My Completely-Uninformed UW Men’s Basketball Preview 2017-2018

The first game of the non-conference slate starts on Friday.  But, with the Seahawks going through a Thursday game this week, I’m bumping this up to Wednesday to even out the week.

As the title alludes to, I don’t know much about this Husky basketball team.  None of us really do, though you’ll find more informed previews elsewhere.  We have a new head coach, obviously, in Mike Hopkins.  This is the first season since 2001 where we’re going into it without Lorenzo Romar, so that’s going to be different.

The hope is that Coach Hop can coach these guys up.  At the very least, I’d like to see some intensity on the defensive side of the floor, but if that exhibition game last week was any indication, we’re going to be in for a bit of a wait in that regard.  Part of that, quite frankly, will have to do with this transition period, and the players who are carrying over from one regime to the next.

This team is going to have to rely on the likes of Junior guard David Crisp, Junior forward Noah Dickerson, and Junior swingman Matisse Thybulle.  Those guys – along with incoming Freshman Jaylen Nowell – are going to carry this team, for good and for ill.  The holdovers haven’t been asked to play much defense thus far in their careers.  So, the question becomes:  do they buy in?  Or, do they go through the motions because they know this team can ill afford to bench them for any great length of time.  Without those three guys, this team might go winless this year, or damn near close to it.

Then again, even WITH those guys, the team likely won’t be very good.  That’s what happens when you’ve only got two Seniors on your roster, one who has 46 career minutes at the college level, and the other who is Dan Kingma.  And, after the big three, the other two Juniors on the squad are Dominic Green and Devenir Duruisseau.

So, yeah, young this team is.  Young and inexperienced and mediocre.  And, on top of that, lacking in quality big men!  There are four players who are 6’8 or taller.  One is Noah Dickerson, who will start, but who is also prone to foul trouble.  One is the aforementioned Duruisseau, who hasn’t done much of anything in his first two seasons, other than emergency fill-in duty when one (or, more likely, more than one) of our other big men got in foul trouble.  Then, there’s Sam Timmins, the center from New Zealand, who averaged 14.6 minutes last year, but never really made much of an impact.  And then there’s a Freshman by the name of Hameir Wright, who I don’t even know if he’s going to play this year or not.

I think, what’s going to end up happening, is you’re going to see a lot of small ball out of this team.  I think you’re going to see Dickerson at the 5, and some of our taller swingmen like Thybulle or Green playing at the 4.  But, essentially it’s going to be a 4-Guard situation, and oh by the way, can’t forget the fact that this team doesn’t really have a true quality point guard either.  Crisp will most certainly be the primary ball-handler, but he’s not a guy who can really create off the dribble.  I guess we’ll see about Nowell or the two Carter boys, hopefully that works itself out before we start conference play.

It doesn’t look like we’ll have Nate Pryor, who apparently isn’t academically eligible I guess?  That’s a bummer, I guess, but what can you do?

I don’t totally know where to peg this team as far as how it will rank in the Pac-12, but they were 11th last year, and that feels about right for this year too.  What I worry about, more than anything, is that there really isn’t one of those Take Charge type of players.  That guy you turn to when you need a big bucket at the end of the game.  The closest thing to that is probably David Crisp, and I’ve seen him clang more rushed jumpers off the rim to last a lifetime.  If that’s the guy we have to turn to when we’re tied, or down by 1-3 points inside a minute, we’re going to lose A LOT of games.  Prove me wrong!

It’s actually too bad this team won’t be good, because the schedule is pretty enticing.  We kick off the season this Friday against Belmont, who is a perennial Tournament darling.  Next week, we have the 2K Classic in Madison Square Garden against the likes of Providence, Saint Louis, and Virginia Tech.  We go to Kansas City in early December to face the Jayhawks in the Sprint Center; then on the 10th we come home to take on Gonzaga at Hec Ed.  Oh sure, THIS team will get killed by all those teams; but a GOOD team might be a lot of fun to watch against such robust competition.

As it stands, remember how the 2008 Husky football team had one of the toughest schedules in the entire league, with a non-conference slate against #3 Oklahoma, #15 BYU, and Notre Dame?  Remember how Oregon and USC were both really great that year and we ended up going 0-12?  Well, it’s damn near impossible for a basketball team to do something like that, and aside from Arizona, I’m not really sure how great the rest of the Pac-12 is in basketball this season, but a non-conference slate that features Kansas and Gonzaga, among those other teams, is a doozy for a rebuilding program like Washington.

