Andrew Andrews Is Pretty Great

The last great Husky basketball team was from the 2010/2011 season.  Isaiah Thomas’ last year, MBA and Justin Holiday playing big minutes; Wilcox, Ross (as a Freshman), Suggs, Overton, Gant, Aziz, all rounding out a deep and quality roster that saw this team run the table through the Pac-12 Tournament (with IT’s Cold Blooded moment against Arizona one of the most iconic single plays in the program’s history), nab a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and lose in the Round of 32 by three points to an Elite Eight-bound North Carolina Tar Heels team.

THAT … was a fun Husky basketball team.

Every year since then, I’ve tried to talk myself into this being a fun basketball team to watch.  As my expectations dwindled, I at least had hope that there’d be some entertainment value to those teams.  The 2011/2012 season saw two NBA prospects (Ross & Wroten) lead the team to a regular season conference title; but a first round exit in the Pac-12 Tournament relegated that team to the N.I.T.  The 2012/2013 season was built around C.J. Wilcox and not a whole lot else; they were bounced in the first round of the N.I.T.  We had hope for the 2013/2014 season with Wilcox in his senior year, alongside heavily hyped Nigel Williams-Goss, Andrew Andrews in his second year, and JuCo transfer Perris Blackwell rounding out our front court with some other hold-overs we hoped would see some natural improvement.  That team wasn’t even good enough to qualify for the N.I.T.  Which led us to last season, where we bottomed out with a mighty 5 conference wins.  NWG returned for his second season, Andrews was an upper-classman, Robert Upshaw transferred here and looked like the real deal, and Shawn Kemp went into his senior season.  By all accounts, last year’s team should have been something special, or at least A LITTLE better than it was.  Instead, Upshaw got kicked off the team, and the rest of the roster never really meshed.

Which brings us to this year, where the only notable hold-overs are Andrew Andrews and Donaven Dorsey.  Romar’s incoming Freshman class was one of the highest rated in the country (and maybe his highest rated ever), but with that comes a lot of uncertainty.  Would Romar be able to mold everyone into shape in time?  Would the players play well with one another?  Or, would they all be playing for themselves, in hopes to parlay their individual successes into NBA stardom?

It’s taken me a while to want to write about this Husky team, because aside from Andrews, I didn’t know much at all about these guys, aside from what I read in the newspapers.  But, reading about basketball is nothing compared to watching it, and soaking it all in.  I can say, from what I’ve seen so far this season, there’s A LOT to like.

For starters, I just have to say this, Andrew Andrews is playing out of his mind.  As the only senior on this team, he’s had a lot on his plate since the minute last season ended.  And, he has absolutely come through like gangbusters!  I’m sure everyone respects Romar and the other coaches, but basketball teams need on-court leaders, and Andrews has been that and then some.  When you factor in all the youth (six Freshmen playing regular minutes, with a transfer – Dime – also new to the program), this team was only going to go as far as Andrews was able to carry them, especially early in the season, when everyone was just getting used to playing together.

So, what has Andrews done?  Well, he’s leading the team in minutes (33), points (21.7), and free throws attempted and made (189 & 159, respectively).  He leads all guards in shooting percentage (.401%), and he’s second on the team in rebounds, assists, and steals per game (6.2, 4.7, & 1.4 respectively).  Andrews has always had the reputation as sort of a loose cannon when it came to the way he’d jack up crazy shots, but you don’t score over 1,500 points in your career by passing the ball all the time!  He’s currently ranked in the Top 10 of all time Husky scorers, just ahead of legends Detlef Schrempf and Brandon Roy.  Right now, he has 1,513 points.  If he manages to average 20 points per game the rest of the regular season, he’ll end up with 1,733, which would put him just ahead of IT for 7th all time.  An extended Pac-12 Tourney run, with a likely N.I.T. or NCAA Tourney appearance, and it wouldn’t be impossible to see him get up into the 1,800 range (he’d need to finish with 1,805 to tie Jon Brockman for 3rd all time).

In short, Andrew Andrews will go down as one of the greatest Huskies of all time.  I know points aren’t everything, and he’s played on some pretty bad teams the last three years; if he weren’t having the year he’s having now, with the success this team is having so far, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation.  But, he IS having the year he’s having, and this team IS successful so far, and Andrew Andrews is the biggest reason why.  If he’s able to lead this team back to the NCAA Tourney – after so many years in the wilderness with supposedly more talented players (Wroten, Ross, NWG) – then I don’t see how you don’t include Andrews in the same breath as the greats like IT, Roy, Brockman, Pondexter, Nate Rob, and the rest.  Here’s a guy who’s loyal, who stayed through his senior season, who was forced to play behind some highly-recruited 4-star prospects, who’s now shining the brightest when given the opportunity to lead his own team.  He’s the consummate Romar Guy, who has improved each and every year of his college career, and is finally reaping the rewards of all that hard work.  He’s one of the best players in the Pac-12 right now, and absolutely deserves to be in the discussion for Pac-12 Player of the Year.

This was going to be a different post, but sort of morphed into a love letter to Andrew Andrews.  I dunno, I feel like a lot of Husky fans are skeptical about the guy.  Like he’s all of a sudden going to fall apart, watch his field goal percentage plummet, and start jacking up even more crazy shots to compensate.  Do the haters not see how he’s getting so many of his points at the free throw line?  38.5% of his overall points are from free throws!  That’s crazy and awesome!  He’s going to find a way to get his and contribute to this team’s success, even if he has an off shooting night here and there.

But, probably more importantly, as this season continues, there’s going to be less and less of a need for Andrews to be The Guy.  As players like Dejounte Murray and David Crisp start to assert themselves, and as our bigs get more comfortable with the college game and the way fouls are called … I mean, we’re already starting to see those guys step their games up.  But, going forward, I would anticipate there will be less pressure on Andrews to carry the whole team.  He’ll be free to play within the flow of the game and continue to contribute in his usual ways, with the peace of mind to know that it doesn’t have to be ALL on him.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about the rest of the team, as Husky Basketball Week prattles on.

