As described in a feature earlier today, the Washington Huskies' whirlwind turnaround to win the Pac-10 Tournament might end up defining this roller coaster season while also serving as a perfect illustration of why exactly we're so drawn to this thing called March Madness.
While SBN's Arizona Desert Swarm described the Arizona Wildcats' third loss in 15 games as evidence of the team finally getting stung by their inability to close games strong, applying any specific basketball significance from this game to UW is difficult if not impossible.
As powerful a moment and narrative as it was, all it tells us about UW's chances going forward is exactly what we might have assumed prior to the conference tournament when some people were ready to just leave the Huskies for dead: this team is almost entirely unpredictable, but can achieve great things when they're focused and loose.
It feels fluffy and sounds nebulous to keep harping on this point about the team's intangibles, but this team's success seems to hinge almost entirely on how focused they are and it starts with defense. But somehow although it starts with defense, it can occur without the services of senior defensive stalwart Venoy Overton.
And nobody seems to be able to explain why it comes and goes - it just does so as it pleases.
If there's anything we've learned for certain this season as the Huskies prepare to embark upon their first journey across the Mississippi this season, it's that we won't truly know much about this team's chances to make a tournament run until about the first four minutes of each half of each game. It's neither good nor bad, it just seems that matchups, statistics, and available personnel matter considerably less than their ability to decide that they're actually going to play day-in and day-out.
This is unquestionably a talented team that can make some noise in the tournament if in fact the Pac-10 Tournament championship is a sign that the team is coming together at the right time rather than merely another high to be followed by another letdown.
NCAA Bracket Preview: Complete Washington Tournament Primer - SBNation.com
Nevertheless, there was a reason many people around the Pac-10 thought this would be the team that got head coach Lorenzo Romar his first trip to the Elite Eight in his ninth year at UW: this is still arguably the most talented roster top to bottom in the Pac-10 and when they're focused, they can outrun inferior talent and play with the best in the nation. With Overton back for the NCAA tournament to fuel this team's pressure defense, this is a team that can harass opponents into a back-and-forth game where they generate offense off of turnovers.
Ultimately, what their tournament chances might come down to is a point that former UW assistant and current Seattle University head coach Cameron Dollar alluded to after their 95-74 loss to the Huskies.
"You can look through a game and see where that it was just a talent play," said Dollar. "Aziz (N'Diaye) catches the ball on the block on Gavin (Gilmore), Gavin's got behind him, and he turns and hits a jump hook off the square - ain't nothing you can do about that. They drive and we rotate down and we need to box out and there's nobody there to box out and he catches it and dunks it - there's probably something we can do about that. So once you eliminate those plays and then all they're making is talent plays, then we can talk. How the game usually goes - even on their end - to consistently make talent plays all game long is hard for any team to do."
UW is perfectly capable of relying on what Dollar called a "talent gap" to beat a second-year Division I team like Seattle U. But to win consistently on talent plays is difficult and, to some extent, when we say UW's focus is wavering, what they're often doing is reverting to trying to win on talent plays instead of the type of aggressive, hard-working defense that they're capable of.
Although it's certainly tempting to start looking past the Georgia Bulldogs toward a potential second-round game against the North Carolina Tar Heels - even if cautiously - right now we just have to hope the high-intensity defensive unit shows up in Charlotte to complement those individuals that wearing purple that seek to "out-talent" opponents.