2. Washington Huskies (12-4, 3-0 Pac-12)
If not for six losses in its final nine games of 2018, Washington had established a case to reach the NCAA Tournament in coach Mike Hopkins’ first season.
Under Hopkins, the Huskies won three of their first four Pac-12 games a year ago, quickly becoming a trendy spoiler team against the likes of Arizona State, Arizona and USC.
Sitting at 3-0 since the turn of the calendar and one half game out of first place in the conference, Washington is not sneaking up on anyone.
UW came away with a sweep of Colorado and Utah in its first road trip of the conference season, extending its winning streak to five games.
What stands out about this group is its ability to win in different ways.
Against Utah, the Huskies’ 2-3 zone stifled the Utes’ perimeter shooting, running them off the 3-point line and forcing 16 turnovers. UW coasted to a 16-point win despite just six points from sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell. Fellow sophomore Nahziah Carter had a career-high 18 points off the bench.
In Boulder, the Buffaloes had more success against the zone. CU shot 48 percent from the floor and got to the free-throw line 23 times. But Washington received key plays down the stretch from Nowell and seniors Noah Dickerson and Matisse Thybulle to secure the win, outscoring Colorado 7-3 over the final 3:44.
Utilizing a veteran-heavy lineup, Hopkins has a bevy of lanky athletes and arguably the best defense in the Pac-12. If this momentum continues, UW won’t have much worrying to do come Selection Sunday, conference champions or not.
The Huskies will look to extend their winning streak at home against Stanford and California, where they are 8-0 this season.