Husky Basketball Salvages A Split On The Road Against The Mountain Schools

To me, I’m not seeing a whole lot of difference between Utah and Colorado from a talent perspective.  The Utes like the long ball a little more than the Buffaloes, and are a little less guard-heavy, but other than that, these two teams are pretty close.  Yet, against Utah, the Huskies lost by 8, and against Colorado, the Huskies won by 10.

The Huskies, with their zone, and their aggressive style of defense when it comes to steals and blocks, are able to mitigate a lot of talent disparities in Pac-12 play.  When they’re on, they can beat any team; when they’re off, they can lose to any team.  Now, obviously when you compare them to Gonzaga, or some of the other elite schools, the Huskies don’t have the talent to hang for very long.  But, against the Pac-12 so far, it’s fine.  The Huskies are probably in the upper half of the middle of the road.

But, offensively, the Huskies have a real problem.  As has been noted by anyone who has eyeballs, the Huskies tend to go silent on the offensive end for long stretches of game.  Against Utah, it was pretty much the entire first half, as the Utes ran out to a 35-24 halftime lead.  The Huskies were able to make a little bit of a run in the second half – getting as close as 64-60 with 2 minutes to go in the game – but ultimately didn’t have enough in the tank to close it out.

The Huskies shot just under 40% for the game, which is pretty normal for them, but they were a truly abysmal 2 of 18 from the 3-point line.  David Crisp was a mind-boggling 0 for 7, and Thybulle & Nowell combined to go 0 for 5.  Personally, I’d love it if Crisp just stopped shooting threes altogether, because he’s fucking terrible at it.  I mean, you KNOW he practices it all the fucking time, because it’s what he loves to do more than anything else on Earth!  How he can do that and still be so awful is one of those unsolvable mysteries I’ll never understand.  You can’t even call him streaky anymore, because Crisp is just on one season-long bad streak of jump-shooting.

Then, a couple days later, it was more of the same in the early going against Colorado, as poor shooting allowed the Buffs to jump out to a 7-0 lead, and later an 18-9 lead before the Husky Timeout Heard ‘Round The World.  There was around 8 minutes left in the first half, and from that point the Huskies went on a 27-9 run to get to halftime with a 9-point lead.  The improved shooting continued in the second half, and the Huskies pulled out a crucial win.

It was huge to avoid a 3-game losing streak, it helped leapfrog us back into 4th place in the conference, and it was yet another road victory to throw onto the pile.  We’re among the last four out on ESPN’s Bracketology, which is very impressive for this team.

The Huskies shot a whopping 50% from 3-point against the Buffs (8 of 19) and killed ’em on the boards.  Crisp kept it to 1 for 3, which is fine, but Thybulle, Nowell, and Dominic Green all crushed it (3/5, 2/5 and 2/5 respectively).  The Huskies need those guys to keep up the quality shooting to be a Tourney team, so keep those fingers crossed.

14-6 overall, 4-3 in conference, with 11 more games to go.  That’s one game against the Cougs (this Sunday), two more against the Mountain schools at home, and a whopping 4 games against the pretty mediocre Oregon schools.  Ideally, the Huskies will find a way to win 6/7 of those games, but that’s me being greedy.  If we take down 4/7 conservatively, that puts us at 18-9 (8-6) with 4 important games left over (two at home against the Arizona schools; two on the road in the Bay Area).  Win 2/4 of those (with one of the two coming against the Cardinal or Wildcats, that puts us at 20-11 (10-8) with impressive wins over at least two Tourney schools (maybe 3 if USC makes it; maybe more if some of those non-conference mid-major schools play well).  20-11 would put the Huskies firmly on the bubble, with the Pac-12 Tournament to go.  They’d definitely have to win their first game, and probably have to win 2 games to assure themselves a seat at the Dance.

Can’t let up against the Cougs this weekend.  Maybe more important than anything else is winning the games you’re supposed to win.  Padding out that record and getting into the top 3 or 4 in the conference regular season would be my preferred option.

Husky Basketball Split A Weekend Home Series Against The Bay Area Schools

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see a second of the Thursday night game against the California Golden Bears, because 8pm starts are a thing for the Pac-12, and with my schedule being what it is, I’m in bed by that time.

