Husky Basketball Chugs Along

It might’ve been a little unreasonable to be perfect against the big dogs they’re playing in this non-conference schedule. I could kinda see the loss to Tennessee coming a mile away, even though I knew nothing about them (and still don’t, because I don’t have ESPN+). We earned a little respite with our victory over Baylor. We’re still a young team, still trying to find our footing, figure out our rotations, see what works best, etc.

We dropped to 25th in the nation, which feels about right. Thankfully, last night’s game against Maine was Dunk Central, so hopefully at least those Naz Carter highlights will keep us in a positive light nationally.

I can already tell that 3-point shooting is going to be a talking point with this team for a bit. Right now – as a team – we’re hitting just a tick over 30%. We’ll want that to steadily rise as the season goes along, to where we can reliably hit from long range when the Tournament comes.

Some interesting trends this early in the season. Naz Carter is definitely the unquestioned leader out of the gate. He’s getting the lion’s share of the meat on this carcass. But, nothing works on this team without Isaiah Stewart down low. He’s definitely the best player on this team right now. The true wildcard is Jaden McDaniels, who looks like he has the highest ceiling of anyone on the Huskies, and also looks like the natural floor general in crunch time, when the chips are down and we need a bucket. As far as Big 3’s go, this could be the best trio we’ve had in a long time, especially if Naz Carter can continue hitting outside shots (he’s 6/13 on the season so far).

What’s still to be determined is our production around those guys. Quade Green has had a semi-rough start, but I love the work ethic and the confidence. I think, before too long, we’ll see him settle into a nice groove. Hameir Wright is improving his outside shot pretty consistently since when he first started with the Huskies a couple years ago. I think he’s the perfect role player for this team, and someone fully capable of hitting a big shot if needed.

That more or less comprises our starting five, but will there be a bench to speak of? I’m not gonna lie, I think I expected more of Jamal Bey given how well he played down the stretch last year. Again, it’s incredibly early, but I hope he’s able to continue progressing. Because, when the one-and-doners are gone after this year, we’re going to need him to step in and fill some pretty significant shoes.

I’m pretty happy with this stretch of games we’ve got coming up (starting with last night, really). It was hard coming out of the gate playing Baylor (now 24th, with a 2-1 record) and Tennessee (now 20th, with a 3-0 record) so early, but we got over that hump with the record we NEEDED (at least one victory), and now we can coast for a couple weeks (all at home) against some inferior opponents. Let’s fatten that win/loss record, let’s pad some stats, and let’s give this team the experience they need combined with the success they crave.

Because undefeated Gonzaga is on the horizon. December 8th, Hec Ed; it’s gonna be an absolute blast. I think we’ve all had this game circled since last year’s near-victory in the Bulldogs’ home gym. That’ll be a real signature win in a season that’s starting to go places.

The Husky Basketball Team Looks Young, Inexperienced, & Totally Dominant

This team can be all things to all people. Right now, they’re 2-0 and ranked 20th in the nation.

I watched every minute of the game in Alaska against Baylor – at the time ranked 16th in the AP poll – and zero minutes of the home game against Mount St. Mary’s last night. So, I’m right about where you would expect me to be in terms of knowledge about this team.

Early on against Baylor, we looked disjointed, overly-excited, and moving as fast as humanly possible without doing any thinking whatsoever. I saw a lot of wild drives down the court and to the hoop, a lot of us dipping our shoulders and charging into someone, and an overall sense of sloppiness. Which is pretty much what should’ve been expected. I feel like at any point that game could’ve gotten out of our grasp and we could’ve lost by 20+ points.

But, the sheer, raw talent by the Huskies is what kept us in it. We were never much more than a stone’s throw away from catching the Bears, but it would take a significant run to get us over the hump.

Things turned around midway through the second half. Baylor took a 57-44 lead with just under 10 minutes to go in the game. That’s when it all started to come together for the Huskies, where talent met execution. Now, it wasn’t easy! Against a lesser team, I’d like to believe the Dawgs would’ve ripped off a huge wad of points. But, against an elite defensive team like the Bears, we just sort of wore them down, bit by bit, for a 67-64 victory.

