Washington moved into first place in the Pacific-10 last Saturday then cracked the Associated Press' top 25 for the first time this season Monday.
However, Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar isn't ready to throw a party just yet. In fact, he thinks back to just two winters ago and tells a cautionary tale to explain why you can't get too excited about a college basketball team in late January.
"Being ranked is a credit and a compliment to our program but it doesn't ensure that we're going to be in the NCAA tournament," Romar said. "Two years ago, we were ranked No. 8 in the country and wound up not making anything. There are a lot of games left to play."
Sure enough, Washington stubbed its toe Thursday night with a 106-97 loss at Arizona. Nevertheless, the Huskies are 15-5 overall and 6-2 in the Pacific-10.
Washington did indeed sit at home for the postseason in 2006-07 with a 19-13 record. Things got even worse last winter as the Huskies slipped to 16-17, ending a string of four consecutive winning seasons that included a No.1 seed in the NCAAs in 2005 and a trip to the Elite Eight in 2006, while bowing out in the first round of the inaugural College Basketball Invitational.
However, things are looking up in Seattle this season--despite the loss Thursday--in a winter in which the city is without an NBA team for the first time in 41 years following the Sonics' departure to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder. Romar credits the Huskies' success with his players buying into the team concept.
"I don't know if we were all on the same page back when we started practice in October but now we are," Romar said. "Certain guys have accepted that they are expected to do certain things to help the team be the best it can be. Whether they like it or not, guys are putting their individual aspirations aside to do whatever the team needs. Guys are doing the little things that successful teams do."
One of those little things is getting to the foul line on a consistent basis. Washington is 36th in the nation in FTA/FGA at 45.9 percent. The Huskies have four players ranked in the nation's top 500 in free throw rate: senior forward Jon Brockman (56.7, 158th), freshman guard Isaiah Thomas (52.9, 212th), senior guard Justin Dentmon (44.6, 356th) and junior forward Quincy Pondexter (39.4, 476th).
"It comes from us always being on the attack," Romar said. "We play an inside-out game and we're always looking to be aggressive. That's our mentality, be in attack mode, and it really fits our personnel."
Brockman is Washington's most recognizable player, a four-year starter whose 49 career double-doubles are more than any active player in the nation. Brockman is again a terror on the boards this season as he ranks 19th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (15.7) and 41st in defensive rebounding percentage (23.6) while also standing 86th in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (8.1).
Dentmon, another senior, has also helped the resurgence with a 119.6 offensive rating that ranks 114th in the country.
However, Washington's sparkplug has been the 5-foot-8 Thomas, who has made a seamless transition into college basketball despite his small stature. The Huskies' offense is already flowing through Thomas, as evidenced by the fact he is 108th in the nation in percentage of offensive possessions (28.2) and 177th in percentage of shots (28.6). His offensive rating is a solid 109.8 and he is 46th in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (6.5).
What makes Thomas so difficult to defend is that he is seemingly in constant motion. His ability to get off shots is reminiscent of former NBA guard Damon Stoudamire, now the director of basketball operations at Rice.
"It's funny but I was in Hawaii two summers ago and I ran into Damon and told him we had a kid coming in who reminded me so much of him," Romar said. "Damon asked me if the kid's name was Isaiah Thomas. He already had heard of him and the comparisons.
"The thing about Isaiah is that you just don't know what he's going to do. It looks like he's going to pull up for a jumper but then he's so quick that he'll drive right into the paint. Then when you think he's going inside, he can pull up and hit the jumper.
"I knew we were getting a good player when we signed him but he's probably even better than I thought now that he's here and we see him every day. He's a very special guy and has a chance to do some pretty big things before he's through."
Gottfried and Felton Gone
The first two coaching casualties from big-time programs this season came from the Southeastern Conference this week as Alabama's Mark Gottfried resigned under pressure and Georgia's Dennis Felton was fired after leading the Bulldogs to an amazing run to the conference tournament championship last season.
Among the names being mentioned as a possible successor to Gottfried are Missouri's Mike Anderson, Alabama-Birmingham's Mike Davis, Virginia Commonwealth's Anthony Grant and Minnesota's Tubby Smith. A dark horse might be the Denver Nuggets' T.R. Dunn, a long-time NBA assistant coach who played at Alabama.
Grant is also expected to be at the top of Georgia's list. Smith, too, is being mentioned as possibly going to back to Athens as he coached the Bulldogs before leaving for Kentucky. However, it appears he is quite content in his current job of trying to build Minnesota into a Big Ten power and has no burning desire to return to the SEC.
