The Huskies Are Back, Baby! (Men’s Basketball Edition)

It’s been a while since the Huskies beat a ranked non-conference opponent.  In fact, you have to go all the way back to Tuesday, December 22, 2009, at home against Texas A&M.  You MIGHT remember that game as the one where that one guy (Derrick Roland) broke his leg in a freak accident under the basket, ending his college career.  You might remember that season as the last time the Huskies made the NCAA Tournament (but you’d be wrong; the Huskies made it to the Tourney in 2011 as well; though this was the last time the Huskies made it to the Sweet 16).

We’re talking FIVE years since the Huskies have had a victory as big as the one on Sunday night, against 13th ranked San Diego State.

Since that A&M game, we’ve played seven ranked non-conference opponents and have lost them all.  It’s the primary reason why we haven’t gone to the NCAA Tournament in so long (especially in 2011-2012, when we won the regular season conference title, but were bounced down to the NIT).  I’ll be honest, I’ve thought all along that this team is the best one we’ve had around here in a while, but when I heard about the Aztecs and how good they are on defense, I had my doubts.  I thought it’d be close, but I figured they’d have the horses to pull away.

So, imagine my surprise at the beatdown we laid on them Sunday!  We held them to 15 points in the first half, and 36 points overall.  It was truly remarkable and it’s put the Huskies back on the map in a big way!

Granted, it wasn’t the prettiest of games.  You don’t watch two teams play a basketball game, with neither being able to surpass 50 points, and say to yourself, “My, that was an enjoyable exhibition of athletic prowess!”  But, I would argue, this also wasn’t just a game full of wildly crazy shots being bricked up.  You saw a notoriously good defensive team in San Diego State go head to head with an underratedly good defensive team in Washington.  And, on this day, the Huskies came out on top.

I absolutely cannot say enough good things about Robert Upshaw.  This kid is a stud through and through.  He tacked on another 4 blocks to go with 7 rebounds and 7 points in an all-around dominant performance.  When the Huskies go to their 2-3 zone with him in the middle making life miserable for anyone who dares enter his airspace, it’s just lethal.  Robert Upshaw is where basketballs go to die.  I’m honestly giddy at this point, because we’ve NEVER had a big man with his height, his adeptness around the hoop, his athleticism, and his hands.  What’s more, he’s not a foul-out waiting to happen, he’s able to block shots to teammates (as opposed to the showy blocks out of bounds that tend to get the fans all excited, but ultimately don’t help your team quite as much), and he can hit the occasional free throw.  This here is a complete player who certainly has the ability to play in the NBA if he keeps progressing.

I can’t tell you how huge this is.  The Huskies have needed a quality big man for the last half decade, and now they’ve finally got him.  Right now, he’s not starting, but I wouldn’t expect that to hold forever.  Either way, with Kemp producing at a high level, it’s a good problem to have.  When they’re both on the floor at the same time, inside scoring is nearly impossible.  When just one of them is on the floor, you don’t really miss a beat.

In this early going, the Huskies are relying on their three bigs (lump Jarreau into the mix) and their starting back-court in Williams-Goss and Andrews.  In the game against the Aztecs, NWG and Andrews combined for 28 of 49 points, with each of them hitting critical threes at the most opportune times.  San Diego State never really had a chance to get back into this game, because whenever they even thought about going on a run, the Huskies had a response.

The offense is just plain better with NWG on the floor.  In this game, both he and Andrews played 36 of 40 minutes.  In the early going, Andrews is averaging a shade over 30 minutes per game and NWG is averaging even more, at a little over 34 minutes per.  They’re both amazing athletes who can probably handle the load, but you’d like to see those numbers come down just a little bit, if we want to keep them fresh for the long haul.  But, I can understand the over-reliance.  NWG is the engine.  The bench guys may develop into quality role players, but they’re going to need to build up experience and confidence.  Until they do that, we’re going to have to continue to lean heavily on the stars.

On the plus side, Mike Anderson is a quality role player right now.  He’s yet to really pour in the baskets, but he does enough of everything else to be one of those glue guys.  Hustles, plays solid defense, rebounds, can hit the occasional shot.  Then, we’ve got Donaven Dorsey and Quevyn Winters who – once they get acclimated to the game – have the potential to really rain down the shots from outside.  Once they get going, this Huskies team will be something special.

As for right now, we’ve got a 7-0 Huskies team that’s ranked 17th in the nation.  HOW ABOUT THAT???  In the eyes of the nation, we’re the third-best team in the Pac-12 behind #3 Arizona and #13 Utah.  This year couldn’t be going any better so far.

And, quite frankly, you won’t find many happier than myself.  I’ve been on the Romar bandwagon for the duration, even in these lean last couple of years when he wasn’t so popular.  When everyone was talking about getting rid of him.  Truth be told, Romar is my favorite head coach in any sport right now, and is probably on my own personal Mount Rushmore of Favorite Seattle Sports Head Coaches (with George Karl, Lou Piniella, and I gotta go with Pete Carroll over Holmgren because he actually brought us the championship).  No one deserves this success more than Romar, and I hope this is just the beginning of another epic run by the best Husky head coach in men’s basketball history.

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