Junior guard Naz Carter was the star in this one, with his game-leading 23 points on 8/15 shooting (including 4/6 from behind the arc), and Isaiah Stewart was the hero with the go-ahead points in the final minute, but Jaden McDaniels was the glue that brought everything together. He was an absolute revelation. I asked heading into the season who would be the guy who takes over a game when the chips are down, and McDaniels appears to be the one. He can shoot, he can drive, he can pass, he can rebound, he can defend. He’s a complete package and he’s coming in right away ready to take things over.

I loved every single thing we saw from our new Big 3. Time will tell as to how the rotations shake out, but the role players on this team figure to help out quite a bit. Quade Green – who won his appeal and gets to start for us immediately – looks like the first true, elite point guard we’ve had since I.T. His shooting hasn’t quite come around yet, but I highly doubt he’ll be the liability we’ve seen from most of our point guards since Thomas’s final season. Hameir Wright looks like a more natural shooter, with a lot more confidence, and will help immensely in spreading the floor on offense – to afford Stewart more of an opportunity to work down low.

For the most part, we’ve been treated to just a 7-man rotation, with Jamal Bey and Elijah Hardy getting most of the bench minutes, but I feel like that’s bound to change once we get deeper into the season and more guys lower on the depth chart start to assert themselves. I’ll tell you what, if this sees us with fewer Timmins minutes (other than to help out when guys get in early foul trouble), all the better.

The Huskies looked impressive when they went big, with Bey in there for Green. Bey isn’t a natural ball-handler, but we’re MASSIVE on the defensive side of the ball. It’s a nice wrinkle to throw at teams and I’m curious to see how they respond. Against Baylor, we went big for a lot of our late-game comeback, and I could see us doing that a lot as this team grows and needs to change things up to create a spark.

I also found it interesting to see us playing man-to-man. It didn’t happen a lot against Baylor, but there was a brief spell in the first half, and most crucially on the final play of the game, with Baylor down and looking to tie it up. It was a BRILLIANT maneuver that totally caught them off guard; they couldn’t come up with anything close to a reliable shot as time expired.

I wasn’t surprised to see the Huskies struggle in the home-opener last night against the Mountaineers. It sounded like Mt. St. Mary’s really grounded the game to a halt with their long possessions, and they refused to let the Huskies pull away by making some timely shots. It also sounded like the Huskies settled for way too many outside shots and that might be a problem in the non-conference slate.

I didn’t love how selfish a lot of the guys were when I saw them against Baylor. Quade Green is the only one really looking to pass the rock; I saw A LOT of hero ball, particularly on fast break opportunities, where guys were just running into Baylor players looking to get fouled. I mean, we took so many unnecessary blocks in that one; I’m MUCH more concerned about that than the turnovers everyone else is mentioning. Yeah, it’s a young, hungry Husky team, they’re going to commit turnovers. But, let’s work on making the extra pass in transition! Let’s convert these opportunities into points!

This start couldn’t be any better, all things considered though. We have our first legitimate non-conference victory in two years – since we went on the road against #2 Kansas in Hop’s first year – and I think this one is gonna hold up. I think Baylor is for real, and if they stay healthy, they’ll remain in the Top 25 for the duration and figure to secure a high seed in the NCAA Tourney. That’s going to be great for our overall resume.

No time to dine out on that one though, as we head to Toronto for another non-conference showdown, this time against the Tennessee Volunteers, who are currently 30th in AP voting. So, this is far from a gimme, and figures to be another quality opponent for us to tout for our March Madness resume. It’s a lot to ask of a team this young to go out and fight against two superior schools this early in the season, but I’m not ruling anything out at this point. We can sleep when we’re dead (which, in this case, would be the five cupcakes between Tennessee and Gonzaga in early December).

I’m More Excited About Husky Basketball Than I Can Remember Ever Being Before

I mean, there’s seriously no limit to how good this team can be. At the same time, a lack of experience could be their downfall. But, if nothing else, I’m expecting this team to improve as the season goes along, peaking just as we get to the NCAA Tournament.

And, make no mistake, barring a rash of key injuries, this team WILL make the NCAA Tournament, and probably advance pretty far to boot.

It’s really an embarrassment of riches with this squad. We could be up to ten men deep in the regular rotation, and that’s before Quade Green is allowed to start playing in January (hopefully)! While it’s reported we’ll be a little thin at point guard until he shows up, I’m not too worried about that. Mostly because this is the biggest Husky team I can recall in the last two decades.