The Lorenzo Romar Debate Rages On

As this season progresses, the discontent with the Husky basketball program is only going to intensify.  That’s the way it is.  Husky fans have grown accustomed to a certain level of success.  Hell, the Husky PROGRAM has grown accustomed to a certain level of success.  So, losing all these games (to sub-standard programs both in and non-conference), as well as losing all these games in a ROW (after a 4-game winning streak to start conference play), has to be eating away at the psyche of both the players, the coaching staff, the Athletic Department, and the fans at large.

I get it.  Everyone’s pissed off.  Or, at the very least, mildly annoyed.  We’re all ticked because the team is not living up to their regular level of success, and THAT’S making us even angrier because we feel even THAT level of success isn’t good enough.  It’s not enough just to live up to what we’ve seen from other Romar-led Husky teams, it’s a point of contention that:  why can’t we be even BETTER?

The biggest monkey on Lorenzo Romar’s back is:  not getting past the Sweet 16.  For that, I have no defense for the man.  In the Nate Rob/B-Roy years, we had some electric teams.  That 2004/2005 season where we had a #1 seed in the Tourney is particularly galling, because of its rarity around these parts to have a 1-seed college basketball team, and because of the way we ended up losing (in the Sweet 16 round, to the 4-seed Louisville Cardinals).

I’m not here to blindly defend the man willy-nilly, in spite of some of my posts on the subject.  But, I’m also not going to sit around and go along with the crowd who wants to run the guy out of town after one bad season in the last five years.

Someone ran across my last post on the subject and wrote a thoughtful retort; I would recommend reading it even though he takes me to task for some of my sloppier assertions.  Since this is such a dead period in local sports, I’ve opted to reserve my response to his response for a brand new post (content generation, ho!).

I’ll start with this, apropos of nothing:  I don’t think Lorenzo Romar is the perfect coach.  I don’t think he’s the best coach in college basketball.  I think there are plenty of things you could question about the man’s in-game decision-making.  For instance:  why was Desmond Simmons riding so much pine last night, especially at the end of the game, and especially when he’s your best overall defender (who can cover guys inside and on the perimeter)?  Why risk letting Aziz get hacked and put at the line (where he missed two crucial late free throws), or God forbid jacking up a desperation 3-point ball from the corner on an inbound play?

I would also question his preference to have senior guards constantly taking the final shots in games over more-talented younger guys.  How many times did we see Game Overton blasting through the lane, throwing up some wild and crazy shot when it would’ve been more appropriate for someone like I.T. (only a junior) to have the rock with the clock ticking down.  Yes, we all remember COLD BLOODED against Arizona, but really give that season some thought and harken back.  The same goes for Abdul Gaddy this year; Romar needs to have him cede immediately to the younger and more vital Andrews and let him show what he can do.

There are countless other examples of things you COULD question, but for the most part you can see the logic.  Here’s the thing:  I understand being loyal to your upperclassmen.  But, if you’re going to be a top-notch program, you’re going to have to deal with the certainty that you’ll have one-and-done players.  Those players are one-and-done for a reason:  they’re the best of the best (usually).  Put the ball in THEIR hands, if you’re so fortunate to have them, when the game is on the line.

Abdul Gaddy is a real point of contention.  A point made by the aforementioned commenter:  “… I don’t know if Romar is at fault for the poor development of Gaddy and Suggs, but it’s frustrating no less.”

It’s a good point.  We DON’T know who’s at fault for Gaddy not living up to his billing.  I’ll leave Suggs alone, because I think Suggs is what he is, damn his rating coming out of high school.  He’s a spot-up long-range shooter and that’s all he ever was going to be.  Which is fine, if you’ve got the proper guards at point who will drive the lane, draw in defenders, and kick out.  Scott Suggs should be NOBODY’S primary or secondary offensive option (unless he’s playing for some lesser, Sun Belt-ish conference).  But, on a well-balanced team, he wouldn’t be a bad fourth or fifth option, preferably off the bench.

Gaddy, however, is a completely different ball of wax.  I said it last night (when he biffed that alley-oop pass at the end of the game) and I’ll say it again:  Abdul Gaddy is quickly becoming my least-favorite Husky.  He was supposed to be great.  He was our big catch of the 2009 Freshman class.  We may never know what would’ve been had he not injured his ACL at such a critical period of his development in his Sophomore year, but from what we’ve seen since his return, even if he could’ve gotten that medical redshirt, it’s unlikely he’d be any better next year than what he is right now.  Which is a semi-dependable ball-handler who makes WAY too many mistakes with the ball for a guy in his Senior season.  A guy who has never had even a remotely decent jump shot.  A guy who’s an average defender at best (but who will frequently be beaten by shorter, quicker guards).  And a guy who has little-to-no ability to penetrate a defense and finish at the rim.

So, who’s to blame?  Was it Romar not coaching him up, taking his high school talent for granted?  Was it all those sites who rank prep athletes for dropping the ball?  Let’s face it, we had a pretty good idea pretty early on that Gaddy would be a likely 4-year player in college.  With Gaddy supposedly being in the top-2 of incoming point guards that year nationally, you’d think at the most he would’ve been here 1-2 seasons, had he reached the potential everyone thought he’d reach.  Even if those sites DID drop the ball, if you’re Lorenzo Romar, you have to be BETTER than those sites.  As a talent evaluator, you have to know what you’re getting into with a major recruit.

But, there’s the other side of the argument, which is:  did Abdul Gaddy do enough work on his own to better his game?  Did he practice his shot enough?  Did he keep himself in good enough shape?  Did he work out with other players to better his dribble-penetration game?  Or, is he just lazy and thought he could coast on talent alone through his college career, with no real ambition to go on to the next level aside from a hazy, far-off dream?

Or, did he just not have it to begin with, and everyone fucked up, from the scouts to Romar to Gaddy himself?  I’m apt to believe this over anything else.  He could’ve been the Michael Jordan of practicing, working on his game, and having a relentless drive to be the best, but if he just didn’t have the talent to succeed and grow as a player, then it’s pointless trying to spread the blame around.

