The Huskies Went On The Road And Beat #2 Kansas

This.  Was.  Incredible.

If this game happened in Hec Ed, you would’ve seen 5,000-some-odd people storming the court, but it feels so much bigger because it took place in the Sprint Center in Kansas City, so not only was this a road game, but it was a road game where they could manage to cram in MORE Jayhawks fans than if they’d played the game on campus.  And to not only win, but win COMFORTABLY, by a score of 74-65, I just don’t have the brain capacity to comprehend this.

This is the biggest win since dot dot dot:

Well, last year, the Huskies won all of 9 games (they’ve already won 7 this year, but shhh, don’t tell anyone), and they lost handily to every ranked opponent they played.

The year before, we had an NIT team, and the only ranked team we beat was a #25-ranked UCLA squad who wasn’t even good enough to crack the NIT.

The year before that, we were nothing, and somehow beat a #13-ranked Utah team at home (who would go on to the Sweet 16).  We also beat a #15-ranked Oklahoma team on a neutral floor that would also go on to the Sweet 16 and a #13-ranked San Diego State team at home that would go on to the Round of 32.  How that Husky team did nothing whatsoever in conference play is a testament to underachieving.

I could keep going, but the point is it’s been a long time since we’ve seen the Huskies win a game that huge.  I don’t remember them EVER winning against such a highly ranked team on the road; the last time they beat a Top 2 team was in 2004 when they hosted the #1-ranked Stanford Cardinal at the end of the season.

Obviously, we don’t know where Kansas will end up this season, but they’re definitely well-regarded at the moment (they were undefeated heading into the game, with wins over Kentucky and Syracuse), they’re a perennial powerhouse school in college basketball, and barring a total collapse or a rash of injuries, they should be a lock to play in the NCAA Tournament come March.  Are they REALLY a Top 10 team?  Time will tell.  But, right now they’re ranked #2 in the nation, and the Huskies handled them like I’ve never seen!

It was a thing of beauty.  For starters, that defense.  They essentially locked down the perimeter, did a good job staying with the big man down low, and dared the guy in the middle – a Junior guard by the name of Lagerald Vick – to single-handedly win the game on the offensive end.  True to form, he finished with 28 points, 7 assists, and 5 boards, but he was only 12/23 from the floor, and the next-highest scorer only had 10 points.  When you consider this is a Kansas team that lives for the 3-point shot, and has a couple of quality post players, Coach Hop came up with a stroke of genius in shutting them down.  Let’s just hope more teams don’t take this strategy; it would be really cool if Kansas finished the season in the Top 10, so at the very least we can hang our hat on this game being very important.

As impressed as I was about the Husky defense (and it shouldn’t be glossed over; these guys have bought in, and the zone defense really suits this team like a glove!  I think my favorite thing I’ve seen out of this team, from a defensive perspective, is a drastic reduction in ticky-tack fouls.  Sure, the zone will get beaten from time to time, but you don’t really see the Huskies compounding that by giving the opposing team an And One opportunity as often as you’d see under Romar.  I think that’s huge; not getting into early and frequent foul trouble.  I mean, let’s face it, most college players – particularly the One & Done types – don’t want to play defense.  That’s not what gets you into The League.  That’s where the zone comes in.  Sure, there are tons of zone-busting plays out there; it’s not a cure-all.  But, for one, to beat the zone you have to shoot well, and if you have an off night, you can lose to just about anyone deploying it.  Secondly, more often than not it’ll at least keep you in the game, so if YOU shoot well, you can still overcome the other team busting your zone.  It may not be as macho or whatever as playing man-to-man, but as we’ve seen under the last few years with Romar, if you don’t have the drive, the ability, and the mindset to be a good defender, then you’re essentially useless when you play man-to-man.  Also, don’t get me started on that abomination where they’d switch on every single pick play; what the shit was that???), I think I was even more impressed by the Husky offense!

I’ve seen Husky teams in the recent past hang in there against superior competition.  For a quarter, or a half, and once in a blue moon all the way to the last 4-5 minutes of the game!  But, inevitably, the Huskies – ever since Isaiah Thomas went to the Pros – lacked that one guy who could make a big shot in crunch time.  Last night, the Huskies didn’t really need anyone to play that role, but that’s only because the entire team stayed composed and made shots the whole game!

Things were a little dicey early, as Kansas jumped out to a 10-5 lead, and I wondered if we could stay within the 22-point spread.  But, as I just said, guys kept making shots and by halftime, the Huskies had worked their way to a 2-point lead, 36-34.

That lead ballooned to 52-44 early in the second half before Kansas went on a nice little run to pull the game to 53-52, with just under 10 minutes left in the game.  That was a real gut check time, as you could hear the crowd start to get into it, and it looked like the better team would finally take over.

Instead, not even three minutes later, the Husky lead was back to 10, 64-54, and it was just a matter of trading buckets to the finish line.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some daggers thrown in there.  That David Crisp three-ball with just over two minutes to go in the game felt like a real back-breaker, to put the Huskies up by 14.  With a good-shooting team like Kansas, you feel like no lead is safe.  Sure, they hit a couple garbage-time threes in the final minute, but they finished the game 5/20 from beyond the arc, and more importantly, were only 4/8 from the free throw line.  No three balls AND no free throws?  I’ll take that every single game!

Getting back, though, the Huskies shot 48.3% from the floor, and 42.9% from long range.  We also got to the line 15 times (only hitting 7).  Hell, we even out-rebounded them!

There wasn’t one star, or one guy carrying the entire team, which is what the Huskies are going to need to do if they want to keep this thing going.  Matisse Thybulle led the way with 19 points (hitting 5/8 from downtown), 4 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block.  Jaylen Nowell had 17 points; Noah Dickerson had 13 points, 14 boards, and 5 assists.  David Crisp chipped in 10 points and 7 assists; Sam Timmins had 8 points and 3 boards in 18 minutes; and forward Hameir Wright came off the bench for 27 minutes, scoring 5 to go along with 6 boards and 3 blocks.

I just couldn’t be happier or more proud of this team.  The young guys are producing, the holdovers are buying in, and you can already see some steady improvement from where we were just one month ago when the season started.  Remember, the media predicted Washington would finish 10th in the conference!  Ahead of only Cal (who looks like a disaster) and Wazzu (who got off to a hot start, before losing their last two, including a 27-point drubbing to Idaho last night).  If the Huskies can continue to play this type of Team ball, who knows where we’ll end up?

I know this, a win on the road against #2 Kansas would look MIGHTY good on a team’s resume, if – for instance – that team happened to be on the bubble.

I’ll be the first to admit, I had zero expectations for that game last night, or this season in general.  The only reason I had the game on at all was to see just how close – or how far away – this team was compared to the best in the nation.  Now that they’ve won, and won handily, my interest has definitely perked up.  If they can go on the road to win in Kansas, what’s stopping this team from coming back home on Sunday and taking down #12 Gonzaga?

I’m not ready to predict a win just yet – after all, the Zags just lost to Villanova and are sure to be pretty salty about it – but before the game last night, there was NO QUESTION the Huskies would lose both of these games.  After the game last night, it’s not off the table that we might win both and find ourselves in the Top 25 next week.

Think about THAT!  Wouldn’t that be something?

I texted it to my friends last night, and I plan on keeping my promise:  every year, we go to the Reno/Tahoe area for the first weekend of March Madness to gamble on sports and drink our livers black for three straight days; the first thing I’m going to do when I land and get checked in is I’m going to place $100 on the Huskies against whoever they’re playing in the Tournament.  Because we’re fucking going!  That’s all there is to it!

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.