It’s almost as if that non-conference schedule was built for a certain Lorenzo Romar-coached team, featuring a certain future #1 overall draft pick who now plays for Missouri.  But, I guess that’s not important.

You want something to root for?  Root for steady progress.  Root for this team building a real identity.  Root for the Huskies to pick up the intensity on defense.  Ultimately, root for this team to be better in March than it is right now.  So that maybe NEXT year we can dream a little bigger.  Dream about a spot in the NCAA Tournament in 2019 or 2020.  That’s not too much to ask.

It is too much to ask this team to be good right now.  So, don’t get your panties in a wad when they look awful.

Coach Hop Is Rounding Out His 2017 Class

After all the defections and transfers, we’re finally at a point where a team is starting to take shape for the 2017/2018 season.  First, there were a couple of lower-level pick-ups in Michael Carter III and Nate Pryor, both guards.  Then, they were able to hang onto erstwhile Romar recruit Jaylen Nowell, who is also a guard.  In lieu of going after some JuCo transfers (who are notoriously difficult for the Huskies to bring in, due to our stupid high academic standards), Coach Hop has opted to poach from his old New York stomping grounds, in picking up shooting guard Nahziah Carter (who just so happens to be Jay-Z’s nephew), and 6’8 small forward Hameir Wright (who was thought to be a 2018 recruit, but is planning to reclassify to this year).

What this continues to emphasize is the Huskies’ considerable lack of big men.  Dickerson is the only real true power forward on the roster, and our two centers are a couple of nobodies in Sam Timmins and Devenir Duruisseau.  Which means that we’re either going to be playing A LOT of small ball, or we’re going to be giving considerable playing time to a couple of ineffective centers just to play defense and hopefully not get in anyone’s way.

Ideally, the Huskies would find a way to make quasi-small ball work, with Dickerson at center and Wright at power forward, but that’s going to hinge on those two not getting into constant foul trouble.  If they can manage that, this isn’t as crazy as it sounds.  Mostly because the Huskies have a lot of good height among their swingmen.  Nahziah Carter is 6’5, Nowell is 6’4, Thybulle is 6’5, Green is 6’6, Carlos Johnson is 6’4, Carter III is 6’4.  The only guy who really figures to get a lot of playing time who’s under 6’4 is David Crisp.  As long as we defend well and give a lot of effort in the rebounding department, we shouldn’t get too killed for being undersized (except when we play the Arizonas of the world, which is what it is).

I’m keeping my expectations pretty low in his first season, understanding that these types of transitions take time to really make an impact.  At this point, I’d settle for a team that’s fun to watch and maybe wins a few games it shouldn’t, but ultimately loses too many games it should, and finds itself in the N.I.T. range.  With the way the NBA is turning into a long-range shooting league, you’d think that sort of strategy would be ideal for a small-ish team like the Huskies, to just spread everyone out, drive the lane, and pass the ball well.  Ultimately, where size might kill us is defensively, if teams continuously decide to go after the likes of Dickerson to get him into foul trouble.  Hopefully, the coaching staff is working on making up for this deficiency somehow.

Shit Is Hitting The God Damned Fan In The Husky Basketball Program

It’s incredibly difficult to keep up with all of this, but I’m going to try my damnedest to give a recap.

So, remember all that excitement when the Huskies hired Mike Hopkins away from Syracuse and we thought we were getting someone with the potential to be special?  Well, I hope there’s some magic in that old silk hat he found, because the Huskies are hemorrhaging players, prospects, and even prospective assistant coaching candidates, with no relief in sight!  Where do I even begin?

Jason Hart, an assistant at USC many believed would be coming over with Hopkins, decided to stay in Southern California (probably with a hefty raise attached to his contract), so there goes our California recruiting connection.  Instead, the Huskies were able to hire unemployed Cameron Dollar – fresh off being fired by Seattle U for 8 years of head coaching mediocrity – so I guess that gives us maybe an “In” with the Seattle-area high schools.  You know, in case Will Conroy wasn’t enough.

Know that I’m writing this tight-lipped and a little bit annoyed:  we fired Romar … then we hired one of his top assistants from back in the Romar glory days?  If the idea is We Need To Make A Change, how exactly is Dollar bringing about this change?

It’s obviously not helping us keep the players we have on roster, nor the recruits we tabbed coming in our 2017 class!  The Huskies have officially lost 4 of the 5 recruits from our best-ever recruiting class, as Michael Porter Jr., Daejon Davis, Blake Harris, and Mamoudou Diarra have all de-committed/asked to be released from their LOI.  On top of that, reserve big man Matthew Atewe and starting big man Noah Dickerson have both decided they’re going to transfer, which ultimately leaves the Husky program in shambles heading into the 2017/2018 season.