But, to say that Romar doesn’t get the best out of his players – which the above-referenced commenter, Taylor, noted – means you simply haven’t been watching his teams very closely.  I’m not interested as much in how guys rate coming out of high school.  There are plenty of blue-chippers who go on to fail.  But, I get it, the more blue-chippers you bring in, the better your odds are of having some dominating teams.  I’m more concerned with how guys look in Year 1 vs. how guys look in Years 3 and 4.

Look at Jon Brockman, as one example.  He didn’t come out of the womb an All-Conference player.  In his first season, he averaged 8.4 (points) and 6.5 (rebounds).  But, he consistently worked on refining his game to where he averaged 18/12 as a Junior before giving way to I.T. in his senior season.  Look at a guy like MBA, who averaged 4 and 3 in his first year.  By his senior season, he was up to 15/8!  How about Q-Pon?  From what I remember (and I could be wrong), he was fairly highly rated coming out of high school.  Remember what he was like early in his college career?  VERY inconsistent.  We kept waiting for his breakout that seemingly would never come.  In his first season, he averaged 11 and 4.  By his last year, he was up to 19 and 8 and led this team to an impromptu Sweet 16 run.

I could go on, but let’s just call it what it is:  Romar has coached up his share of guys.

The big theory in college athletics goes like this:  as a new coach, you do your best to bring in as many good players as possible.  You coach them up, you find some modicum of success in the post-season, and that begets even better recruits, which begets more winning, and so on and so forth.  Taylor’s main point, from what I gather, is that Romar has reached a wall, or a plateau of sorts.  He makes a very good point in his section about the other top-tier schools I listed.  I’m going to save myself the time and take his word for it:  those other coaches had more success, and quicker than Romar’s first 11 years with the Dawgs.  In a lot of cases, those coaches took nothing programs, caught lightning in a bottle, and went on to monster success.

So location has nothing to do with it.  I don’t know if I lamented our location as much (I don’t feel like re-reading my whole previous post to find out), but if I did then I was pretty erroneous on that mark.  However, I will say this:  just because it’s taken Romar 11 years to get where we’ve gotten (which isn’t all that impressive, in the grand scheme of things) doesn’t mean this is as good as it gets and it’s only downhill from here.  He’s a fairly young guy, and if you hear the man speak in person, you can tell he has a good rapport with the younger generation, so if he was given a free pass to coach here as long as he desired, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for him to turn this program into a national power.  Really, it just takes one class, one team, to catch that lightning in a bottle.  Generate a surprise Final Four run and before you know it, those blue-chippers we keep losing to Kentucky and Louisville and Arizona and UCLA are now coming here.

Which is why I wouldn’t dismiss out of hand his ability to recruit and build NBA players.  Some guys, like Ross and Wroten, and Roy and Nate-Rob and Hawes, were going to be NBA draft picks regardless.  But, Q-Pon was no guarantee.  Brockman was CERTAINLY no guarantee (an under-sized power forward or a slow small forward, depending on where you think he fits on an NBA team).  I.T.  was another sub-6 foot point guard who ended up being the last pick in the draft.  Yet, he was showcased by Romar on some quality (though not elite) Husky basketball teams, and he made it.  Bringing in blue chippers who leave early is just as important as building NBA-calibre players out of nothing, like he did with the likes of Brockman.  Because it sets an example that you don’t HAVE to go to those other elite schools to get noticed.  You can come here, play for a program everyone respects, and still find success as a pro.

But, I’ll walk this argument back:  Romar hasn’t caught that lightning in a bottle.  His best teams have been disappointments in that regard; they haven’t gone very far in the Tourney.  And his other Tourney teams have lost too quickly to generate much of anything in the way of national buzz.  So, we’re NOT on the level of an Arizona or a UCLA.  We’re in that meaty 2nd tear of the Pac-12, with Cal and Stanford and now, I guess, Oregon (God, just seriously fuck Oregon already!).

So, I get the frustration, I really do.  And Taylor’s point about Romar’s lack of success in non-conference games (especially on the road in non-conference games) is valid.  On the one hand, I’m sitting here telling you that Romar gets the best of his players, that often his players improve from season to season (and during individual seasons, when they’re playing much better towards the end than they are in the beginning), but on the other hand, why can’t Romar have them ready from the beginning?  Why do the Huskies constantly underachieve in their non-conference games?

What’s worse:  the non-conference schedule has only gotten EASIER since Romar’s early days as a Husky coach.  I don’t have an answer for that either.

But, I trust the man’s judgment.  If he feels his teams aren’t ready for elite competition in the first month of the season, then that probably means they aren’t ready for elite competition.  What do I read every year?  Romar’s defense is difficult for guys to learn.  It takes some of them a while to figure it out, which ultimately costs them playing time early in their careers.  I’ll counter Taylor’s point about Terrence Ross:  he WASN’T good as a Freshman until very late in the season.  If he was, he would’ve played a lot from the first game.  Instead, he got very sporadic minutes until he finally figured it all out come conference tournament time.  He certainly didn’t get the kind of minutes that Wroten got as a Freshman, but that’s another story.

What I think Romar gets the least credit for is how he turned this program around.  Taylor felt like belittling me on this point.  Yes, the Huskies are in the Top 15 all time for most college basketball wins.  That’s quite impressive.  They have well over 1,600 wins, which, I mean WOW, right?  Except, the Huskies have been around for 110 fucking years!  They’re tied for the 14th-longest running basketball program in the nation; of COURSE they’re going to have a lot of wins!  Truth be told, though, the Huskies – in those 110 seasons, have exactly 20 conference titles (hardly a “substantial amount”).  A whopping 12 of those were won by teams coached by Hec Edmundson; you know, the guy they named the arena after.  Yeah, Hec Ed had some GREAT teams in the 20s, 30s, and 40s.  Maybe I’ll go back to college, become a history major, and read all about it.

