourney performance, by winning out at home and only losing @UA and @UW. We're probably in if we lose those two plus hosting Arizona and UW, and we're at the cusp of not making it if we can't beat USC & UCLA at home and take at least 1 of 2 in the Bay Area (without winning one of those others, of course). Tournament teams win those games, at least in a semi-down year for the Pac-10.
Hope this was a useful and stimulating post. This team has been growing in talent and experience and could put together a special run towards the end of the year. And if Klay stays, next year could be truly great. But for now I'm happy to just enjoy the ride. As always, Go Cougs!