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Originally published November 13, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 13, 2007 at 12:02 AM

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UW Men's Basketball | Huskies can begin to refute expectations

Washington's road to New York starts with New Jersey. Or, rather, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, a school Huskies players admitted...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Washington's road to New York starts with New Jersey.

Or, rather, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, a school Huskies players admitted they had never heard of until they learned it was the team they were to play in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off at 8 tonight.

The Huskies are serving as the host for the Western Regional of the NIT Season Tip-Off. High Point and Utah play in the other side of the bracket today at 4:30. The two winners will play at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, with the winner heading to Madison Square Garden in New York for the semifinals and finals Nov. 21 and 23.

"It would be awesome" to play in the Garden, said UW forward Jon Brockman, who has already done so, having participated in a high-school all-star game there. "So many great things have happened there."

If the Huskies make it there, they will have an early opportunity to refute the rather pessimistic preseason expectations greeting them.

Washington was picked eighth in the Pac-10 media poll last week.

"When we were picked second, it didn't mean anything," said UW coach Lorenzo Romar. "It didn't mean we got an automatic bid. Being picked eighth doesn't mean you mail in the season."

But the eighth-place selection seems in line with a Washington team starting the season with a lot less hype than the past several years.

The buzz didn't heighten with a sluggish 86-77 exhibition victory over Seattle Pacific last week in which UW again struggled with turnovers (22) and defense (allowing 36 points to SPU's Rob Diederichs).

But Washington players said that game was an anomaly.

"You guys are going to see a completely different team," Huskies forward Quincy Pondexter promised reporters last week.

It doesn't figure to be hard for the Huskies to look better tonight against a NJIT team that seems seriously outmanned.

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This is the second year in Division I-A for the school of 6,500 in Newark, N.J. The Highlanders, who are playing as an independent, were defeated by Manhattan 70-28 in their season opener Saturday and tonight will be without coach Jim Casciano, who on Sunday requested a temporary leave of absence for health reasons. Wendell Alexis, an assistant, will coach the team.

Assuming UW wins tonight, the regional title game could be a tough one against either High Point or Utah. High Point was picked to win the Big South Conference this season and Utah is projected to be a much better team than the squad that finished 11-19 last season. Utah has four starters back for a team that beat Washington State 69-55 and is expected to be competitive in the Mountain West Conference this season.

Romar's lineup tonight will be Brockman and Pondexter at forward and guards Joel Smith, Venoy Overton and Justin Dentmon.

The Huskies will again be without guard Ryan Appleby, who could be out another month or so while recovering from a broken thumb.

Everybody else on the roster is available to play, though there remains some uncertainty about true freshmen Justin Holiday and Darnell Gant, both of whom could be in line for redshirt seasons. Nothing had been decided on either player as of Monday afternoon. Both played sparingly in the Seattle Pacific game and could be held out until a decision is made.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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