Lorenzo Romar (Dawgman.com)
SEATTLE - After back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances, Washington was supposed to put the NCAA Tournament on their permanent calendar. But after a 1-10 record on the road and a quarterfinal bump in the Pac-10 Tournament, the NCAA's were out of reach for this year's team. But the NIT was supposed to be a lock. It was supposed to be. Guess again.
The NIT selection show, which was aired on ESPN at 6 p.m. PST Sunday, came and went and the Huskies - the No. 7 team in the Pac-10 conference - was nowhere on the bracket.
Stanford, the conference's No. 6 team, made it into the NCAA Tournament, so it was expected the NIT would find room for UW as one of the nation's top 97 teams, but it was not to be.
"This whole day, you see all your high school friends, all the people you know - they have an opportunity to play more games," UW freshman Quincy Pondexter said. His two high school teammates - Brook and Robin Lopez - will move on as part of Stanford's team.
"And not to have the opportunity to compete anymore...I just can't think about it."
So what started out as a season full of promise and fresh faces finishes off as year with more questions than answers and an ending that was as stupifying as it was unexpected.
"There's no way in the world we would not be in the NIT," UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said Sunday. "I'm completely stunned. I have no idea why."
In fact, the team was expected to practice right after the selection tournament, and were all taped up and ready to hit the floor when the seedings were announced. Spencer Hawes even grabbed a basketball and went out to shoot some hoops.
"It's the only thing you can do to keep your mind off of it," he said. "I'm still shocked. We went through all four regions and we thought there was a typo. It's hard enough to think we're not one of the top 65 teams, that's hard enough to swallow. But to say we're not going to play in the NIT?"
With the NCAA now owning the NIT, they changed the format, so that now only 32 teams are invited instead of 40. They also formed a committee and seeded teams much in the same way the NCAA Tournament is seeded. One major change was that the NIT guaranteed automatic berths to those teams that won their conference, but didn't win their conference tournament. As a result, eight teams were granted berths using that exemption.
Romar felt like it didn't matter how many exemptions may have been available, the Huskies should have been NIT-bound. "I can't see how you could put together any criteria and say we're not worthy," he said. "We didn't see it coming. We have six teams in the NCAA from one of the hardest conferences in the country and no teams to the NIT?"
And even when the Huskies were at the Pac-10 Tournament in Los Angeles a few days ago, they were just two games short of making the Big Dance. Thoughts of being shut out of the NIT were nowhere to be found.
"We all thought down there we were close to an NCAA berth, so it never even crossed our minds that we weren't going to make the NIT," Hawes said.
The 7-footer from Seattle - expected to be a lottery pick in the 2007 NBA draft if he opts to go pro, isn't ready to talk about being a professional just yet. "I don't know," he said on whether or not making a post-season tournament might work into his future plans. "It could figure in, or it couldn't. It's the last thing on my mind right now."
Clearly the biggest red mark in the Huskies' tournament resume was their road record. At 1-10, it had to ultimately factor into the NIT Selection Committee's decision to not include Washington in their plans.
"I think our road record might have been something that got us, but the Pac-10 is arguably the best conference in the country, and to not make the NIT is a tough pill to swallow," Hawes said.
Romar added that eventually they would be asking questions to the Pac-10 and the NIT committee about why they weren't included. "We're going to look for reasons why," he said.
But as it stands, Washington's season is over.