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!
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.