As if the stakes weren’t sufficiently dizzying, consider this, basketball fans, regarding the Washington-Oregon NIT quarterfinal game Tuesday night at Hec Ed:
It’s for the championship of the West.
Think about it: Do you see any other college teams from the West still playing tournament ball?
Well, OK, Nevada will play at Stanford Wednesday in another part of the NIT bracket. But there are no Western teams left in the NCAA tourney, not after Gonzaga, New Mexico and Nevada-Las Vegas completed the West’s weenie-armed display last weekend.
“I wouldn’t,” said Huskies’ coach Lorenzo Romar, emitting what might be considered a one-third smile.
Well, I tried. Look, if the NIT can find 32 teams to play for the right to shout “We’re No. 69!” I can manufacture any reason I want to justify paying attention. Including ripping off former UW football coach Rick Neuheisel’s fabled “Northwest championship” theorem after beating Washington State, Oregon State and Oregon in the same season.
The man was ahead of his time. If things are broken down into enough itty-bitty pieces, every team can be champions of something.
So Romar goes buzzkill on me and won’t buy the Western championship, even though he admitted he was “a little surprised” at the West’s NCAA wipeout. Who knew the West was clustering to take over the NIT?
Romar would rather advocate the unplanned renewal of unpleasantries between the lovable Huskies against the hated Ducks, which frankly couldn’t have worked out better if UW and NIT officials fixed the games to stimulate a mid-week hoops arousal.
And the chance to go to New York and Madison Square Garden in the spring creates some stakes, even if the Huskies were there just three months ago and went 0-2.
Still, the set-up doesn’t quite do it for me. So I have another idea. How about this storyline/subplot/gossip angle: What is Tony Wroten doing?
If you haven’t followed things after the Huskies’ cliff-dive off the Pac-12 tourney precipice, Wroten suddenly changed his game. Rather than take all manner of shots, good and otherwise, he put up just five apiece in the first two NIT contests. In the previous five games, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year averaged 17 attempts.
His assist totals have gone up — eight vs. Texas-Arlington and seven vs. Northwestern — so it can’t be said he’s being selfish with the ball. Right?
“Tony just kind of assessed how it went and got the ball to other guys,” Romar said. Asked whether it was part of the game plan, or at least discussed with the coach, Romar said simply, “No.”
As for Wroten himself: “My priority is to do the things to help us win,” he said. “Passing the ball was my reputation coming in.”
And it would appear that passing the ball might be his reputation going out.
Since Romar and Wroten are too political to be straightforward in public, I’ll offer it up: Wroten knows his next stop is the NBA. He’s using the meaningless NIT games to experiment, polish, improve and otherwise play to a strength, because he knows he doesn’t have enough time to fix his weakness — shooting from distance or from the line.
Wroten is one of the better slashers in college ball, as well as an epic garbage scorer, and that is written in the kindest, Moses Malone sort of way. He’s also a skinny 6-foot-5, so that kind of stuff isn’t going to get him very far in The Show. Could get him walloped a lot. And getting walloped in the NBA is a several magnitudes of pain greater than in college.
So there is a certain logic here. If his pro future starts in June as a skinny point guard who’s a dazzling disher, then he better get to it. If he wants to stay another year or two in college to improve his decision-making and shot-making, he’s got time to improve all aspects.
Wroten looks like a baller who’s made a decision, and suddenly realizes he has a longer road than he realized.
On the surface, surrendering the ball so his teammates can score seems an unselfish act. Yet with Wroten, it doesn’t. Can’t blame him for wanting the next level, but he might want to leave alone the idea that he’s doing it to help the Huskies win.