Alabama athletic director Mal Moore, though, made it clear he wants someone who can lead the Crimson Tide to the top of the conference. Alabama is 12-8 overall and 2-4 in the SEC after losing at Arkansas 89-80 on Thursday night in the first game under interim coach Philip Pearson, who was promoted from assistant coach.
Alabama has missed the NCAA tournament the last two seasons after making five straight appearances. The Crimson Tide's best showing in that span was an appearance in the Elite Eight in 2004, where they lost to Connecticut in the regional final.
"We want to find a coach who we feel can keep us in the championship picture, to compete for SEC championships and NCAA tournament play and to take us as deep as possible into that tournament," Moore said. "We plan to research coaches then go after the first couple of guys or three who we rank in a certain order. Toward the end of the season and possibly at tournament time, we'll be ready to make our move and hire a coach who will take us forward."
Though Georgia won two games on the third day of an SEC tournament delayed by a tornado that ripped through downtown Atlanta, the Bulldogs could not build off the NCAA tournament appearance. They fell to 9-11, 0-5 after being blown out 83-57 at Florida on Wednesday night.
Assistant Pete Herrmann, who was the head coach at Navy from 1986-92, will replace Felton on an interim basis.
"We thought wining the SEC tournament would be a momentum builder for us," Georgia AD Damon Evans said. "To be where we are today is a disappointment but we've got to move on now and focus on how we can get this program to where it should be. There is no doubt in my mind that it should be one of the premier programs in the country."
Though rumors had persisted for weeks that Gottfried might not last through the season, Alabama's players were still a bit surprised when he called a team meeting and reveled he had resigned.
"I was sad," senior guard Alonzo Gee said. "It was depressing. He's the only coach any of us have known here at Alabama. We were all kind of shocked about it."
Fighting Irish Streak Snapped
Connecticut's Jeff Adrien lived up to his promise.
The senior forward said he and his Huskies teammates looked forward to going into South Bend last Saturday and ending Notre Dame's 45-game home winning streak at the Joyce Center, the longest in the nation. Connecticut then downed the Fighting Irish 69-61.
Adrien couldn't resist gloating a little in the game's final seconds. He looked at Notre Dame's student section and stuck out his chest.
"Just to let them know we're here," Adrien said. "This is UConn. It's our gym now. You guys just leave quietly. It feels so good. We snapped something they treasure."
Notre Dame senior guard Kyle McAlarney said in the days leading up to the game that the streak defined the Fighting Irish. However, Notre Dame has now lost two straight at home after falling to Marquette 71-64 on Monday night.
Notre Dame has lost four games in a row in all, falling to 12-7 overall and 3-5 in the Big East. The Fighting Irish figure to have a rough time pulling out of their tailspin Saturday when they visit Pittsburgh (18-2, 6-2) but are getting no sympathy from coach Mike Brey.
"It's not Cub Scouts, man," Brey said. "I'm not holding any hands. Either grow up and deliver or don't play. That's where we're at. I'm not giving massages and telling guys how beautiful they are."
We're Number #114!
The CBI gave college basketball three post-season tournaments last season and there will be a fourth this March with the creation of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. It will be a 16-team single-elimination tournament that will be played entirely at on-campus sites based on seeding.
The field will be selected after the NCAA and NIT brackets are announced. Criteria for selection will include win-loss record, strength of schedule, strength of conference and how teams fared in their final 10 games.
A number of former coaches will serve on the selection committee including Hugh Durham, Lou Henson, Gene Keady, Jim Phelan and Nolan Richardson.
Games to Watch
Five games to watch based on the Pomeroy Ratings with all teams Eastern:
No. 9 West Virginia (15-5) at No. 6 Louisville (16-3), Saturday Jan. 31, noon, Big East Network,/br>
No. 18 Georgetown (12-7) at No. 22 Marquette (18-2), Saturday Jan. 31, 2 p.m., Big East Network
No. 19 Washington (15-5) at No. 7 Arizona State (16-4), Saturday, Jan. 31, 5:30 p.m., Fox Sports Regional
No. 5 Connecticut (19-1) at No. 6 Louisville (16-3), Monday, Feb. 2, 7 p.m., ESPN
No. 1 Duke (18-2) at No. 25 Clemson (18-2), Wednesday, Feb. 4, 9 p.m., ESPN
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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