On the bright side, we’ve got re-commits from the likes of David Crisp, Dominic Green, Carlos Johnson, and Matisse Thybulle, which I guess is better than nothing.  No word yet from Sam Timmins, Dan Kingma, or Devenir Duruisseau, but if you’re like me, you forgot Devenir Duruisseau was even on the roster (I thought he transferred ages ago!).  And, also, no word on potential incoming recruit Jaylen Nowell, but it fucking feels like only a matter of time before he asks for his release as well.

There might be a couple of other guys on the roster, walk-ons or whatnot, but they’re not important.  By my count, that’s 7 guys returning and 1 guy from our incoming Freshman class (for now).  Considering how late it is in the recruiting period, and considering the coaching staff isn’t even fully formed yet, I don’t know what we’re supposed to expect out of the Huskies come this fall, but get ready for an overwhelmingly last place finish!

Even if we were able to keep Dickerson, Atewe, and just the two local recruits, next season would’ve been a struggle.  But this is insanity times!  I hate to say I told you so, but this is what happens when you fire a head coach that’s this beloved.  When you sign on to join a university – particularly in basketball, because they’re such a close-knit unit – you sign because of a coach, not the school.  These guys signed on to play for Lorenzo Romar, not the University of Washington, for better or for worse.

I shudder to think of what this will mean for the program going forward.  I mean, if you thought last year was bad, get a load of 2018!  If you thought we bottomed out before, you ain’t seen nothing yet!  So, on top of having the stink of being the worst Pac-12 basketball team next year, we’ve got the stink of a school that fired a beloved, long-term head coach.  So, you know, not for nothing but we all better hope Mike Hopkins can coach his ass off, or this year of “growing pains” or whatever could build into an entire tenure of utter humiliation.

Fancy that, it’s like Washington ISN’T a destination program for college basketball or something!  Weird!

Welp, Husky Basketball Is Fucking Screwed Next Season

Word came down simultaneously that Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss will be leaving the University of Washington, hiring agents, and going into the NBA Draft.  Both will be picked in the first round, and good luck to the both of them.

50.7 of our 84 points per game, or around 60% of our overall scoring output (when you add in Andrew Andrews, who has no more eligibility left) will need to be replaced for the 2016/2017 season.  Highly prized recruit, Markelle Fultz, will be here to pick up SOME of the slack.  But, unless he is a literal teenage werewolf who can single-handedly take over and dominate a basketball game, I don’t think this Husky team is going to win very many games.

Bottom line, this is a sports team.  Yeah, it’s nice when you can look at the NBA and see all the players who used to play for the University of Washington, but that doesn’t win this Husky team any basketball games!  We need guys who are going to help us WIN, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to be happening anytime soon.

Without our top three players, who do we have returning for next year?

Well, that’s still up in the air, now isn’t it?  I’m sure there could be any number of disgruntled guys who either were demoted or otherwise didn’t play as much as they’d hoped (Dickerson, Green, Dorsey), but if we just go with the assumption that guys will plan on sticking around, what are we looking at?

Right away, you figure Fultz will pair with Crisp to be our starting guards.  Crisp is like a young Andrew Andrews in that he loves shooting the ball from all over the court, but unknown at this time is whether or not he’s able to effectively drive and score in the paint.  Between that and getting more consistent with his outside shot, he’s got a lot to work on.  Then again, if Fultz is the real deal like people are saying he is, maybe Crisp becomes more of a de facto shooting guard (in which case, he needs to be A LOT more consistent with his outside shot).

Matisse Thybulle returns as probably our most promising prospect, at the small forward position.  He’s got significant starting experience, and is still probably a better defender than a scorer, so he’s got that to work on.  Until I see otherwise, he’s more of a nice role player on a good team (in other words, if he’s forced to shoulder more of the scoring burden, we’re in REAL trouble).

Then, in the front court, we’ve got Dickerson and Dime returning.  Dickerson’s development really levelled off about halfway through the year, which was really disappointing when we started losing all those games towards the end of the season.  I would anticipate, if he stays, that a lot of the offense will flow through him in a sort of high/low game, where he can use his good moves in the post to hopefully either get us a lot of points in the paint, or generate open threes for other guys.  Dime is who he is:  he’ll score on the occasional alley-oop or put-back lay-in, and he’ll block a lot of shots, and that’s about it.

