Washington (2-1) plays Santa Clara (0-2) at 5 p.m. Sunday in its first game in the Vancouver Showcase. The Huskies also face Texas A&M and Minnesota in the inaugural tournament.
The way it was initially formatted, the Washington men’s basketball team wasn’t scheduled to face Minnesota next Wednesday in the inaugural Vancouver Showcase.
However, the clash between the Pac-12 and Big Ten teams will be UW’s third game in four days and the marquee matchup in the first-year tournament.
“With anything that’s new there’s a few wrinkles that need to be ironed out,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said before the season. “But the original pitch to us was a two-day tourney. … Then, we had to wait and see. I guess there were some things from the NCAA that popped up.
“And the result is we get an extra game against a great team. And I couldn’t happier about that. It’s a great challenge to start the year.”
Several factors made the Vancouver Showcase an attractive destination for the Huskies.
For starters, Hopkins loved the location and envisioned UW fans making the three-hour drive north of Seattle to the coastal British Columbia city.
“It’s in our backyard so that’s great,” he said. “We already flying across the country twice and if you can avoid doing that a third time, you do it.”
Washington traveled to No. 9 Auburn where it was trounced 88-66 last week. The Huskies also play No. 16 Virginia Tech in Atlantic City, N.J. on Dec. 15.
Despite the minor schedule snafu, Hopkins was enamored with the idea of being one of the first participants in the new tournament. Organizers are setting up a makeshift basketball venue under the iconic sails of the Vancouver Convention Centre that should hold 3,200 fans.
“I have no doubt this is going to become one of the hottest holiday tournaments in college basketball,” Hopkisn said. “Look, it’s got all the things you need. Beautiful city. Great exposure with games on ESPN. You got some great teams involved and we’ve seen first-class management.
“Now you want to see what the reception is going to be like. And from what I know of Vancouver, it’s a lot like Seattle. You’ve got a great city with a good tradition that’s starving for some good basketball.”
And Hopkins believes the other teams in the tournament offer the right mix of competition that should help the Huskies now and later in the season when they’re expected to be in competition for a NCAA tournament at-large berth.
“Because of where we are and the experience we have coming back, we wanted to stack the schedule with some tough teams early because we think we can handle that,” Hopkins said. “Maybe if we were a little younger, we wouldn’t.
“But we have a veteran group coming back (from last year’s 21-12 team). So you can throw a little more at those guys than maybe you normally would.”
Santa Clara (0-2), which lost two home games against middling mid-major teams by an average of 14.5 points, may not present much of a test for Washington when the teams collide 5 p.m. Sunday.
However, Huskies will likely face challenges from Texas A&M (1-2) on Tuesday and Minnesota (2-0) on Wednesday.
The Aggies, who were picked to finish 12th in the 14-team SEC in a preseason media poll, suffered a 74-73 home loss to UC Irvine before an embarrassing 94-71 defeat at No. 3 Gonzaga on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Gophers enter the Vancouver Showcase on a high after a 78-69 win at home over Utah on Monday.
Minnesota, which was tabbed ninth in the 14-team Big Ten in a preseason media poll, is seeking to rebound from last season’s 15-17 finish.
Hopkins hopes for a better outing than last year’s two-game debacle at the 2K Classic in New York when the Huskies fell 77-70 to Providence before a lopsided 103-79 loss to Virginia Tech.
“There’s no trick to winning (a tournament),” he said. “You got to focus on the game in front of you and do fight like heck to win that one. Give it all you got.
“Then worry about who’s next later. When we get there, the focus will be on Santa Clara. You want to win that first one above all else.”
— Following the men’s games, the Vancouver Showcase will host a three-day women’s tournament beginning Thursday that includes 2018 NCAA tournament champion Notre Dame, 2017 NCAA tourney champ South Carolina, Oregon State and Gonzaga. The other teams: Rutgers, Drake, Western Kentucky and East Tennessee State.
VANCOUVER SHOWCASE MEN’S SCHEDULE
Sunday, Nov. 18
5 p.m.: Washington vs. Santa Clara – ESPN3
7:30 p.m.: Texas A&M vs. Minnesota – ESPN2
Tuesday, Nov. 20
6 p.m.: Santa Clara vs. Minnesota – Big Ten Network
8:30 p.m.: Washington vs. Texas A&M – ESPN2
Wednesday, Nov. 21
3:30 p.m.: Minnesota vs. Washington – Big Ten Network