Stranger things have happened.
Carl Lewis once sang the national anthem.
John Daly had his stomach stapled.
Shakespeare in Love won an Oscar for Best Picture.
So to think that the Washington men’s basketball couldn’t run off nine straight victories and win an NCAA title is not entirely implausible. Just semi-unlikely. But why focus on the negative?
There are hundreds of reasons why the Dawgs can’t win the NCAA Tournament. The odds, the competition, Joe Lunardi, East Coast bias. That’s only four. You can think up dozens more, I’m sure.
But I’d rather tell you why they can. Because it’s Monday. And you need something positive in your life today.
Let’s start with the senior, the rock, Quincy Pondexter.
Any good championship-caliber ballclub almost always has an upperclassman to lead the way. Quincy Pondexter is just that.
He has played in all 30 of the team’s games this year, and is averaging 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
He has recorded double figures scoring in all but five games.
He has 10 double-doubles.
He has eclipsed 20 points on 17 occasions, putting up 30 or more four times.
He has done it all in a variety of ways.
His modus operandi is the mid-range jumper. He knocks those down like cake. This year, however, he has incorporated the three into his repertoire, showing added range from his comfort zone around 15 feet.
At the same time, his interior game has improved, as well. Once reluctant to attack the rim in traffic, Pondexter has displayed a willingness to bang with the big boys when needed, knifing into the lane and slicing inside for layups, dunks, or putbacks.
The heart and soul of the Dawgs, Pondexter has had help from his sidekick all season long. Even Batman needs a Robin. Which leads us to the X-factor, Isaiah Thomas.
You might not think of I.T. as the X-factor, but he is. When he struggles, this team struggles. When he succeeds, this team succeeds. As Isaiah Thomas goes, so go the Huskies.
Lately, the 5’8″ sophomore has been on a tear. And I’d even go so far as to say that that hot streak can be traced back to an article I wrote likening Thomas to the fictional Stacy Patton. Ever since that fateful day, when Thomas himself picked up on our trash talk, the dude has been out to re-prove himself to everyone.
In four games since a miserable five-point performance against USC, Thomas has averaged 18.0 points per game, up 0.8 PPG over his season average of 17.2 PPG.
Simultaneously, he has played better team ball, raising his assist per game ratio a full point across that span. In those four contests, Thomas is averaging 4.0 assists per game, compared to his season average of 3.0 APG.
To say that I.T. has upped his play as of late would be an understatement. The man has completely refocused his game and put the team before himself. As a result, both the Huskies and Isaiah Thomas have benefited from the change.
One benefactor of this newfound style of play is Matthew Bryan-Amaning.
All year long, it seems, the Dawgs have been searching for something out of their frontcourt. Between Bryan-Amaning, Tyreese Breshers, and Darnell Gant, Washington has had an unproductive trio of forwards that were the Achilles’ heel of this ballclub. Not so, anymore.
Over the past eight games, Bryan-Amaning has played inspired basketball, recording double figures scoring in seven of those contests.
In the past three games, the 6’9″ junior from England has hauled in double figures in rebounds, notching two double-doubles in the process.
On the season, MBA is averaging 8.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. In the most recent span of eight games, he has seen both numbers climb dramatically. Over that time period, Bryan-Amaning has put up 13.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, increases of nearly five points and three rebounds per contest.
For a player that has been oft-criticized in his two-plus seasons on campus, Matthew Bryan-Amaning is finally turning the proverbial corner, becoming the player we all envisioned when he first donned the purple-and-gold in 2007. His presence alone makes Washington a formidable opponent in any loser-out format of games.
Between the big man, the X-factor, and the dependable senior, Washington has the optimal blend of talent to make noise in the postseason. And with the Pac-10 Tournament set to begin later this week, it is up to these guys to take step one in a nine-game run to eternal glory.
Hey, it could happen.