The regular season limped to a close last night, with the Huskies falling 93-84 to the Cougars en route to getting swept in this season’s Apple Cup series. We are 16-15 (8-12 in conference) and it’s now our fourth straight campaign without a post-season berth. We’re currently slotted in as the 8th seed in the Pac-12 Tournament next week, which means at best we could advance to the second round, where we’ll get destroyed by top seeded UCLA. But, I’m expecting we’ll lose in that first round, saving everyone the embarrassment of another double-digit defeat at the hands of the Bruins.
It’s been a VERY discouraging last week or so, as we also had the barn doors blown off of us against Stanford over the weekend. They’re one of the worst teams in the conference, and it’s sad that we couldn’t even put up a fight. There’s no good reason why we should be so mediocre; I find it difficult to pinpoint the reason, that’s for sure. Is it lack of talent? Is it poor coaching/development? Either way, that falls at the feet of Mike Hopkins, in the hottest of seats as he closes out his sixth season. He has two more years left on his deal, earning him $6.3 million.
For those who say, “Easy, fire him and buy him out of his contract,” it’s not exactly so simple. We also just got done paying Jimmy Lake $3.2 million to sit on his ass in 2022. Lake will also earn a combined $6.7 million over the next two years (we’ll see if we get to recoup that in any way, shape, or form as he finds work elsewhere), and that’s not even getting into whatever money we owe his assistants, not to mention the current football coaching staff (who have already gotten raises after one season), nor mentioning the NEW basketball staff that we’ll have to bring in to replace Hopkins.
I understand we’re talking about a university bringing in billions of dollars, and I’m not saying the Huskies should keep Hopkins. But, I would understand if we don’t want to keep compounding bad money decisions.
Here’s the thing, though: Mike Hopkins hasn’t shown he’s capable of doing anything other than win with Romar’s players his first two years here. He hasn’t recruited successfully from the high school ranks (nor does he really seem all that interested in it). He’s largely flopped with the transfer portal, other than lucking into Terrell Brown’s final year of eligibility. He CLEARLY has no idea how to craft a competent offense, other than “let guys shoot jumpers with defenders in their faces” (and, again, he’s failed in actually finding quality shooters to employ this asinine strategy). And his forte – defense, specifically a tricky zone defense – has also largely stunk, other than the two years he had Thybulle running the show (again, a Romar recruit). Here’s a thought: if your zone defense is so difficult to master, that you need multiple seasons of continuity to perfect it, then maybe you shouldn’t get stuck in a swirling toilet bowl of trying to reload the roster via the transfer portal every year.
I’ll say this: the transfer portal is a total disaster. Anyone who’s even remotely worth a damn isn’t IN the transfer portal in the first place. He’s locked himself down on a quality team. These are REJECTS, who couldn’t hack it elsewhere. So, what makes Hopkins think he has the special sauce to gather them all together here and win at a rate necessary to make the NCAA Tournament? We had our best roster in ages in 2021-2022 – with the aforementioned Terrell Brown leading the way – and we still couldn’t win more than 17 games.
The truth of the matter is, on this year’s squad, there was never anyone even close to Brown’s abilities in creating his own shot, leadership, ball handling, or determination to take this team where it needed to go. So, there was no way in hell we were ever going to IMPROVE over last year’s total. It’s, therefore, no surprise we’re at 16 wins and probably done.
Keion Brooks gave it a hell of an effort – averaging a team-high 17.8 points, to go along with 6.9 rebounds, while shooting 43% from the floor – but clearly we needed more around him. Freshman Keyon Menifield was a breath of fresh air, though predictably inconsistent – as you’d expect. Nevertheless, he finished averaging 10 points, 3 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. Koren Johnson was another promising freshman guard, whose playing time increased as the season went on.
But, this team was also beset with injuries. With the margin for error razor thin, this was the worst-case scenario for the Huskies. Big man Franck Kepnang only appeared in 8 games. Prized transfer Noah Williams has only appeared in 14 games. And apparently P.J. Fuller has been dinged up lately (he’s also been wildly disappointing when he’s been out there, which makes me wonder if he’s been dealing with these injury issues all season).
The bad news is that Brooks has no more eligibility left. The good news is, neither does Cole Bajema or Langston Wilson (who have NOT been worth a damn at all). The worst news I could possibly imagine, though, is that somehow Jamal Bey still has (at least) a year of eligibility left. Will he finally get the hint and transfer? God I hope so. Giving him 26+ minutes a game is the dictionary definition of a Waste Of Time.
Considering college basketball is what it is, I refuse to try to project how the Huskies move forward. I’m guessing we’ll bite the bullet and get Hopkins out of here. The tide has turned among Husky fans to the point that there’s really no salvaging things. Not that I believe it’ll matter. We have 1 NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 12 seasons (and counting). This is not a prime destination for coaches or player prospects.
I’m just glad it’s all almost over. Soon enough, we’ll turn our focus to the Mariners, and everything will be right with the world (is a sentence I never thought I’d write in my adult life).