The University of Washington’s (UW) Men’s Basketball program entered the 2009 season as the defending Pac-10 Champions, full of expectations and ranked in the pre-season top 10 by Sports Illustrated .
With Jon Brockman moving on to the NBA, everyone knew this was going to be a guard-oriented team. Some of Romars’ best teams in Montlake were built this way.
So what happened? How did we go from a pre-season lock to go to the NCAA Tournament, to having to win the PAC-10 Tournament for a bid?
The team started out strong enough, feasting on the cupcakes in the early part of the schedule. It wasn’t until they hit the road, like all teams from Seattle it seems, that the trouble began.
Like their football counterparts, the Washington basketball program could have had an entirely different season with just a couple of victories on the road. The football team was one win away from bowl eligibility. How much more secure would a NCAA bid be with a couple more road victories for Romar's guys?
The first road loss wasn’t bad—an overtime loss to Texas Tech. The problem is the fact that Washington did not get a road victory until game 25 of the season! After that first victory over Stanford, they figured out how to win on the road finally, ending the season with three straight road victories.
By that time, it was too late to make up the deficit, and now they must rely on the PAC-10 Tournament for a NCAA Tourney bid. This is particularly disappointing considering that the PAC-10 looks to be a one bid conference this year.
Washington did not resemble the same team on the road as they did at home and, because of this, they find themselves in their current situation.
One of the most noticeable issues was the defense. At home, Washington gave up 67 points a game, but on the road that number jumps up to 75.
Defense hasn’t been the only problem away from Seattle.
Washington averaged 84 points a game at home, but only managed to put up an average of 72 on the road.
Everyone knew how big of an impact Jon Brockman was while he was at Washington.
He was the enforcer down low, the one big body that could fight the opposing team’s front court, while the rest of the roster played at the frantic pace for which the Huskies have been known.
Romar knew this and had recruited what he had hoped would be a player that could step right in for Brockman.
While the recruiting and committing part went well for the University of Washington and Charles Garcia, somewhere in the admission process Garcia was denied and ended up playing for Cameron Dollar at Seattle University.
With Brockman’s replacement playing on the other side of the city, Washington learned a hard lesson this year. Even if you are a running and gunning team, there still needs to be a big man on the roster to mix it up with the opposing team’s front court.
The forwards on the current team are more comfortable outside of the paint. It is good to have longer athletic bodies that can run with your guards, but not at the expense of a true low post threat. There is some potential on the roster, but the young talent needs to develop.
Brockman was the perfect balance for Washington. A lumbering big man like Spencer Hawes does not fit the Husky offense, but Brockman offered that big body with the ability to hustle up and down the floor.
The regular season wasn’t entirely disappointing. We got to see the emergence of Senior Quincy Pondexter, who led the team with 20 points a game. A 21-win season is hardly a horrible season, and generally that would be a good enough record to get a NCAA bid.
The PAC-10 was incredibly down this year, and the Huskies were unable to take advantage. The path was set for back-to-back regular season PAC-10 Championships and a move from the upper half of the PAC-10 in basketball, to the elite.
Elite teams win on the road, however, and that is something with which both college and professional teams from Seattle struggle.
The question of why Seattle teams struggle away from home is an open ended one.
For a professional team like the Seahawks, traveling to the East Coast and the three hour time difference certainly has an effect.
Huskies athletics tend to stay in the Western half of the country the majority of the time, though.
Another possibility is home court advantage.
A team that plays with such energy and intensity like Washington does can’t help but feel a little extra boost at home. Great teams find a way to reproduce that energy on their own, and Washington did not find a way in 2009.
There is still the PAC-10 Tournament left to play, and the possibility of the Huskies playing in the NCAA Tournament is still realistic. This team does not appear to be set up for a very strong run if they did manage to get that bid, however.
This year could have gone much better, obviously, but the Huskies will only lose one senior this year. Granted he is the most productive player, but the core of this young team returns. Abdul Gaddy had a slow start, but by next season he should be more prepared.
Last season’s PAC-10 Freshman of the Year Isaiah Thomas will be back and stands to gain the most from a more productive Gaddy, taking the pressure of I.T. in the point guard position and letting Thomas play a Nate Robinson-type role.
It is up to Romar to find a true power forward/center for next year, or we may be seeing more of the same. They come with a lot of flash, energy, and are exciting to watch, but not strong enough to finish the job away from home.
So far Romar has a verbal commitment from athletic PF/SF Desmond Simmons, who looks to have some potential in filling that role for Washington.
The Huskies will look to take the PAC-10 Tournament and earn an NCAA bid starting this Saturday against Oregon State.