That’s your starting five.  Fultz, Crisp, Thybulle, Dickerson, and Dime.  Based on what we’ve seen out of the returning players, that doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence.  Of course, this is college, so it’s fair to expect guys to improve from year 1 to year 2, but how much improvement can we really look forward to?

If we just assume Fultz is a better player than Murray was for us, MAYBE you could argue – if we give him the keys to the offense – he’ll replace what Andrews gave us.  That still leaves the almost 30 points of production we got from Murray and Chriss.  Will Dickerson step his game up?  Will Crisp?  Will Dime?  All of those guys averaged around 7 points per game last season, so how much more improvement can we really expect?

As usual, it’s going to have to come from the bench, which last season brought NOTHING to the table.

On top of Fultz coming in, we have a guy by the name of Sam Timmins coming in, who’s out of New Zealand and is 6’10.  So, there’s some big man depth anyway (whether or not he can play right away remains to be seen).  Behind him, we’ve got returning forward Devenir Duruisseau, who played sparingly as a Freshman last season, but could be a guy who makes a big leap in development if given a chance.

The front court is more or less set as far as warm bodies are concerned.  But, our depth at guard – and especially at shooting guard – is pretty thin.  Dominic Green is a guy who opened some eyes in the middle of last season, but ultimately didn’t have the ability to stick in the rotation.  We NEED guys who can hit the outside shot, or we’re destined for the cellar next year.  If I’m Dominic Green right now, I’m spending every waking moment next to a rack of basketballs, shooting nothing but outside jumpers all day every day.  If he can get his shot up to snuff, he can be a nice rotational player for us.

Which is more than I can say for Donaven Dorsey, who I have negative confidence in right now.  If he doesn’t transfer this offseason, I’ll eat my hat.  While I’m TOLD he has an outside shot, and indeed I’ve seen him make a few, he’s done nothing out on the court that would make anyone consider him a threat.  Ideally, he’d be like another Scott Suggs-type player for us, but I just don’t think he has it in him.

A lotta what-ifs going on with next year’s team.  In one sense, that could be construed as excitement, but mostly I just feel dread.  I mean, shit, if this year’s team couldn’t make the NCAA Tournament – with the Pac-12’s leading scorer, and two first round NBA draft picks on its roster, why would I be excited for next year’s team that’s simply going to be the Markelle Fultz Show?  The Washington Huskies have become nothing more than a showcase for superstars to get paid.  If Lorenzo Romar wasn’t such a delightful and impressive human being, I’d begin to wonder if he isn’t getting a cut of some of these initial professional contracts he’s enabling.

The Huskies Ran The Gamut Of Their Huskiness In Narrow Victory At UCLA

You saw the Huskies at their best last night, and you saw the Huskies at their worst.  The two extremes were JUST enough to lock down a 2-point victory, 86-84.

It was a pretty far fucking cry from what happened in the first half.  Total domination from head to toe, as the Huskies raced out to a 51-33 halftime lead.  The Huskies hit over 50% of their shots and were getting contributions from all over the lineup.  Dominic Green – who is maybe the 8th or 9th guy in the rotation – played a season-high 23 minutes, having easily his best game.  Part of that was probably due to all the foul trouble (really, happening with both teams, but hit pretty hard on the Husky big men), but Green still contributed with 10 points, including 2 of 5 from behind the arc.

Six Huskies in total scored in double figures, with Dejounte Murray very nearly the 7th with his 9 points, on an uncharacteristic off-night.  Indeed, it was a pretty off-night for all of the guards, as Murray, Andrews, and Crisp shot a combined 8 for 31 (26%) from the floor.  But, they did make up for it at the line, scoring 13 of their combined 31 points at the stripe.  And, they also had a combined 7 steals and 10 assists to keep things moving in what was a sloppy game in general, with the Huskies having 19 turnovers.

The big men really led the charge, with Noah Dickerson playing just a monster game with a bum ankle.  He almost single-handedly kept us in the game when guys like Chriss, Thybulle, Dime, and Andrews were all in serious foul trouble.  It’s not the most remarkable line in the world, but Dickerson’s 15 points and 8 boards were essential in keeping us in this thing when the shit started to hit the fan.

With that huge 18-point lead, you knew it was going to go one of two ways:  either the Huskies would keep the throttle down and blow them out by 30, or the Bruins would go on a second-half run and eventually overtake us.  Obviously, you can tell what happened.  My friends and I were cheering harder for UCLA misses (with the Huskies only leading by 10 points) than we were for any of the high-flying action in the first half.