You know who doesn’t give two shits about how good the teams were in the pre-Korean War days?  Everyone born after the Korean War!

Throw your historical winning percentage around all you want.  Keep telling everyone how the Washington Huskies have the winningest home arena in college basketball.  No one gives a shit.  In the 49 seasons before Lorenzo Romar became the Huskies’ head coach, the Huskies won exactly 2 regular season conference championships.  Or, you know, the same number Romar has won in his 11 seasons.  I’m not necessarily saying 2 conference championships is acceptable, but don’t tell me that he was inheriting some program of ANY historical significance.  It’s only significant to Husky alums as a way to talk trash to our Pac-12 brethren.

I’ll close with Taylor’s closing point.  Romar has, indeed, lost a lot of confidence in Husky fans.  To have two first round draft picks last year and only manage to make it to the N.I.T. Final Four is kind of a travesty.  But, the year before that he led a VERY young team into the second round of the Tourney, and the year before that we were in the Sweet 16 with a team that essentially only had two scorers!

I ask again:  is a guy not allowed to have a down year?  I disagree with Taylor’s argument that the Huskies are destined to be terrible again next year.  First of all, with Gaddy leaving, we’re talking about addition by subtraction.  I think any game now, we’re going to find out that Andrew Andrews is something special and a solid foundation piece in the seasons to come.  I agree wholeheartedly with Taylor’s point about rather winning a national championship with 15 guys who never set foot in the NBA over having a bunch of lottery picks and losing in the first round, but that’s neither here nor there.  When do you EVER see that?  Inevitably, with college basketball, you need a good mix and some luck.  You need a couple blue chippers, but you also need those four-year veterans who know the system, who lead by example, and who can chip in as complementary players on both ends of the court.

This year, we kind of got caught with our pants down.  We’re very young AND we’re lacking in any blue chippers (unless you count Gaddy, but I don’t with the way he’s played his whole career).  Our veteran presence – Suggs, Aziz, Gaddy, and Wilcox as a Junior – isn’t enough, because they’re not talented enough to carry the mail.  But, they’re forced to carry the mail, and that’s why you see games like we had last night.  We can contend with some of the best Pac-12 teams, but ultimately we’re going to come short this season because the talent just isn’t there.

But, that doesn’t mean we won’t have the talent NEXT year.  Darin Johnson and Nigel Williams-Goss look like a one-two punch at guard to be reckoned with.  I don’t know if both will play next season, but you’re talking about 3-4 star players.  If we DO somehow land Aaron Gordon (which, I don’t think we should get our hopes up too high on that end, but what a coup that would be!), then the sky is the limit for the 2013/2014 season (especially if we’re fortunate enough to have Wilcox stay for his senior season, where he isn’t necessarily the ONLY offensive option and doesn’t constantly draw the other team’s best defender all game long).

Truth be told, even if we don’t get Gordon, all hope isn’t lost.  There have to be players in the JC ranks out there for Romar to poach.  I think he would be well-served to tap into that well again.  We keep getting our panties in a bunch over these 4-star high school guys, but there are effective JC transfers out there just WAITING for the chance to shine for a program desperately seeking a big man or two.

I’ll actually finish (seriously this time) by 100% agreeing with Taylor’s closing statements.  Yes, if attendance keeps falling, Romar probably won’t stand a chance.  It’s a shame, but that’s the reality in today’s major college sports.  I would hope that Romar has at least earned one more season on top of this one, regardless of how far attendance numbers plummet.  If we get these new recruits for next season and the team STILL struggles to find its way, then I might just be there with everyone else, leading the charge to run the guy out of town.

But, I don’t think this is a Tyrone Willingham situation.  I don’t think we’d be doing more harm than good to give the guy at least one more season.  Honestly, I think we’d be well-served to give Romar at least the next TWO seasons.  I don’t subscribe to the notion that just because you haven’t made a Final Four in your first decade, that means you’re destined to never be elite.  I won’t do the research at this time, but there HAVE to be late bloomers out there, who might’ve struggled or been middling in their first decade as a major-conference head coach, only to turn it on later in their careers.  I just don’t see why Romar can’t be one of them.

Taylor and I agree on one final point as well:  it would be foolish to make a change just to make a change.  The University of Washington has a ton of money.  If you absolutely HAVE to pull the trigger, don’t go out and hire the next Paul Wulff (or whoever the basketball-equivalent would be).  Go out there and make a big fucking splash!  Bring in one of the big dogs, give him free reign over the program, and get the fuck out of his way!

Husky Basketball Won’t Be Elite This Season

The word “elite” gets thrown around quite a bit when talking about sports.  Everyone’s elite!  Everything’s elite!  The fact of the matter is:  there are very very VERY few elite teams and players in the world today.

In any given year, in any given sport, there are probably only a small handful of truly elite teams.  Elite teams would be those who don’t just have a CHANCE to win a championship, but a likelihood.  For instance, this year in the NFL, I would say there are only four or five elite teams.  San Francisco, Atlanta, Houston, Baltimore and maybe Green Bay.  That’s it.  More than likely, barring a major injury, one of those five teams will win the Super Bowl this year.

That’s not a guarantee!  How does the saying go?  “That’s why they play the games.”  Every once in a while, an outlier will come out of nowhere, get hot at the right time, and essentially shock the world.  Take the New York Giants of last season, for example.  They certainly weren’t elite, but they improved, they caught fire in the playoffs, and they did just enough to beat all the elite teams around them.

Just because you’re elite doesn’t mean you’ve already won; you still have to go out there and do the job.  But, it’s pretty easy to tell which teams are elite and which aren’t.

I don’t follow college basketball closely enough to tell you who’s elite right now.  Ohio State looked pretty damn good against the Huskies on Sunday, but are they elite?  Tough to say.  It appears that Deshaun Thomas is an elite PLAYER, so that always helps.  What I can say, without question, is that this Husky team is NOT elite.  Therefore, this Husky team won’t be winning the NCAA championship in 2013.

