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Examining WSU basketball’s postseason possibilities

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NCAA tournament? NIT? CBI? Let’s look at postseason possibilities and probabilities for the Cougs.

Washington State basketball NIT NCAA tournament CBI James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars head to Arizona for their final two regular-season games in 2020 this weekend. Like all teams who still alive in their conference tournament, the Cougs are technically still alive for an NCAA tournament bid should they go on a run in Las Vegas next week. But what about other postseason possibilities, including the NIT and CBI? Let’s look at what it would take for the Cougs to reach a postseason destination.

First, it’s essential to know what the NCAA selection committee considers when picking who gets to dance in March Madness and who will lightly sway in the NIT. The NCAA provides team sheets, which focus primarily on NET rankings and NET Quadrant records, along with other prominent rankings from KenPom, Sagarin, and ESPN. Here’s WSU’s:

WSU Ncaa tournament resume NIT CBI

There are two Quadrant 1 wins—pretty good but nothing to catch the eye of the committee. That Quadrant 2 is looking solid, but you might expect an NCAA tournament team to win one or two more there. The Cougs failed in Quadrant 3, and ouch that Omaha loss still hurts in Quadrant 4. Still, at least two more Quadrant 1 opportunities on the horizon.

Now that we know how WSU is evaluated, let’s look at what the Cougs need to do to reach the NCAA tournament or NIT.


WSU’s NCAA Tournament chances

WSU’s NCAA tournament hopes are straightforward—the Cougs have to win the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. Even sweeping the Arizona schools and making a run to the Pac-12 title game won’t be enough at this point, given WSU’s punchless non-conference schedule and accumulated record.

Likelihood? Very, very, very, very, very unlikely. WSU’s first-round opponent in Vegas is probably going to be one of Stanford, USC, and Arizona. Those are the worst possible matchups for the Cougs. Just getting out of the first round would be tough. After that, they’d have to beat some combination of Colorado, Oregon, UCLA, and probably one of the Stanford, USC, or Arizona that they missed initially. It’s a long shot.


WSU’s NIT chances

Back in 2009, WSU looked like it had no postseason aspirations following a stretch where it lost five of six games and sat at 13-13 and 5-9 in league play. The Cougs then completed an improbable three-game winning streak over UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona State. That stretch would catapult them into the NIT for the infamous “Marcus Capers made two jumpers against Saint Mary’s” game (which was otherwise highly forgettable).

Could a similar stretch propel the Cougs in 2020? Thanks to UW still hanging in the top 75 of NET, last Friday’s win qualifies as a Quadrant 1 victory. Both Arizona and Arizona State offer the same potential. If the Cougs were to sweep this weekend, and maybe tack on another win in the Pac-12 tournament over a solid team (Not Cal), it wouldn’t be crazy to think they could find themselves on the NIT bubble.

Likelihood? Well, KenPom gives WSU an 8 percent chance to win at Arizona and a 19 percent chance to win at Arizona State—put those together, and it’s a roughly 1.5 percent chance to win both games. Should they overcome those odds, they’d likely face Cal, Utah, or Oregon State in the first round. The Beavs could provide a quality win, depending on where they land in the NET, but WSU would probably have to beat them and then beat whichever opponent they face in the second round.

Honestly, putting all that together to build an NIT resume seems just as improbable as winning four games to take the Pac-12 tournament and head to the Big Dance. So, if you are rooting for an unlikely situation to become a reality, that tournament run sounds like a lot more fun.


There’s also the CBI

There’s also a chance WSU will play some postseason basketball if it doesn’t win another game. Kyle Smith mentioned a while back that the CBI has already invited the Cougs, which doesn’t require a winning record, and doesn’t go by any established selection criteria.

Likelihood? Seems high, given that WSU hasn’t played in any postseason tournament since 2012 (also the CBI), the athletic department will probably be willing to fork out the CBI’s fee to participate.

But dare to dream about the NCAA tournament or NIT. Anything is still possible. Highly improbable, but possible.