The Huskies did their thing, though, in beating Cal 66-56.  Cal was held to just under 36% shooting from beyond the arc, and missed more free throws than they hit to seal the deal.  The Huskies were pretty sloppy in their own right, but did just enough down the stretch, led by Jaylen Nowell’s 20 points and 5 boards.  Thybulle filled up the stat sheet as usual, Crisp hit a couple huge shots and didn’t force things offensively, and the Dawgs got double-digit scoring out of Dickerson and Nahziah Carter to round things out.

I was able to catch the Stanford game on Saturday night, which unfortunately never really went the Huskies’ way.  We found ourselves down 21-12 midway through the first half before a Husky run made it just a 2-point deficit at halftime.  Then, after trading some leads early in the second half, the Cardinal went on another run to go up 13 a little past the midway point.  The Huskies would go on another run to get to within 2 points at the under-4 time out, but we ultimately couldn’t sustain it and Stanford ended up winning by 9.

This was a tough one.  Stanford was 9-8 heading into this game, but only had 1 conference loss, and played a seriously difficult non-conference scheduled.  In other words, this team is MUCH better than their overall record, and I expect them to be a Tournament team (barring injury) come March.  The Huskies were able to keep them in check from the 3-point line, for the most part.  But, they just KILLED us on the boards, grabbing 48 to our 28 (and 14 on the offensive glass to our 3).  The Huskies did their damnedest, winning the turnover battle 18-10, out-blocking them by a whopping 12-3 margin, and beating them 10-4 in steals.  Ultimately, though, this game came down to poor Husky shooting.  5/22 from long distance, 37.5% overall, and only 17/26 from the charity stripe.  With foul trouble being pretty equal on both sides, the shooting thing was ultimately too big to overcome.

I think it’s encouraging that the Huskies can hang with a team like Stanford.  We play them again in late February, and it wouldn’t shock me if we somehow prevailed.

It’s unfortunate to drop a home game, but remember how far this team has come since last season.  It’s also important to note that the Huskies have been just as good on the road as they’ve been at home, and their style of play can work regardless of location.  This is fundamentally important, especially when you consider this team wants to get back to the NCAA Tournament, and ALL of those games are away from your home arena.

The Huskies look to limit this to a 1-game losing streak as they head to the Mountain schools this week.  Utah doesn’t appear to be particularly strong this year, and Colorado appears to be better than anyone expected.  I wouldn’t expect either of those things to matter, as it wouldn’t shock me if the Huskies won both games, lost both games, or split them either direction.

Husky Basketball Starts Out 2-1 In Pac-12 Play

It’s been a pretty cool first couple weeks of conference play for the Huskies.  As the title states, we’re 2-1 so far through three games, all on the road.  We kicked things off with a win over what I’m told is a pretty good USC team.  We ran out to a big lead at halftime, withstood an early second half USC run, and took home a victory that featured USC shooting 3/20 from beyond the arc.  Only time will tell if USC ends up being a quality team in the Pac-12, but I’ll say this:  any road win against a conference opponent is a huge win.

The only blemish to what could’ve been an insanely great first two weeks of the conference season was a loss a couple days later against UCLA.  In hindsight, it’s all the tougher because we had an 8-point halftime lead and just totally collapsed in the second half, as the Bruins outscored us 46-17.  UCLA didn’t totally go off, hitting just 5 of 14 from deep, but they made their share of two’s, and hit 25/30 free throws to salt it away.  The Huskies, meanwhile, somehow managed to hit only 2/27 from beyond the arc, which if it wasn’t a school record for futility, has to be close to it.  Unfortunately, that’s just going to be the case with this team sometimes.  As it is, we’re not the best 3-point shooting team even when we’re hitting our usual percentage of shots (David Crisp almost always does his part to drag down our average), but there are going to be times where we dip way below, and we – as fans – just have to hope that isn’t a regular occurrence, or else this thing could go south pretty quick.

We topped off our road trip by knocking off the Cougars 70-65 over the weekend.  The Cougs are primarily a 3-point shooting team, and were held to 7/27 from deep.  That’s exactly the type of team that plays into our hands, as the Husky zone is designed to limit shots from deep (or at least make them harder to hit).