There are certain thresholds in any given season.  At some point, as a fan, you realize the team you’re following isn’t elite.  Husky fans probably reached this threshold on November 13th when the Dawgs lost at home to Albany (if they didn’t know that already, going into the season, by merely looking at our roster).  Elite teams don’t lose at home to Albany.  Albany won’t be defeating the eventual national champion.  That’s just crazy talk.

But, that’s okay.  Plenty of reasonably good teams have an early-season slip-up here and there.  That doesn’t mean you can’t still win a bunch of games and go to the NCAA Touranment!

Which just so happens to be the second threshold:  when you realize the team you’re following won’t have a chance in hell of making the NCAA Tournament.  I’m here to tell you that ship has sailed over the weekend, when the Dawgs couldn’t shock the world and defeat Ohio State.  Losing that one game in a vacuum doesn’t automatically render your season pointless (though, losing that in conjunction with the game vs. Albany isn’t doing you any favors), but there was enough to see in that game, and the game the night before against Seton Hall, that leads me to believe that this team is going nowhere fast.

It’s already been established that a weakness for this team has been the penetrating guard.  Abdul Gaddy isn’t quick enough or skilled enough to stick to an opponent like glue (a la Game Overton), and Andrew Andrews isn’t experienced enough to effectively avoid screens and picks to stay on his man.  There’s no dynamic lockdown defender on this team like we’ve had in prior seasons.  Lorenzo Romar teams have always (and only) thrived when he’s had a guard (or guards) whose specialty was perimeter defense.

On the defensive side of the ball, all this team has is Aziz N’Diaye.  A slow, semi-coordinated 7-foot beast in the middle of the paint, who is too easily drawn out to the perimeter, which leaves the paint wide open for the other team to exploit.  That’s a problem.  Everyone else on this team is merely okay at defense.  Okay or downright terrible, I haven’t seen enough to make a definitive opinion.

Just Okay defense would be fine if I felt like this team had the guns to score at will.  But, they don’t.  They have two shooting guards – Suggs and Wilcox – who absolutely cannot dribble drive to save their lives.  Wilcox might be the most over-rated player in the Pac-12.  Isn’t he supposed to be our next big star?  With IT gone, and now Ross & Wroten, wasn’t it supposed to be Wilcox leading the charge?  It would be nice if he’d get hot for more than 1 out of every 3 games.  It would be nice if he didn’t disappear on the floor for dozens of minutes at a stretch.  It would be nice if you could rely on him to make a big bucket with the game on the line.  It would be nice if he found a way to get open, so he’s not constantly trying to shoot over people who are draped all over him.

Now Suggs, I like.  Suggs gets absolutely zero credit, yet he’s about as steady and as cool as they come.  If he were on our team last season, I would’ve liked our chances a helluva lot more.  Suggs’ shot doesn’t disappear for minutes on end.  He stays within the flow of the game, and he’ll make the open shot when we need it.

But, truth be told, you can’t base your offense around a couple of jump shooters.  Aside from those guys, we’ve got Gaddy and Andrews.  A couple of point guards with hit-or-miss outside shots.  Andrews is a redshirt freshman, so you could somewhat understand his shot not totally being there.  With Gaddy, however, you’re talking about a Senior.

The Huskies need more out of Gaddy.  I like the kid, I think he’s got a big heart and is a true Husky through and through.  I like his passion.  I like the way he’s starting to take more of a leadership role.  Those are all good things, things this young team needs if it’s going to get better.

But, this team also needs a guy who is going to take over a game.  When we’re down by 6 with 2 minutes remaining, we need a guard who can drive into the paint, throw up a wild shot, draw a foul, and hopefully make that wild shot half of the time.  Say what you will about Wroten, but that Seton Hall game never would’ve went into overtime if we had Wroten on this team.  Remember the second half of that game, when the team hit like zero field goals?  Yeah, Wroten wouldn’t have let that happen.  Wroten would’ve driven into the paint and either hit some shots or drawn some fouls.  He wouldn’t have let this team blow a 16-point halftime lead.

Gaddy?  I dunno.  In a sense, you like a point guard to play like a point guard:  trying to get others involved.  But, you also like your senior leader to have the ball in his hands in crunch time.  To throw the team on his back and lead the charge against a fierce opponent when the chips are down.  I don’t see that out of Gaddy.  If he doesn’t become that player soon, then be prepared to mail in this season.

Of course, it would be nice if we didn’t have to get 85% of our scoring out of our guards.  Except, Aziz and Co. really aren’t offensive weapons.  Aziz will make some tip-ins.  He’ll run the floor and occasionally get a lay-in or two.  He might even make 3 out of 10 free throws!  But, he’s not a guy you can depend on whatsoever.  He’s like the running game of the Green Bay Packers:  he’s just there to keep the other team somewhat honest, but he is by no means supposed to lead the way to victory.

Aside from Aziz, you’ve got Desmond Simmons and Jernard Jarreau:  two long, skinny forwards with no post games and unreliable mid-range jumpshots.  The worst part about these guys is that I wouldn’t mind them not scoring if they were dominant defenders.  But they’re not.  They’re not much of anything.  They take up space and fill minutes on a stat sheet.

Probably the biggest problem about this team, aside from an overall lack of talent, is the fact that we have no depth.  Apparently, we’re down to a 7-man rotation.  Good luck with THAT!  There’s no way you can keep that up all season; you’ll kill these kids!  The big loss so far this season is losing Shawn Kemp Jr. to injury.  On the one hand, he’s a bigger body, who can bang with the best of ’em.  But, it’s not like he’s Joe Post Game.  He’s essentially just another guy.  He very well could turn into something eventually, but right now he’s not much of anything, so really what have we lost?

The rest of the bench is a disaster area.

Put it all together, and what have you got?  You’ve got a lost season.  A season in transition.  Call it whatever you want.  You’ve got a team that’s not elite, a team that won’t make the NCAA Tournament, a team that PROBABLY won’t even make the N.I.T.  And a team with an outside chance of not making any post-season tournament whatsoever.  Fun.

