Huskies shocked by NIT snub
The Huskies were left out of the 32-team NIT. So their season, which began with dreams of a fourth straight NCAA appearance, ended with no postseason at all.
Seattle Times staff reporter
There were no goodbyes when the Washington Huskies left Staples Center last Thursday night after losing to Washington State in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament.
No "thanks-for-the-memories" moments for seniors Hans Gasser and Brandon Burmeister.
The Huskies were so confident their season would continue, they returned home and began planning for the NIT — the consolation-prize tournament for teams left out of the NCAA tournament — even scheduling a practice for Sunday night.
After getting dressed and taped, the Huskies gathered to watch the NIT selections on ESPN when suddenly, they realized they hadn't been called.
"We kind of thought it was a typo," said center Spencer Hawes. "We kept waiting for our name to come up."
But it never did. In a development that surprised everyone associated with the team, the Huskies were left out of the 32-team NIT. So their season, which began with dreams of a fourth straight NCAA appearance, ended with no postseason at all.
"I am completely stunned," said Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar. "It's something that we didn't see coming."
Said Hawes: "I was shocked. I'm still shocked."
Romar said he had "no idea" why the Huskies were left out, a sentiment also expressed by athletic director Todd Turner.
Turner said he had talked with C.M. Newton, head of the eight-person selection committee, last week to let him know of UW's availability and interest in hosting opening-round games. Newton, Turner said, had given a hearty "we know all about you guys" response.
"We were thinking that we would not only host, but be a high seed," Turner said. "Shows you how far off we were."
Turner knew some of the theories for UW's possible exclusion, which included the fact that the tournament was pared down from 40 teams a year ago and for the second year has to take every team that won a regular-season conference title but wasn't invited to the NCAAs — there were eight of those, leaving just 24 at-large spots. Connecticut, UW's Sweet 16 opponent last year, was also left out.
Hawes wondered if "East Coast bias" might have been a factor.
But Turner noted there was room for West Coast teams like Utah State, Fresno State and San Diego State.
"In some ways, it discredits the whole process," Turner said. "If you know anything about basketball, Washington is one of the top 10 teams on the West Coast."
The NIT, which began in 1938, was taken over by the NCAA in 2005 and has teams bracketed and seeded similar to the NCAA tournament.
Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen noted that the selection committee does not include anyone with Pac-10 ties, despite the conference's efforts to be represented.
"It makes you wonder what the real purpose is in having the tournament and what they are seeking," he said.
No NIT representatives were available for comment. One NIT official said Newton would do all the speaking on behalf of the committee and he couldn't be reached.
The top six Pac-10 teams were invited to the NCAAs — Washington was 8-10 and seventh in the conference race.
Romar acknowledged that "we had our chances to have a better season. But at the same time, I didn't feel we put ourselves in a position where we couldn't play in the NIT. We have six teams in the NCAA tournament, in one of the toughest conferences in the country, and we have no representative in the NIT?"
Other reasons for UW's exclusion could be its nonconference schedule, rated No. 187 in the country, and the fact that the Huskies were just 1-10 on the road. But Turner noted Washington played Louisiana State, Gonzaga and Pittsburgh — all ranked teams at the time — as well as 20 games against Pac-10 teams.
"I don't know how to make it any more difficult than that," he said.
After the team heard the news, players scattered, with Romar deciding to hold a postseason meeting at another time. Hawes grabbed a ball and shot for a while, trying to digest the thought that his freshman season was over. It could be his last Huskies season, as well, should he decide to head for the NBA, though Hawes said Sunday "that's the last thing on my mind right now."
Other than seniors Gasser and Burmeister, the rest of Washington's roster could return next season. Huskies coaches were hoping for another week or two of action to continue grooming the team.
"We were looking forward to having more practices and games," Romar said.
Instead, Washington basketball now goes dark until November when — get this — it could open the 2007-08 season in the Preseason NIT. Washington has been officially invited, though locales and dates are yet to be decided.
"A little ironic, isn't it?" Turner said.