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Does “Postseason” Success Put State of Hoops on Right Path?

After the regular season was complete, there was no denying that the 2011-12 campaign was wildly disappointing for both Washington and Washington State, with preseason expectations unmet and questions lingering about the futures of the respective programs.

The Huskies had been left, controversially (and justifiably), out of the NCAA tournament after their lackluster season, while the Cougars slogged through another year as one of the Pac-10s have-nots.
As we approach the end of March, however, is it time to reassess the state of Washington hoops?
Washington finally has played to the level of its talent, and is headed to New York City for the second time this year to play in the semifinals of the NIT. Of course, it helps the Huskies got to match up against UT-Arlington, Northwestern and Oregon along the way, but the simple fact is they should have dominated this tournament, and so far, they have.

Washington State was generously invited into the College Basketball Invitational with a 15-16 mark and managed to knock off San Francisco, Wyoming and Oregon State to advance to the three-game final series against Pittsburgh. You’d be forgiven for not knowing anything about the CBI, as it is reduced to the tiniest of agate type in newspapers and receives zero coverage on ESPN.

And while we’re at it, let’s give some props to Western Washington, who ran the table and won the Division II championship Saturday, besting Montevallo (which, honestly, I’ve never heard of) in front of a sparse crowd but a national TV audience.

But does this success have any bearing on the future? Or will the state of hoops be in dire straits again next year? 

The NIT run will benefit UW despite the likely defections of Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross to the NBA and the graduation of Darnell Gant. Otherwise, the Huskies are filled with young talent, and the opportunity to get extra practices and games in a “clutch” situation will have some bearing next year. Washington needed to learn how to win against teams that weren’t in the Pac-10, and the confidence boost from playing deep into March should pay dividends next year.

The Cougars are a little harder to figure. Junior forward Brock Motum (18.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg) is a nice piece, but otherwise Wazzu has struggled to recapture the magic of the Tony Bennett era under Ken Bone. I’m not sure what a CBI title would mean other than a nice trophy for the athletic department. It doesn’t even really help from a recruiting standpoint, because I’m not sure how many people have HDNet, which is televising the three-game series (I do, but I don’t think I could tell you what channel it is).

I guess the big question is, does playing in a lesser tournament – even if in a vacuum – mean more than qualifying – and losing – in the Big Dance? This year, the Huskies and Cougars would say heck yes.

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