LAS VEGAS -- Over the past four months, Mike Hopkins has pushed all the right buttons while guiding the Washington men's basketball team to the finish line.

MARCH MADNESS SHOP
At times, the overly enthusiastic first-year coach has dispensed tough love via bombastic verbal jabs. And other times he literally wrapped the players in an embrace and whispered words of encouragement.

Hopkins has invited speakers into the locker room and organized an impromptu team outing to watch the film "Black Panther."

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But this isn't the week for pep talks or motivational ploys.

"We'll have a little video talk with these guys and try to inspire them and get them moving," Hopkins said before Washington's first-round opener against Oregon State on Wednesday in the Pac-12 tournament. "But if you're a basketball guy, this is the time. I mean, Las Vegas. Pac-12 tournament. High-quality teams."

By now the Huskies and UW fans know what's at stake.

Washington (20-11) is currently sitting on the outside of all major NCAA tournament projections and needs 2-3 wins to seriously vie for one of the 36 at-large berths doled out by the NCAA Selection Committee.

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Arguably, the No. 7 seeded Huskies received a favorable draw considering they start with No. 10 Oregon State (15-15) and would face No. 2 USC, which has a first-round bye, in the quarterfinals if they advanced.

UW split the regular-season series with OSU and beat the Trojans 88-81 at Galen Center on Dec. 29.

And if the Huskies can win two games, then they would face No. 3 Utah, No. 6 Oregon or No. 11 Washington State in the semifinals.

"At the end of the day it's not about what plays that you run," said junior forward Noah Dickerson, who was a second-team Pac-12 pick Tuesday by media. "We know them all. Both teams know (each other's) plays. It's all about who plays harder."

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Last year, the average record of the 36 at-large teams was 23-9. Only six teams received a berth from the Selection Committee with 20 or fewer wins.

A consensus of the top postseason projections shows Washington is an NCAA tournament bubble team that'll likely land in the National Invitation Tournament.

The same can be said for Utah, Oregon and Stanford.

Meanwhile, USC and UCLA are currently projected to make the NCAA tournament depending on which forecasts you favor.

"There's a lot of parity in college basketball and a lot in our league," Hopkins said. "It looks like jambalaya.

"And that's what makes it fun, because anything can happen. Just being able to have that opportunity to go out there and compete at this level with anything that can happen. That's a lot of fun. A lot of fun."

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Last summer, the NCAA revised the Selection Committee criteria, placing more emphasis on wins away from home and relying on metrics other than the RPI, which has UW at No. 63.

Here's where UW ranks in the ratings that are being used: KPI (51), ESPN strength of record (73), Sagarin (94), KenPom (97) and ESPN basketball power index (113).

Still, the RPI plays a major role in the process.

For example, if a team beats a squad ranked in the top 50 of the RPI on a neutral court, that is considered a Quadrant 1 win. The lower the RPI, the less significant the victory.

Washington is 3-6 in Quadrant 1 games and could improve its record with victories this week against USC and Utah.

Here's a look at the other Pac-12 teams in the RPI: Arizona (18), USC (34), UCLA (36), Utah (47), ASU (59), Oregon (70), Stanford (75), Colorado (86), OSU (144), WSU (173) and California (215).

It's not inconceivable for the Huskies to dramatically lower their RPI before Selection Sunday, but they'll have to win consecutive conference tournament games for the first time since winning the title in 2011.

"We've got a good road; I think we play some quality teams," Hopkins said. "We've had success, and if we go out and we play well, we have a legitimate chance of winning this thing." 

This article is written by Percy Allen from Seattle Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.