I’ve finally seen a pattern start to develop when it comes to the Huskies.  With the zone, outside shooting teams are going to be kept in check for the most part (though, I anticipate we’ll run into a game here and there where opposing shooting teams have a hot night and put us to bed early).  Our zone needs to be working effectively, because we’re not the greatest offensive team, particularly from 3-point land.  As long as it does, we should be in most games.  As I noted, there will be times other teams just destroy our zone and shoot out of their minds, and there will be times where the Huskies hit a crazy percentage of shots and run the other team out of the gym.  I feel like those games will cancel each other out, and the rest of the time it’s going to be close and it’s going to depend on how the Huskies close out games.

And, quite frankly, I’m encouraged by how the Huskies are closing things out!  USC put a lot of pressure on the Dawgs in the second half of that game, and we hit enough shots and free throws to put things away.  The UCLA game got away from us early in the second half, and that was just a flukey bad-shooting night, so write that one off.  The Coug game, though, was pretty close all along, with lots of lead changes, and the Huskies did just enough late – with a particularly huge shot in the lane by Nowell, and a ton of breathtaking drives to the basket by Crisp – to get the W they deserved.

Now, I think we ratchet up expectations just a little bit.  At 2-1, the Huskies are tied for second (with a lot of other teams) in the Pac-12.  At 12-4, with a number of quality wins (and already 2 conference road wins), the NCAA Tournament is definitely in the conversation.  Who expected that when the season started?

God bless Mike Hopkins.  Let’s keep it going!

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!

The Husky Basketball Team Is Winning The Games They’re Supposed To Win

Since I last wrote about the Husky basketball team, they finished out the 2K Classic by getting blown out against Virginia Tech.  You could argue that both Providence and Virginia Tech are simply better basketball teams than the Washington Huskies, and you’d most likely be right.  They’re probably on par with most of the teams the Huskies will face in conference play, which is a scary proposition, but it makes sense.  They’re still gelling into a unit; they’re not ready to face the likes of major conference teams, or even the better Mid-Majors for that matter.  It’s going to take time; it might even take the whole season.  I guess we’ll find out.

Since then, the Huskies have ripped off three wins in a row against inferior competition:  Seattle U, UC Davis, and Kennesaw State.  In those games, we’ve learned a little more about the make up of this Husky basketball team.

Jaylen Nowell, at times, looks like the best player on the floor.  Other times, he looks like a Freshman, tentative and passive.  But, he’s clearly the most talented ball-handler on the Huskies, and over time should be the guy we turn to in crunch time to get the tough baskets.  He had 25 against Seattle and 21 against UC Davis, before a clunker of a game against K-State.  When he’s consistently leading this team in points, I think we’ll start to see something magical.

Noah Dickerson is our rock.  He won’t always be on fire, and sometimes he’s going to get into foul trouble, but whenever we get him going down low, it’s just going to open up so many things for our outside shooters.

Matisse Thybulle does it all.  He truly looks like he was made to play in this style of defense, as he’s 3rd in the nation in steals at 3.6 per game.  I think what we’re looking for is more consistency at the offensive end.  What he needs is improved confidence.  If he can just get a higher percentage of his shots to fall, he’s going to be a real weapon for this team as a 3rd/4th option.  With his defensive abilities, that’ll be a lethal combination.

David Crisp is a lot of things, but lacking in confidence isn’t one of them.  The Huskies will always be at their best when he’s hitting his shots, but at this point it doesn’t appear that he’s taken a great leap forward in his efficiency in that area.  So far, he’s actually averaging fewer shots per game, which is probably appropriate.  I don’t think you want to count on him to be your leading scorer game-in and game-out.  He’s at his best when he’s getting to the foul line, but if we’ve already got Nowell for that, I’d really like to see him bone up on his 3-point shot.  Those daggers he hits at the end of games are vital!  Let’s try to work on that form and have that be your game.

Finally, I’ll say that I’m pretty impressed with what I’ve seen out of Sam Timmins so far.  He didn’t look like he belonged anywhere NEAR a basketball court last year, and I’ll admit I was more than a little concerned with the prospect of him seeing more playing time this year due to the team’s lack of depth at the 4 and 5 spots.  But, he’s actually looked competent in the middle!  You don’t expect a lot out of him, but he’s a big man who can clean up the boards, hit some put-backs, and block a shot now and again.  Considering the talent around him, that’s all I really want from my starting center!  He’s not integral to the team’s success, so you don’t have to have him out on the floor to run the offense; they can easily drop him to go Small Ball on an opposing team.  But, if Dickerson gets into foul trouble, it’s nice to know we have Timmins in there to keep things running semi-smoothly.  Maybe in a year or two, he can develop more of an offensive game, but for now, he’s exactly what this team needs.

