Sort of dropped the ball on this one, but after a year like last year, who could blame me? At this point last year, the Dawgs had already been thrashed by a UC Irvine team that would go on to lose in the first round of the N.I.T. Which is something, I suppose, since the Huskies weren’t even good enough to qualify for that! At this time last year, we’d also lost our starting power forward, Jernard Jarreau, who had figured to be a big part of our new high post offense. He missed all but a few minutes of our season last year, and proved to be the nail in the coffin.
It sucks when you know your season is over before it’s even begun.
It’s been an interesting few months since the last season ended. C.J. Wilcox was a first round NBA draft pick from the Clippers. Nigel Williams-Goss decided to stay in school for at least one more year. The seat has never been hotter for Lorenzo Romar, but he has also nabbed his highest-rated recruiting class of all time. These are exciting, frantic, nervous times for the University of Washington men’s basketball team.
From a personnel standpoint, I would argue that this year will be a step forward compared to last year. I know how ridiculous that sounds, when you consider last year’s team had a first round draft pick on it, but by season’s end it very well may be true. Shawn Kemp Jr. is a senior and is as good as he’s ever going to be for us. That might not be saying a lot, but he’s another one of those unheralded guys who entered this program extremely raw and will be leaving it an actual basketball player. The best part about having Kemp back is, while he should be a nice contributor, he isn’t necessarily the most important piece, nor is he the best big man on the team.
We’ve got OTHER bigs; I know, but it’s for real! Jarreau is back and he’s packed on some muscle! He’s all the way up to 240 pounds now, which means he doesn’t look nearly as gangly as when he first started here. Then, there’s transfer Robert Upshaw, who is 7-feet of mobile center the likes of which I can’t remember having around here since Spencer Hawes. Upshaw is going to be a blocking machine in the paint, and he’s actually got some decent hands unlike some of our more recent fives (I’m looking at you Aziz N’Diaye). The best part: Upshaw has two years of eligibility left!
These names, listed individually, might not make you the moistest you’ve ever been, but you have to understand how long it’s been since we’ve had three talented big men who can play real Pac-12 minutes. Usually, we have one solid big man and a bunch of really tall white guys who ride the pine outside of garbage time at the end of blowouts. Now, the Huskies have options! We can go big if we need to go big! If we’re facing a team like the aforementioned UC Irvine of last year – with a 7’6 monstrocity in the middle of the paint – we might not get out-rebounded and blocked to pieces.
On the flipside, we’ve got NWG back, as I mentioned earlier. He’s another NBA talent who should be making leaps & bounds strides in his development from his freshman year to his sophomore year. Andrew Andrews is back, playing right alongside him, in his third year of major college basketball play. He tends to take after Abdul Gaddy in how he will drive you crazy sometimes, but unlike Gaddy, he actually brings some positives to the table as well. I don’t know if Andrews will ever lock down that outside shot, but if he’s able to make even marginal improvements in that area, we could be looking at a real star on this team.
Then, we’ve got the role players. Mike Anderson, Darin Johnson, and Ju-Co transfer Quevyn Winters. How far the Huskies go in the 2014/2015 season will entirely depend on whether or not these role players step up and make an impact. NWG and Andrews figure to be the primary scorers on the team. The three big men figure to chip in anywhere from 20-30 points, depending. But, we’re going to need someone unexpected to step up and fill the void when others’ shots aren’t falling.
Likewise, it’ll be interesting to see how this team shoots from behind the arc. In our first game last Friday – a rout of South Carolina State – we shot 3 of 21 from 3-point land. Obviously, that may cut it against the dregs of our non-conference schedule, but if we’re going to win consistently and get back to the NCAA Tournament, that percentage has to improve. We’ve got everything else that we need – rebounding, defense, dribble penetration, short and mid-range shots – but we’re going to be a pretty predictable offense if we can’t hit from the outside. At that point, teams will just need to zone up all game every game and let us brick ourselves to death.
In looking at our non-conference schedule, I see a couple of ranked teams on the horizon in San Diego State and Oklahoma. Ideally, we’d win at least one of those games, and ideally that game would be SDSU at Hec Ed. Of course, we can ill-afford to suffer a bunch of shitty losses to shitty teams, so it was comforting to see us not necessarily play our best basketball game, and yet still come away with a comfortable victory over South Carolina State. If we can get out of our non-conference play with only one or two losses, we could be set up for a nice regular season run.
The Pac-12 isn’t as crappy as it has been the last few years. Right now, Arizona is the #2 ranked team in the nation, with Utah pulling its weight at #25. Colorado, UCLA, and Stanford are all well-regarded programs as well, who could get some looks by the Tournament Committee. As usual (at least, as what I assume is usual), the Huskies play each of their Pac-12 North brethren twice. We also catch Colorado/Utah twice as well, which should bode well for our strength of schedule (considering, the Pac-12 North – aside from the Bay Area schools – aren’t looking to be so great). That means that we only play the Arizona schools and the SoCal schools once apiece. We get the Arizona schools up here, and we go on the road to play UCLA and USC. If that’s the way it has to be, I’m glad we catch the Wildcats in Seattle. That would be a nice game to steal if everything falls into place.
As usual, during these non-conference times, you want to root for every single Pac-12 school to win as much as possible (well, maybe not Oregon, because fuck Oregon). That way, when we get into the nitty gritty, the Pac-12 will be well-regarded enough to hopefully earn a good handful of spots in the Tourney.
Unless things completely go haywire, bank on Zona, UCLA, and Colorado to be locks. If Utah can keep it up, they should advance too. That’s going to put us in the same realm as the Bay Area schools and whoever else manages to pop up and shock the world (ASU maybe? Oregon maybe?). At that point, it will be on the strength of our major victories (and the weakness of our horrible losses) that determine whether or not we move on. So, here’s to not being one-and-done in the Pac-12 Tourney!
I can’t help but like our chances this year. I think the University of Washington basketball team is on another upswing where we hit the tourney every year for a few years. It’s going to all depend on Romar’s ability as a coach. He’s proven that he’s gotten his groove back as a recruiter, now he’s got to go out there and put some W’s on the table. In that sense, I doubt he’s lost a step.
The talent is here, the coach is the right man for the job, the conference is as strong as it’s been in ages. Everything is right out there for the taking. In the end, I think the Huskies go on a nice little run to end the season and sneak into the Tourney as an 11-seed or something.
It’s been a while since I’ve been this upbeat on Husky basketball. Don’t let me down!