Now that you know what to expect, I’ll give you something to look forward to.

Look forward to progress.  If I know anything about a Lorenzo Romar-coached team, it’s that they get better as the season goes along.  This team might not be much to sniff at right now, but as these younger guys start gaining this valuable experience, they should turn into something truly special by season’s end.  At which point, going into 2013/2014, we could be looking at a return to greatness for the University of Washington.

Teams have down years; it happens!  It’s not the end of the world.  In fact, it’s better to keep your expectations nice and low early in the season, so you’re not driving yourself crazy at the end, when your team does nothing.  As long as the younger players get better, and the influx of talent next year proves to be dynamic, we could be looking at a quick return to glory.  2014 could be the year we go back to the Sweet 16.  2015 could be the year we go ahead of that mark.  Start winning some games, bring in some bigger and better recruits, who knows?  By the end of the decade, we could be talking about an elite University of Washington team.

Just not right now.  Right now, it’s only a step.  A building block.  A rare low-point in the career of Lorenzo Romar.  We’ll be back, though.  It’s just a matter of time.

2008: A Seattle Sports Apocalypse

Editor’s Note:  To read this blog post, click HERE.  It is one of Seattle Sports Hell’s “Featured Articles”.

Lorenzo Romar Deserves To Be Pac-12 Coach Of The Year

Pending the results of the next two games, obviously.  Because to get this far, then lose to the worst team in the conference (USC), followed by a team in turmoil (UCLA), would be a great way to kill any coach of the year momentum.

The arguments against Romar are few:  he’s got a roster filled with future NBA stars (likely three, maybe even up to four).  That’s nice and everything, but that doesn’t automatically make you a championship team.  The NBA talent the Huskies currently have isn’t equal to the NBA talent across the country (like, say, Kentucky).  First of all, you have to look at the role players around that NBA talent.  I would argue that Kentucky’s role players are far more impressive than those on the Huskies.  The Huskies have three guys who can score on a regular basis; the rest of the guys do what they can, but they’re not exactly world-beaters.  Plus, you have to factor in how thin our team is depth-wise.  We frequently run with a 7-man rotation (Gaddy, Wroten, Aziz, Gant, Ross, Simmons, Wilcox) with cursory minutes going to guys like Seferian-Jenkins and Shawn Kemp Jr.  Aside from the big three (Wroten, Ross, & Wilcox), you will STRUGGLE to find a guy who is currently playing at even a D-League level.  That isn’t to say those other guys won’t blossom; that’s just saying that, right now, this is what Romar has to deal with.  And he’s KILLING it.

The arguments for Romar winning the Coach of the Year award are many.  At the top of the heap, you have to talk about the veterans we lost.

This Husky team lost four MAJOR contributors to last year’s team!  IT was our team leader, MBA was our primary big man, Holiday was a Jack-of-all-trades who was also a lockdown defender for guards and forwards alike, and Overton was a lockdown defender for the other team’s best guard.  Overton was also our all-world 6th man who could run the offense in IT’s absence (however brief they were last season) or when IT needed a spell from running the show.

In their place, we have Gant as our only senior who plays regular minutes (and even those tend to fluctuate thanks to foul trouble).  Gaddy is in his third season, but he spent the last half of last season coming back from surgery.  Aziz is in his second season in D-I ball.  Ross is in his second season, but he played a minor role on last year’s team until tournament time.  Wilcox made a name for himself last year after red-shirting the year before, but he’s still fairly new to the system.  And Simmons red-shirted last year.  Everyone else, including our leading scorer, are brand spankin’ new players.

Regardless of their collective talent, it’s MIGHTY difficult to mix and match a bunch of new and young guys into a unit that can win you some ballgames.  You’ve got to get everyone on the same page scheme-wise, get everyone to learn the defense, find the floor matchups that work best, set up a rotation that gives guys enough minutes to keep them fresh and improve their overall games.

THEN, tack on the early-season turmoil with our 6-5 start.  Coming back from such a mediocre-to-poor non-conference schedule to potentially go 15-3 and win the Pac-12 conference outright is nothing short of amazing.  You’d have to figure that, with the talent we have, the Huskies would be a better team than they were in those first 11 games; but to be THIS good against this conference (regardless of how “down” it is, these teams are still hated rivals and are giving us their best effort every time out) is better than I could have possibly imagined.

Now, look at the other head coaches being talked about for this award.  Arizona?  I’m sorrry, but we beat that team twice this season.  That should automatically take Sean Miller out of the running.  Colorado?  Come back to me when they win a road game.  Cal?  Seriously, how difficult of a road have they faced?  Their most-impressive win was the game @ Washington (we never had a chance to play them on their home court to see if we could return the favor).  But, you’re talking about a team in Cal who is pretty much the opposite of Washington.  They RETAINED all of their veteran leadership from last season!  They didn’t have a bunch of new guys coming in to learn a new offense and a new defense.  They didn’t have to tinker early in the season to see which players played best together.  They got to keep right on truckin’.  AND, in spite of all of that, they still couldn’t do what we’ve done thus far to date.  If we do what we’re supposed to do and win these next two games, the Huskies will win the Pac-12 conference outright.  Cal couldn’t do that!  The best they can hope for is a tie (because, seriously, there’s no way we’re losing both of these games).

Give it to Romar.  The man has earned it this season.

Unless, of course, this team loses its next two games.  Then, forget everything I just said.  Coach of the Year candidates don’t go to the NIT.

It Turns Out C.J. Wilcox Getting Hurt Was A Terrible Thing

Now we know how spoiled we were as Husky fans these last few years.  You are able to do so much more, you’re able to get AWAY with so much more, when you have a true lockdown defender on your team.  You could argue the Huskies have had three in recent years, with IT, Overton, and Justin Holiday.  When the Huskies were up by three with 10 seconds in the game, you could put any of those three guys on the other team’s best shooter and force them into their second or even third-best option.

That’s what a Jorge Gutierrez can do for you.  THAT is ultimately why the Huskies lost yesterday.