There’s one more candycane tune up against Omaha this weekend before the gauntlet of Kansas and Gonzaga.  I’m not expecting much out of either of those games, but it’ll be interesting nevertheless to see where we stand against some of the greats.

Noah Dickerson Is Playing Like A Boss

The Husky basketball team, in the very early going, already looks more impressive than it has in many years.  They took out a good Belmont team in the opener, and handled a pretty good Eastern Washington team before heading off to New York for the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden.  In the opener last night, the Huskies squared off against another good team in Providence, in what was a glorified road game with how many Friars fans there were in attendance.

And the Dawgs held their own!  They didn’t win, as Providence’s superior shooting at all three levels took over at the end of the game, but the Huskies were down by 3 points with the ball in hand with less than a minute to go.  In that kind of environment, I think that’s all you can really ask for out of a team like Washington.

This isn’t a superiorly talented Washington team; they’re going to have to scrap and claw in all their games to get W’s.  The margin of error is razor thin.  How thin?  Last night, with 31 seconds left in the game, Jaylen Nowell made a terrific play to score a bucket to pull the game back to within 3 points, AND he was fouled on the play to make things really interesting.  Make that free throw, and you can really muck up the last half minute of that game.  Get Providence to miss just ONE free throw, and you’ve got a chance to tie it with a three ball.  But, he bricked it, and the Friars won by 7.

Didn’t help that the Huskies were 9 of 27 from behind the arc.  David Crisp had a particularly brutal game, hitting 4 of 14 from the field, of which two of those shots were inside the three-point line (both missed).  And, as such, arguably the best free throw shooter on the team finished the night 0 for 1 at the charity stripe.  That is, without question, a terrible night of basketball.  And it’s not like he just had an off night!  Crisp for his career is a 34% shooter from three-point land, and yet he’s out there jacking them up like he’s Ray Allen or some shit!

The Huskies were forced to go to that style, unfortunately, because Noah Dickerson fouled out (on just a HORRIBLE call by the refs) with a little under 3 minutes to go in the game.  Up to that point, Dickerson was holding this team together with his massive wingspan and some duct tape.  He finished with 19 points and 6 boards (including 7 of 10 from the free throw line) just four days after he dropped 28 & 22 on Eastern.  I don’t know what happened with Belmont, but considering he fouled out and only played 19 minutes, my hunch is he spent the majority of that game in foul trouble.  Either way, Noah Dickerson has proven – in the very early going, mind you – to be far and away the best player on this team, and the guy this offense needs to run through.

We’ve seen this out of Dickerson in spurts before.  Against inferior opponents, he’ll bust out with a nice game here and there.  But, rarely consistently, until late last season, when he really balled out in the last couple months (often taking on the load with Markelle Fultz battling his injuries).  It’s a breath of fresh air to see that carry over into this season, when we’ve got a new coach and a whole mess of new players.

Jaylen Nowell really caught all the headlines when he dropped 32 in the opener against Belmont, but he’s been a lot quieter these last two games, taking a backseat to the vets on this team.  As we move along, I’d like to see him assert himself more, with less of Crisp jacking up crazy threes left and right.

But, this team is only going to go as far as Dickerson is able to take them.  He’s got the type of talent and production you can count on from game to game.  Even if he’s not shooting well, he should be able to dominate the paint and boost his numbers at the free throw line with regularity.  We haven’t had someone this good at the 4 since Jon Brockman, but I would argue Dickerson has more raw talent, particularly in the post.  It’s scary to think he could be even BETTER than what we’ve seen from him thus far.

The Huskies wrap up the 2K Classic tonight this afternoon in the loser’s game against Virginia Tech; hopefully we can rebound and steal a W.  Then, we come back for an easy slate of games the rest of this month, as those early December showdowns loom against Kansas and Gonzaga.

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.

