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March 16, 2011
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Selection Sunday came and went without the Cougars being granted an NCAA tournament bid. Alas, perhaps a few more wins along the way (maybe even just closing out Arizona and holding off UCLA at home) would've vaulted them into the Big Dance. But, here we stand today with the Cougars currently a #2 seed in the NIT Tournament. They get a home game against Long Beach State today and heck, the game is even broadcast on ESPNU.
I know a lot of people are disappointed with the team's performance this season, especially having watched the games that slipped away. This Cougar team has the talent to make a big run in the NCAA Tournament, as evidenced by Klay Thompson's 43-point shellacking he put on Washington last Thursday - and setting a new Pac-10 tournament scoring record in the process. But the problem lies elsewhere, as evidenced by the lackadaisical performance by virtually everyone else in the lone Pac-10 Tournament game the Cougars played.
But there is one thing we can and need to focus on. This team did what every team who got a year older and a year stronger should do: they got better. They finished in sixth place in the conference - compared to 10th last season - they won three more games than they did last year and played a tougher schedule than their previous season. Not only did they improve, but they improved in a year when the entire conference got better. Although they lost a couple of games we thought they shouldn't, they did beat Washington twice, smacked around Gonzaga - and both of those teams are going to the NCAA - while also beating a couple of good teams in Baylor and Mississippi State.
Perhaps most importantly, Thompson stayed relatively consistent. His scoring average didn't absolutely plummet like it did last season and he didn't slink away against Washington like he had in every other game. His game evolved to such a high level this year, he was able to put this team on his back and carry them to the end of the season. Granted, they didn't make it to the promised land, but it wasn't for lack of trying on Thompson's part.
Even though the National Invitational Tournament isn't THE tournament to play it, it's nonetheless postseason basketball. And we, as Cougar fans, can take solace in the fact that, as a #2 seed, this team was damn close to getting into the NCAA Tournament. It's not like this team is playing in the CBI or whatever the other one is and their games are getting buried on some obscure, barely findable television channel or not on television at all. I know fans will openly mock the NIT for being the second best, bridesmaid tournament. But, at the end of the day, you still need to be a good basketball team to make it.
And in the particular case of Wazzu, it shouldn't necessarily be wildly celebrated but at least met with some enthusiasm. Look at where this team was last year. At home. They'd just lost to Oregon, again, in the Pac-10 Tournament in the only play in game the tournament was having being USC was sitting out. It was the lowest point for Cougar basketball in my memory. Even a team with Aron Baynes, Taylor Rochestie, Daven Harmeling, Thompson and DeAngelo Casto only managed to grab a seven-seed in the NIT. Granted, the Pac-10 was a much better conference that season but I don't think anyone would disagree with the assertion that that team was roughly equivalent talent wise.
Instead of focusing on why the Cougars didn't make it to the Big Dance, I'm focusing instead on the fact that this team got better. And focusing all my energy on getting Thompson to stay put because without him next year, this team gets irrevocably worse. This team goes from being the front-runner for a Pac-12 title and at least a Sweet 16 appearance to near the bottom of the table.
If this team goes into next season as currently constructed, there is no reason they shouldn't make it to the NCAA Tournament and no reason they shouldn't finish at the top of the conference table. But without Thompson, I'm worried. Right away, you're removing over 20 points from the Cougar offense and I don't know where those points can be made up.
Pardon my brief tangent into wondering what life without Thompson would be like because it does frighten me. But we won't know for sure until he just comes out and says he's going or not. At the base level though, this team got better. That much is undeniable. And for that much, I am proud.
I know the Cougars didn't make it to the NCAA Tournament. But at least they got to some form of postseason play, doing better than last year. And hey, take solace in this: at least we didn't tank like Arizona State or Oregon State.
Washington State 78, Long Beach State 65
How about some upsets for the first round of the NCAA's?
Marquette over Xavier
Florida State over Texas A&M
Utah State over Kansas State
Missouri over Cincinnati
Dunderhead of the Week: Skiing on Sunday, I saw your typical teenage snowboarder (you know, no brains) carrying a little too much speed into a jump a little too near a tree. Now, I don't know who got the worst of it, but the tree looked fine. And I'm relatively sure his laughing buddies indicated he was fine.
And, of course, John Buccigross.
+++++++sponsored by Greg Davis Sports Photography+++++++++
The 2010-11 athletic season continues to be here and you know what that means It's time for a whole new season of Cougar Athletics! Men's hoop, women's hoop and baseball, just to name a few, are playing their 2011 seasons. If you need "game action" photographs for your newspaper, magazine, web site, blog, etc., then Greg Davis Sports Photography should be your choice for all things "Cougar" and "Pac-10 Conference"! Coverage for specific athletes or upcoming events is also available. Check out the images from games, practices and events from last season, and be sure to come back often for uploads from all of this season's action.
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