I thought a few other things stood out.  David Crisp hit a pretty important 3-pointer with a little under 9 minutes to go in the game.  UCLA had just pulled the deficit to single-digits for the first time since the first half, and it appeared the Huskies were playing in a thick fog, with no one really wanting to put up the shot to stop the bleeding.  But, Crisp will take that shot all day, and he nailed it.

Next up, with a little over 4 minutes to go in the game, UCLA had pulled to within one point, and Murray – having his aforementioned off-night – drained a three to slow the onslaught.

But, most importantly of all, and maybe the underrated star of this game, was Donaven Dorsey.  He was inserted into the game late, thanks to Dime, Chriss, and Thybulle all fouling out.  With 2:31 left in the game, almost immediately after he stepped onto the court, with the game TIED, Dorsey jacked up a three that rattled off.  Sure, he was probably a little cold – he’d only played 8 minutes the whole game, most of that in the first half – but you can just imagine Husky fans everywhere asking what in the hell he thought he was doing.  Then, sure enough, with a little over a minute to go, after UCLA had completed their comeback by taking a 3-point lead, Dorsey found himself in the corner, in front of the Husky bench, when a quick pass from Murray hit him in the hands.  Without a care in the world, Dorsey launched and hit the game-tying three.

Outstanding!  Play of the game right there!  Sure, with the game still tied, with the clock winding down, Andrew Andrews had the ball, dribbling to his left, and upfaked a big man with three seconds left in the game, causing him to fall on Andrews as he threw up a prayer of a shot, forcing the refs to call a foul.  And, sure, Andrews hit both free throws, even though UCLA tried to ice him by calling a time out between the two.  And, yeah, someone (I don’t remember who), forced Bruce Alford – who led the game with 28 points, most of those in the second half as he led UCLA’s massive comeback – to pass off the final shot to some other guy on the team who wasn’t NEARLY as fireball-hot as Alford was in those final 20 minutes, leading to the brick as the clock struck all-zeroes to officially decide the game.  But, I’m telling you, without Dorsey’s three right there, I don’t know if the Huskies even get to a point to put the game away with free throws.

That’s a huge moment in the young career of Donaven Dorsey.  I don’t know if that’s necessarily going to lead to bigger and better things for him; I just know that the whispers about him have been that he’s too tentative.  You don’t want to say a player is afraid or playing scared, but maybe he was lacking in confidence, not fully trusting his shot?  I mean, for a guy who doesn’t necessarily play the most stingy defense in the world, who is predominantly known for his outside shooting, and in his Freshman year last year, he only hits a shade under 34% of his threes, that could possibly get in one’s head.  But, not last night.  Last night, he was laser-focused, and he came through when it mattered most.

I started off this post talking a little bit about Dominic Green, and I ended this post talking a lot about Donaven Dorsey.  These are – flip-flop them however you see fit – the 8th & 9th guys in the rotation.  For the vast majority of the conference season, the Huskies have been running a strict 7-man rotation, and may now be realizing that was something of a mistake.  Probably a necessary one – as I don’t know if those 8th & 9th guys were ready for bigtime minutes – but with a team this young, and this prone to foul trouble, you’re going to run a lot of guys down playing extra minutes to compensate.  It’s VERY important to be able to run out a bigger rotation of guys to keep everyone fresh in these final weeks leading up to the Tournament.  This team isn’t going to solve its fouling issues overnight.

I know yesterday was kind of a kooky example, where certain players were in immediate foul trouble early, combined with the Huskies playing out of their minds in creating that 18-point lead.  But, it really looked like Romar made a concerted effort to get more guys involved, and early.  Even little-used 7th Freshman Devenir Duruisseau got some time in there when the game mattered.  Again, it could just be the circumstances of the evening, but I’ll say this, I don’t remember the Huskies making much of an effort to get all these guys involved in that Arizona game, especially early in the second half, when guys were still in foul trouble and the Wildcats had yet to start really pulling away.

A game like this can go a long way in boosting Romar’s confidence in some of these guys who seemed to have gotten short shrift this season.  Either way, just a HUGE win, on the road, in a “hostile” environment, against a team that might not be Tournament-good, but is still a prominent name in the college basketball world.  Now, it’s on to USC on Saturday, and another huge game.  Coming away from this L.A. trip with a split would be nice.  Coming away with a sweep would be season-altering.