Noah Dickerson Is Staying With The Huskies

By crikey, it’s been nothing but reasonably good news for the Washington Huskies men’s basketball program since its nadir about a month ago!  I mean, honestly, how could it get much worse?  The Dawgs just finished the season 9-22 (including only a whopping 2 wins in conference play).  They fired longtime head coach (and one of the best-ever in program history) Lorenzo Romar.  They lost out on 4/5 of their top-notch recruiting class (and one of the best two or three in the entire nation).  And, they were looking at a bevy of potential defections from last year’s team, including the aforementioned Noah Dickerson.

Well, after testing the waters as it were, including a trip to the University of Virginia (where I’m certain the chances of playing for a winning program and an NCAA Tournament berth were paramount among the coaching staff’s sales pitch), Noah Dickerson has indeed decided to stay with the University of Washington.

WHEW!

I know that looked sarcastic, but it actually is a relief that Dickerson is staying.  Obviously, Husky basketball has been on a downward spiral for a while now, but Dickerson is still a capable and productive big man at the Pac-12 level.  Among returning players, he’s second in scoring and first in rebounds from last season.  He also – as has been pointed out in various articles and blog posts – really came on late in the season, particularly in the last four games where he averaged 21 points and 10 boards in the absence of Markelle Fultz.  Now, obviously, you could look at that and say, “Of COURSE his numbers went up with Fultz going out!  Who else was going to pick up the slack on that team?”  And, obviously, the answer is no one.  The Huskies had no one else last year.  Not a God damned person.  But, you know, from the eye test, if nothing else, it looked like Dickerson really made some strides in his game.  Now, we’re going to pair that with a fresh set of coaching eyes in Mike Hopkins, who will hopefully be able to bring out even more in a talented ball of clay like Dickerson.

So, looking at the 2017/2018 Huskies now, we have an even clearer picture.  Returning, we have:  Crisp, Thybulle, Dickerson, and Carlos Johnson.  We’ve also got Dominic Green, who from what I’ve read, appears to be some sort of special project for Coach Hop.  He was quoted as saying something to the effect of how fans won’t even recognize Green next season, with all the improvements to his game.  If that’s the case, color me intrigued.  Also, for what it’s worth, Sam Timmins returns as another big man to throw onto the pile.  As has been noted pretty much everywhere, the Huskies have room to recruit more big men – almost certainly from the JuCo Transfer scrap heap – so stay tuned there.

On top of those returning players, we have Jaylen Nowell, who most certainly has the talent to step in and start right away.  You can pair him with Crisp at guard, with Johnson as a spark off the bench, with Thybulle and Green as your swing men, and Dickerson as your forward (or center, if you want to play small ball), on top of whatever we’re able to get out of our two other recruits – Michael Carter and Nate Pryor (who I still contend will be bench guys who hopefully see more playing time as the season progresses) – and I’m still not going to go overboard on this team’s potential, but I could be talked into the Huskies being something of a “surprise” team.  One that’s projected to be among the dregs, but out-plays its projections to be middle-of-the-road.

Obviously, without seeing these guys in action, I’m making some HUGE assumptions here.  I think a lot of it depends on what we’re able to get out of Timmins in his second season.  I highly doubt Romar ever wanted him to be our starter, but with the Dime injury in the middle of the season, Timmins got a lot more minutes than he probably deserved.  And, quite frankly, he didn’t look good at all.  You’re certainly not counting on him to be a heavy scorer, or even get a lot of looks down in the post, but you need Timmins to play good defense and clean up on the boards.  If you can just get that, and something similar from the JuCo ranks, and you can get the rest of this team to really buy in to the whole “playing defense” thing, I think that’s really your best bet for a fun and exciting Husky basketball season.

Somewhere out there, there’s an alternate universe that’s almost exactly the same as this one, except in that universe Lorenzo Romar didn’t get fired, and we’re looking at a team with his recruiting class coming in.  I feel like the alternate universe version of myself would be about as jacked up as can be about the prospects of that team; either it would be fantastic, and we’d ride that wave into the Tourney, or it would be a disaster, and we’d be out of our minds with fear and loathing.

In this universe, I’m still pretty jacked up for the upcoming season, but for very different reasons.  I can’t wait to see Coach Hop in action, I can’t wait to see how the players respond, and I really can’t wait to see the Huskies start winning some games they’re supposed to lose.  It’s been a while since I can remember the last honest-to-goodness upset go in our favor; usually it’s the other way around and it’s the Yale’s of the world upsetting us on our home court.  Any way you slice it, there’s going to be a lot to discuss about the Washington Husky basketball season later this year, and when was the last time you could say that?