In my previous Husky post, I thought the notion of Wilcox going down would be of great help to a guy like Terrence Ross.  Maybe it would pull him out of his shell, force him to assert his offensive game a little more.  What that argument fails to recognize is:  Wilcox going down makes Terrence Ross not just our best option, but arguably our ONLY option.

And, when you’re down by three, and your only option is a long ball by one guy on the floor, that’s where a lockdown defender like Gutierrez takes the game over and ultimately wins it for your team.

I’m not going to snap and lose my shit over Darnell Gant’s performance yesterday.  He had an off night, that’s it.  Gant has had many more great nights where he’s filled up the stat sheet with lethal, weapons-grade productivity.  I’m also not going to dismiss Romar’s call to give the ball to his senior forward in the closing seconds for two reasons:

  1. As I’ve been saying throughout this post, there was no way Gutierrez was going to allow Ross to touch the ball in that scenario.  That’s a no-brainer on par with walking Barry Bonds at the height of his steroids-abusing power.  Allegedly.
  2. Gant has proven he can hit that shot.

That second argument is a little harder to defend, but let’s look at it.  There’s no doubt the kid has been working on his long ball the past two years.  He doesn’t shoot it often from long range, but when he does he hits them with a good-enough regularity to consider him dependable in that situation.  Yeah, he was 0 for 8, but just because you flip a coin and it lands on Tails 8 times in a row is no kind of indicator that it’ll be Tails on that 9th flip.  At some point – and this is what I love most abour Romar – you have to put a player into a clutch situation to see what he’s made of.  Having that kind of confidence in your player – even when he’s 0 for 8 up to that point – is why players love playing for a guy like Romar.

And, look at it this way:  who else would you have trusted in that position?  Abdul Gaddy?  Not hardly.  Tony Wroten?  Not when you’re down three.  Desmond Simmons?  Please.

Which is why, ultimately, not having Wilcox out there was a terrible thing.  It would’ve been far more likely that we would have won these past two games with a healthy Wilcox.  I can’t say for certain in that Wazzu game, but I know without a doubt we would’ve beaten Cal yesterday.  At the very least, he could’ve given our guards more of a break than they got!  All three of our guards played 36 minutes or more!  We essentially had a 6-man rotation yesterday!

The sooner Wilcox can come back, the better.  I hereby repent!  We need you, Wilcox!

If we somehow find a way to beat the Cardinal tomorrow, I’ll have a reasonable amount of hope for winning the Pac-12 this season.  If we lose, I’ll be back on here dismissing the rest of the regular season and looking forward to the Pac-12 Tournament.  Shaky times in Montlake this week.  We’ll find out what we’re made of tomorrow afternoon.

Washington Husky Basketball Review Preview

OK, so I KINDA dropped the ball a little bit on this one.  With all the back and forth between the football teams, not to mention this being a pivotal offseason for the Mariners, Husky B-Ball got lost in the shuffle.  Well, NO MORE!

Flyin' Chickens In The Barnyard!

Anyway, I can’t rightly call this an official preview because I’ve seen them play a little bit.  I’ve also seen some of these other teams in the Pac-12 play and I’ve gotta say:  so far, I’m not really all that impressed.

Everyone seems to be picking Cal as their favorites, mostly because they’re so veteran.  What that means to ME is:  they’re the same team they were last year, but a little bit better.  What they’re really banking on is:  all the other schools in the Pac-12 getting worse, so they look better in comparison.  In other words, a team that lost in the 2nd round of the NIT last year is all-of-a-sudden the class of the entire conference.

The Huskies, by comparison, have only five guys returning from a team that lost in the 2nd round of the REAL NCAA Tournament.  The Huskies lost their top three scorers, their best overall defenders, and their most consistent big man.  The five guys returning:  C.J. Wilcox, Terrence Ross, Darnell Gant, Aziz N’Diaye, and Abdul Gaddy (who, really, hardly counts because he missed most of the season last year with injury; honestly, if you count Gaddy, then you kinda have to count Desmond Simmons who red-shirted last year).

The point is:  we’re young.  However, what we lack in experience we make up for in zazz!  Yes, we lost IT, but that just opens things up for Tony Wroten Jr. to blow our minds!  At 6’5 … I mean, can you even remember the last time the Huskies had a point guard so huge???  I’m used to these tiny, musclebound menaces like IT and Nate Rob; what’s it going to be like to have a legitimate advantage across the board at the guard position?

And, yeah, losing Justin Holiday hurts a little bit.  But, who’s that athletic freak who’s sliding right into that defensive stopper catagory?  That’s Desmond Simmons!

No Venoy Overton?  No problem!  Here’s Abdul Gaddy, the old soul of the team who’s going to lock down the other team’s premiere scorer while settling things down on offense when we need to run our half-court game.

Losing MBA kinda hurts a little bit, because he was (and still kinda is, in a way, which shows how bad we really are) our only low-post threat.  But, Aziz has been working out like a maniac in the offseason and shouldn’t be the Total Liability he was with the basketball in his hands last year!

There is just enough experience left over on this team (headlined by Darnell Gant and Scott Suggs when he returns; not to mention Gaddy and Wilcox who have a couple years in the system already) combined with some real flashy specimens of talent (Wroten, Ross, Wilcox again) that I don’t think it’s impossible for this team to win the Pac-12!

It won’t be easy, though.  Any time we go up against a team with a huge front court, we’re going to have problems.  Aziz in foul trouble, Gant being too skinny and undersized, Breunig being too raw, Shawn Kemp Jr. being even moreso … this team could very well be outboarded more often than not.  In fact, I would take that bet right now and lay the points.

The keys to this Husky team will be, much like last year:  can we hit the outside shot?  Wilcox and Ross will surely lead that charge, as will Suggs when he comes back from injury.  You gotta figure with those three guys, at least ONE of them will be hot in any given game.  Also, can Gaddy knock down enough jumpers to keep other teams honest?  He could be our most valuable weapon if he can hit anywhere near 40% of his threes.

