Tell me you saw this coming.
Not the Washington men’s basketball team’s 72-64 loss to Oregon, that was admittedly tough. The Huskies (20-11, 10-8 Pac-12) are probably out of contention for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, and won’t go dancing barring a miracle run at the Pac-12 Tournament next week in Vegas.
Let’s look at the big picture. A year after the disaster that was a 9-22 season, a Washington men’s basketball team won 20 games in the regular season.
Tell me you saw that coming.
Cast your minds back to last season. Markelle Fultz was a lot of fun to watch, and well, that was pretty much it.
Turnovers? Have all you want and then some. Defense? Maybe about half the time. Players slapping opposing fans? Take two. (At once!)
Instead of chasing tournament dreams in March, the Huskies found themselves searching for a new coach.
Then, with the departure of Lorenzo Romar, the final light at the end of the tunnel of the horrible season that was 2017 — the prospect of Michael Porter Jr. leading the best recruiting class in UW basketball history into the 2017-18 season — was dimmed to the point of extinguishment.
It looked like it was going to get worse before it got better. Washington was picked 10th in the preseason Pac-12 media poll, due more to the appalling situations at Cal and Washington State than anything from the Dawgs. Nearly everyone on Montlake had faith in Mike Hopkins to turn the program around, but rebuilds take time, and this season looked like the sacrificial lamb required to die in order to reach bigger and better things.
Then the season started, and new phrases entered UW basketball fans’ vocabulary. Phrases like “2-3 zone,” “Jaylen Nowell,” and “Tougher Together.”
A shocking win over Kansas showed the best possible version of the new-look Washington program. A conference-opening win on the road at USC proved it wasn’t a one-time fluke. A blackout, thrilling win over Arizona, punctuated by the reason Dominic Green will never have to buy drinks again in Seattle, was the highlight of a four-game win streak that solidified Washington as ahead of schedule.
Then last Thursday, a ground-out win over Oregon State gave the Huskies 20 wins for the first time since 2012, and proved the initial predictions wrong: Washington wasn’t a team that could become a contender. Washington was already there.
Are there problems to address? Definitely. The game against Oregon proved that. The Dawgs had trouble scoring, allowing the Ducks to get down the court before the Huskies could set up their zone. Oregon also outclassed the UW down low for the first 35 minutes of play, bringing in 11 offensive rebounds and scoring 17 second-chance points. With the exception of the frantic comeback bid that ultimately fell short, it was a pretty ugly loss.
But it was an ill-fitting end to what was otherwise a wholeheartedly successful regular season. The fact that the fanbase can be rightfully disappointed that the Huskies might have lost their at-large bid on the last day of the regular season proves that; the UW wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t squarely on the bubble coming into today.
For the first time in a while, Washington dealt with the pressure and the privilege of expectations.
And don’t lie. Don’t even bother saying you saw this coming.
Reach Sports Editor Josh Kirshenbaum at email@example.com. Twitter: @J_Kirshenbaum