Huskies Were Able To Keep Jaylen Nowell

Big news on the recruiting trail, as Jaylen Nowell decided to maintain his committment to the University of Washington.  He’s a 4-star guard out of Garfield High who is the only one out of Romar’s final (5-man) recruiting class before he was fired.

I’ll admit, I had my doubts on this one.  I thought it bode pretty poorly that A) his high school coach was recently hired by Wazzu to bolster their assistant coaching staff, and B) Lorenzo Romar himself was hired to be an assistant with the University of Arizona.  Oh yeah!  Did I bury the lede on this one?  Lorenzo Romar is with the Wildcats, as the rich get richer (side note:  his contract apparently pays him $400K per year).

To be fair, with the prior stories coming out that even after Romar had been fired, he was still encouraging players to stick with the University of Washington, in the ultimate Good Guy move to end all Good Guy moves, it seemed unlikely that he would subsequently try to poach Nowell.  And, also to be fair, we have no idea Arizona’s level of interest in a player like Nowell.  Maybe they’re stuffed to the gills with 4-star guards!  I have no idea and I refuse to do any research on the topic.  Nevertheless, there was always the outside chance that Nowell would’ve been so smitten with Romar that he would’ve followed him wherever he went.  It’s just nice to see the University of Washington and Coach Hop have at least a little sway in the community.

I find it terribly interesting how this Romar to Arizona thing plays out.  He is, if nothing else, a boss recruiter, and I’m sure all those relationships he’s built with future recruits will MORE than translate.  I mean, if he was close to getting some brilliant 2018-and-beyond recruits to come to Washington, imagine how much easier it’ll be for him to convince them to go to a place like Arizona!  As a Husky fan, it’s gut-wrenching, because I think this sets up the Wildcats to be even better than they already would’ve been (as it stands, they were always going to be at or near the top of the conference).  I think this puts them in the conversation to make the Final Four and be a HUGE juggernaut in the years to come.

I also wonder just how long he is for a place like Arizona.  You’re talking about a guy with significant head coaching experience.  If he’s this quick to stay in the game he loves, that tells me he’s still got the hunger in him.  In which case, I’m sure he’s itching to get back in the hotseat somewhere, to control a program his way.  What an opportunity like this affords him is that he’ll be able to write his own check, so to speak.  Say what you will about his last few years at Washington, there’s no denying he was able to get some very high-profile recruits to play here.  Now, imagine you’re a higher profile school like Texas or UConn or Florida or something.  I’m just picking names out of a hat here, but imagine you’re a bigtime university who wants to be a bigtime basketball program (or you’re a recent basketball power who fell on some hard times).  If you hire Romar, it’s going to be MUCH easier for him to recruit those 4-star & 5-star guys than it was for him at Washington.  He won’t need to make deals with the Porter’s Fathers of the world to get incredible talent.  When you tack on a successful short-term stint at Arizona, where he can point to bigtime players he’ll be able to help bring in, it’s going to be all that much easier for him to get a very high profile coaching gig.  And that’s saying nothing of the man’s character, which is his obvious primary selling point.  So, watch out for bigtime programs going through some NCAA troubles in the coming seasons.

The obvious ultimate destination for Romar is UCLA.  He was an assistant coach there in the early 90s, and while their current head coach, Steve Alford, has taken them to the Sweet 16 in three out of four years, the Bruins obviously have higher asperations.  Can you imagine Romar’s recruiting power if you gave him that job in Los Angeles, California?  I’m telling you, it will be a sight to behold.

As for Nowell, this really softens the blow after the exodus following Romar’s dismissal.  Pair him with Crisp and Thybulle in the backcourt and you’ve got something there.  Again, this doesn’t diminish the fact that the Huskies have little-to-no depth – particularly in the front court – but for now I’m just going for them to not be collosal embarrassments.  Anything resembling the Huskies being a fun team to watch in Year One I’m going to consider a success.  Anything beyond that is something out of my wildest dreams.  Baby steps with the new regime.  They get a hearty KUDOS from me in getting a very important local player to stay local.  Add him to the other two guards we brought in, and it looks like we’re more than set in that end of the court.  Now, bring in a big man or two, and convince Noah Dickerson to stick around, and I might even allow myself to dare to dream!