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.

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