But, it can’t all be threes.  This team is going to have to find a way to score in the paint!  With IT and MBA, we had points in the paint on lockdown.  This year, it’s going to be up to guys like Ross and Wilcox.  We know Ross has the talent to break guys down off the dribble; does he have the discipline to do it enough to be the force he should be on the basketball court?  Or will he essentially be Kevin Durant’s rookie season with the Sonics?  All jumpshot and no inside game whatsoever.  Furthermore, will one offseason’s worth of working on his game make Wilcox the kind of slashing driver with the ball he needs to be?  His jumpshot alone will take him into the NBA and give him a considerable role off of some team’s bench; but if he figures out how to score in traffic, he’ll be unstoppable.

I’m really not expecting there to be any low post scoring, but I would hope that we can be active enough on the offensive glass to make that point moot.  We’ll need guys like N’Diaye, Gant, and Simmons to crash the boards on an every-possession basis if we want this to happen.  They certainly have the length and athleticism to do so; whether or not they have the size or the heart is another question.

Regardless of how we score, I’ll guarantee you one thing:  this team won’t be boring on the basketball court (let’s just hope they ARE boring off of it).  We’ve got BALLERS on this team!  They’re going to run and gun like they always have; their fastbreak baskets are going to have regular appearances on Sportscenter-type shows.  This year is going to be fun, without a doubt.

My guess?  I think people are right when they say this team is going to lose some games it shouldn’t, and it’s also going to win some games it shouldn’t.  I expect there to be some really frustrating periods – maybe a 4 or 5 game losing streak somewhere in the middle of the season; maybe even towards the end of the season – but I also expect this team to grow and pull it all together for another NCAA Tournament run.  Who knows?  This team could be 15-15 going into the Pac-12 Tournament and then run the table to nab a 12-seed.  From there?  The sky’s the limit!

I think I’ll like this team, even if it pisses me off at times.  We’ve got four legitimate NBA players on this team!  Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten should be lottery picks after this season; Gaddy and Wilcox should be effective role players at the next level.  It’s really too bad we don’t have one solid big man to round things out; because this is a team that SHOULD contend for a Final Four slot.  We HAVE the talent!  We’ve just got to figure out a way to put it all together.

If only Terrence Jones hadn’t reneged on his original decision … we’d easily be a Top 10 team right now.

Mebane Back?

Huge.  I’m telling you, this is absolutely huge.

I get these texts from 710 AM, the ESPN radio station here in Seattle, because I entered some contest for free tickets a while ago.  Most of the time, I get a text whenever a Mariners game ends; most of the time, they’re giving me an abbreviated recap of a loss I’m utterly aware of.

HOWEVER, every once in a while, when there is some breaking piece of news that happens while I’m at work and not obsessively refreshing Twitter as is my wont on some of my down time, I get alerted to something noteworthy.  Something exciting.  Something tragic.  It’s how I learned Hasselbeck wouldn’t be back; it’s how I learned Isaiah Thomas was going to declare for the NBA draft; it’s how I learned Venoy Overton was in trouble AGAIN.

And today, it’s how I learned that Brandon Mebane is coming back.  This from John Clayton, a guy I would follow like a cult leader if only I knew how to mix Kool Aid.  The Professor more than knows his shit; if I had a choice of trusting a John Clayton rumor, or some bit of information my own parents presented as fact, I’m not gonna lie to you, I’d put more stock in the rumor (my parents did, after all, spend years upon years getting me to believe in a thing called Santa Claus; I know JC would never do me like that).

I’m assuming we’re talking about a 4-5 year deal worth a full-sized pickup truck-load of money, and I’ve gotta say this might make me happier than anything the Seahawks have done in the past two years (at least, as far as transactions are concerned; even happier than re-doing Sean Locklear’s deal so we could be rid of him going into the 2011 season).  There’s little else more satisfying than drafting a guy in the third round, seeing him become an immediate contributer to your starting defensive line, and witnessing him improve over time to be as highly coveted as Brandon Mebane is currently.  It’s the investment!  So much more gratifying than signing someone like Sidney Rice, stealing him away from an irritating rival.  Brandon Mebane is OURS.  You can’t have him!

I may be over-reacting a little bit; it’s not like he’s an All Pro or anything.  I dunno, I’ve always just liked the guy.  And, as fans, all we ever talk about is building up from within.  That’s the key to success, drafting well and keeping as many of the core guys around for as long as you can.  Well, this re-signing, keeping Mebane in the fold, that’s a small part of that.  A small part, but not insignificant.

Overton’s Orgy Parties Are All The Rage

Everyone, do yourselves a favor:  read this.  Then go get three friends and have THEM read it.  If you read a lot of articles on the Internet, it’ll easily be the best thing you read all week; if you don’t read a lot, then bank on it being the best thing you read all year.

Leave it to the Seattle Weekly to give us in great detail the night of January 8, 2011, in the casa de Overton’s sister.

As the weeks dragged on, and the rest of the Pac-10 fan-brotherhood became aware that some shenanigans went down, I kinda had a feeling that this wouldn’t end as badly as first thought.  I mean, when you’re talking about rape, how much more open and shut could it be?  Little did I know even the accuser’s friend didn’t have her back in all this; here’s a money quote:

I was like, ‘If you’re not, if you weren’t ready like [to] hang out with guys, then why would you come here?’ Like, what I don’t understand, what did she [think] was gonna happen? Like we, we could, uh, just went there and hung out and stuff, we didn’t have to do anything.

I just think she’s a liar,” the accuser’s friend told a detective three days after the incident. “She should know the consequences. Like, she’s ruining a guy’s life if he didn’t really do this.

I’m telling you:  This Is A Great Article!  One more quote from Overton, in case this hasn’t been whetting your whistle enough:

I just kept it, kept it real like blunt like ‘OK, if you come with us like what you guys want to do?'” Overton told police. “I was [like] ‘OK how about a orgy party?’ And then she like, ‘Yeah where at?’ And I was like ‘Are you serious?

Go.  Go now and read, and have yourself a great, orgiastic Friday.