The most telling moment of Gonzaga's 98-71 drubbing of Washington on Wednesday -- a foregone conclusion that still somehow exceeded all lopsidedness expectations -- came within the first two minutes of the second half.
A few possessions after the break, Washington wing Matisse Thybulle wiggled free and elevated on the left baseline. The ball caromed on the rim, hung and then fell in. As soon as the shot fell, Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski did what good collegiate centers do and took off running. On the broadcast, there was little reason to think Karnowski's obligatory sprint would come to anything; the Huskies were also out of the frame and thus, presumably, back to defend. Which is why when Nigel Williams-Goss caught a quick inbounds outlet and immediately floated a pass upcourt, it seemed crazy: Why force it?
Then the camera panned, and there they were: four Huskies defenders sloppily trailing a 7-foot-1, 300-pound man-mountain as he lumbered past, caught a lob in stride and promptly hammered it home.
There are 351 Division I men's college basketball teams. If any of them has had a worse defensive possession than this -- which, again, came after a made field goal! -- we haven't seen it.
That five-second span was all one needed to see of Washington to understand why the Huskies appear all but guaranteed to follow in the 2015-16 LSU Tigers' footsteps -- that is, to become the second consecutive team to boast an incandescent, No. 1-overall-pick-level talent and fail to make the NCAA tournament.
There are differences between the Markelle Fultz-led Huskies and Ben Simmons' Tigers of a season ago. The latter were inarguably more talented, more experienced and seemingly better positioned than this Huskies team, which was unexpectedly ravaged by the early departures of Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray to the NBA last spring.
The similarities, though, are more striking: Both teams were 4-4 in their first eight games. Both teams acquired four wins against cupcakes at home and took losses any time they played remotely capable opposition. Both teams played fast. Both teams were utterly, miserably lost on the defensive end. Both teams tried to make up for that fact with disorganized, sporadically effective offense loosely organized around one-and-done stars who shined in spite of the ugly basketball happening around them.
By the end of December 2015, it was clear Johnny Jones' LSU team was a long shot -- at best -- to get into the NCAA tournament. We can make the same proclamation about the Huskies even earlier, if only thanks to the schedule. Wednesday night offered a glimpse of what Fultz & Co. -- so to speak -- would look like against a bona fide Final Four contender. It wasn't pretty.
Indeed, Gonzaga deserves much of the credit for how bad the Huskies were Wednesday. Where Washington was mushy and adrift, the Zags were ruthless and precise. Williams-Goss was 9-of-13 from the field, scored 23 points and had five rebounds and five assists. Karnowski was 6-of-10 for 17 points and eight rebounds. Jordan Mathews made three of five 3-point attempts -- not that the Bulldogs much needed them. As a team, Gonzaga was 35-of-65, including 8-of-16 from 3, and averaged around 1.26 points per possession.
The Zags were arguably even more impressive on the defensive end. Washington went into the halftime break having shot 9-of-42 from the field (9-of-42!). The Huskies managed to score on just 10 of their 36 first-half possessions. In their first seven games, one non-Fultz bright spot had been UW's shooting, particularly from the perimeter. The Huskies finished 5-of-20 from 3 Wednesday, and sure, they missed a few open ones ... but they also got far fewer open ones than usual.
Nowhere was this more glaring than with Fultz. The star point guard arrived averaging 22.7 points per game this season while using 31.1 percent of the Huskies' possessions. Still, he had been especially impressive because he had been efficient: 56.2 percent from 2, 48.1 percent from 3, with solid assist-to-turnover numbers and a remarkable ability to draw fouls (8.0 per 40 minutes). But Gonzaga, from Williams-Goss on down, was relentless in hounding the Huskies' star freshman and forcing every made basket to come as the result of extended effort, a high degree of difficulty or both. The result was a 3-for-14 first half and a 10-for-26 night overall.
Fultz had his worst all-around game of the season by far. He still finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds. He's really, really good. The Huskies are going to keep on playing fast because that's what Lorenzo Romar's teams do. Fultz is never not going to be fun to watch.
But Simmons was fun to watch too, right up to the point that the Tigers declined an offer to participate in the NIT. Throughout LSU's letdown of a season, there was always the subconscious belief that a team with a player that good couldn't possibly miss the tournament. It just didn't happen.
No such illusions exist anymore. Now we know: Unless the Huskies somehow get drastically better between now and Pac-12 play, unless they can suddenly master the art of, say, not letting a 7-foot-1 dude outrun them down the floor on a made field goal, it's going to happen again.