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Originally published February 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 13, 2007 at 11:32 AM

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UW men faces tough road to reach NCAA tourney

Washington men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar declared Tuesday that his team's foremost goal — making the NCAA tournament for a...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Washington men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar declared Tuesday that his team's foremost goal — making the NCAA tournament for a school-record fourth straight year — is still there to be had.

"It's not over yet," he said, even though the Huskies are 14-8 overall and 4-7 and mired in eighth place in the Pac-10. "It really is not over yet. That's how we feel."

Romar points out the Huskies have five of their final seven Pac-10 games at home, beginning with Thursday's 7:30 p.m. contest against California, as a key reason for optimism.

But three people who make at least a part-time living trying to figure out who will be in the NCAA tournament give the Huskies little, if any, shot of making the field as an at-large selection. The Huskies could also get an automatic bid by winning the Pac-10 tournament.

"They are not even on my board or anything," said Jerry Palm, who runs CollegeRPI.com. "When I do brackets, I'm not even thinking about them."

Joe Lunardi, who puts together ESPN's Bracketology feature every week projecting the 65-team field, is slightly more hopeful, saying "Washington has done just enough in the last two weeks [beating Oregon, winning at Arizona State] to stay on the edge of the at-large conversation. But it is the far edge."

To have any shot, all agree, Washington has to win at least six of its remaining eight regular-season games (UW goes to Pitt in a nonconference game Feb. 17) to get to 20 victories.

Thursday

California @ Washington men, 7:30 p.m., FSN

That's not the magic number it used to be, with teams playing more games. But in Washington's case, given the strength of the Pac-10 conference, they say it might be enough.

"Win at Pitt and get to at least .500 in the league and Washington would have a chance," Lunardi said.

But Ken Pomeroy, whose kenpom.com Web site is devoted to college basketball, isn't sure that just getting to 20 would do it.

"They have to win at Pitt, and probably win at Oregon, too," he said, saying the Huskies need some big road wins to counter their obvious weakness in that area to date (UW is 1-7 on the road). "And then maybe one more in the Pac-10 tournament."

In other words, possible but a longshot.

"There is nothing in their track record to date which suggests this will happen," said Lunardi. "The Huskies have some of the worst defensive metrics [ratings based on stats] in the country. I can't think of a team in their position which has turned it around as suddenly as Washington needs to."

Among UW's defensive foibles is allowing conference teams to shoot an average of 50 percent.

Pomeroy, who publishes weekly game-by-game predictions, has Washington finishing 16-14 overall and 6-12 in the Pac-10.

"I don't see it happening," he said.

What the analysts say isn't really a factor is UW's Ratings Percentage Index (RPI is used when picking at-large teams) of 72. While that's eighth in the Pac-10 right now, winning six of eight against a schedule that includes six teams ranked this week in The Associated Press Top 25 would raise the Huskies' RPI high enough.

"Beat Pitt or beat UCLA and you can move up 20 spots," said Palm.

But doing that is about the only hope Washington has left.

"The numeric negatives for UW are even more daunting," said Lunardi. "A 1-7 road record; a 3-8 record against teams likely in or under consideration for the NCAA field; that 11 of their 14 wins have come against sub-150 competition. Throw in a nonconference schedule rank of No. 230 and there is little or no case for Washington based on traditional measures."

Smith decision

expected today

A final decision as to the playing status of junior guard Joel Smith is expected to come today, Romar said.

Smith, however, sounded Monday as if he's not likely to play this season.

"It's long odds," he said.

Smith, out all season after suffering two breaks of his right foot, was cleared to return to practice this week. A decision on whether he is cleared to play will come today. Then it's a matter of whether Smith wants to play or use this as a redshirt season and have two full years of eligibility remaining.

Romar said the decision will be left to Smith.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. Read his blogs on Washington football and basketball at www.seattletimes.com/huskies.

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