The University of Washington basketball team, 23rd in the final 2010-11 USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll, will open the 2011-12 season unranked nationally and picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 race. The Huskies might also be picked to lose their first game, an exhibition on Nov. 4 against Seattle Pacific at Alaska Airlines Arena.
The Huskies (24-11) won last spring’s Pac-10 tournament and then lost in the third round of the NCAA tournament to North Carolina, this season’s unanimous No. 1 in The Associated Press poll.
Pac-12 media, which last year placed Washington atop its preseason rankings, relegated the Huskies to fourth this time. Washington did not receive a single first-place vote in the balloting.
Pac-12 scribes picked UCLA (14 first-place votes, 421 points) to win the conference’s regular-season race. California (13, 405) was second and Arizona (11, 404) third. The Huskies received 355 points.
Colorado and Utah will be playing their first seasons as members of Pac-12.
UW Coach Lorenzo Romar indicated that he agreed with the media’s selections, saying, “You pick UCLA, Cal and Arizona, and those are some good choices. Those teams are going to be really good. I think Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State, they can have the kind of year where they finish higher than they were picked.”
It’s no surprise that the Huskies were snubbed by the national media, and a mild one that they were selected to finish as high as fourth. Washington lost three of its most productive players after last season’s NCAAs, Justin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning to graduation and All-Pac-10 guard Isaiah Thomas to the NBA draft.
Washington will benefit from the return of guard Abdul Gaddy, lost for the remainder of last season in early January after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee. Gaddy resumed practice in September.
Another surgery victim, freshman Tony Wroten, has also been cleared to start the season despite a recent arthroscopic procedure on a knee the past week.
“First of all, he’s doing great,” Romar told reporters. “We’re hopeful that Monday that he’s able to participate in some drills, with the expectation that he definitely will be playing in our opener Nov. 12 (against Georgia State) – and maybe even Nov. 4th in our exhibition game.”
That exhibition game, against Seattle Pacific, suddenly looks tougher than anticipated. The Division II Falcons defeated Arizona, the conference media’s No. 3 choice in the Pac-12 race, 69-68 in an exhibition game Thursday at the McHale Center in Tucson, AZ.
“They’re a very well-coached and organized team,” Arizona Coach Sean Miller said of the Falcons. “They move well. To me, they look like they’ve been practicing a long time. They have a very cohesive approach. They were a better team than us.”
In addition to being picked to finish third in the conference race, the Wildcats are ranked No. 16 in the preseason AP poll, making Seattle Pacific’s win even more impressive.
Seattle Pacific has won three consecutive games against a Division I opponent. SPU defeated Eastern Washington (87-82) and Nevada (84-81) in road exhibitions last season. This victory over Arizona marked the Falcons’ first win in 34 all-time meetings against Pac-12 teams.