Sam Timmins and Hameir Wright – two players with pretty extensive starting experience for past Husky teams – are likely to be role players (not for nothing, but if I never saw Timmins again except for garbage minutes, I think I’d be more than fine). Ahead of them on the depth chart, we’ve got 5-star Freshmen in Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels who figure to get the bulk of the play at the 4 & 5 spots. Then, there’s Nate Roberts who can also slide in there as a 3 or 4, if we wanted to go with a jumbo lineup. When you factor in Bryan Penn-Johnson as one of the few true centers on this team, there are almost too many giants to go around!

My hunch is that our primary five will include Stewart & McDaniels up front, with Naz Carter and Jamal Bey in the backcourt, with either RaeQuan Battle in there (for more outside shooting) or Elijah Hardy (for more ball handling). Then, you can bring in Roberts if you need rebounding and defensive help (he’s also someone who can handle the ball a little bit), or bring in the jumbo package to really lean on opposing teams.

You could easily make the argument that the Huskies were undersized heading into the Tourney last year; you won’t be able to say that in March 2020.

The big question I have as we head into the season is: who’s responsible for scoring buckets late in our one-possession games with the clock winding down and it’s essentially 1 on 1 with everything on the line? My hunch is that Naz Carter – the de facto upper classman of the group, all apologies to Timmins – takes on that role. Either that, or we dump it into the big man (likely Stewart) down in the post and let him go to work, to either get in the lane for a score/foul, or kick it out to a shooter.

The other thing I’ll be looking for as the season kicks off on November 8th is: who are our outside shooters? As I noted above, Battle appears to be the best shooter on the team, but do we have anyone else? Can Carter improve from his 31% shooting last year from 3-point range? Bey was 4/10 last year from deep; is that something he’s worked on in the offseason? I remember Wright getting more confident from long distance as last season went on; will he be a sparkplug off the bench to get us going?

I don’t see a lot of holes, is my point. The obvious question everyone has is how roles will be defined. We lost a lot of our production to graduation and/or the NBA over the offseason. Thybulle, Nowell, Dickerson, and Crisp (and Green to a lesser extent) were the whole identity of last year’s squad; hence the reason why the Huskies are 26th in the pre-season Top 25 Rankings (and not a lot higher, like they will be before too long).

But, that’s what I find so thrilling. We have potential Top 10 talent in a team that’s kinda being overlooked at this point. The possibilities are limitless because we really don’t know a whole lot about this team, other than there are a bunch of REALLY good high school players on the roster (including a couple of highly-probable one-and-doners).

Now, of course, the downside of having a couple of one-and-doners is that if they get injured – regardless of severity – we might lose them to preparation for the NBA Draft. Those are the chances you take when you roll those dice, but the upside is you maybe getting to the Final Four, and for as much as I hate the one-and-done rule, I’ll take those chances whenever I can get ’em.

There have been plenty of highly successful NCAA basketball teams with the type of inexperience we have. All you gotta do, really, is get hot at the right time. Because the talent is there! This team is overflowing with talent. They’ve also got the head coach in Mike Hopkins to get the most out of that talent. He’s a rising superstar in college basketball coaching circles, and I for one hope to take advantage of his gifts while he’s still here. It won’t be long before the highest profile college programs come to poach him away. Hopefully, we’ll get to enjoy some unprecedented success before that time comes.

At What Point Should We Start Worrying About Mike Hopkins Leaving The University Of Washington?

It’s pretty remarkable how good the Huskies have had it in recent years. Chris Petersen has taken the job with the football team and exceeded our wildest expectations, culminating with an appearance in the College Football Playoffs in 2016. It makes sense, somewhat, as the football team has always been the pride and joy of the University of Washington for upwards of a hundred years now.

The basketball team has always been the Little Brother in that regard. In the modern era, we always point to the Lorenzo Romar teams as the cream of the crop, but obviously towards the end there, things got REAL bad.

Mike Hopkins was a relative unknown when he was hired prior to the 2017/2018 season. A career assistant with Syracuse, he’d never helmed a program, but he seemed to be one of the coaches most fit for a promotion. When it became apparent that his promotion wouldn’t be coming from his alma mater any time soon, he jumped at Washington’s offer, and it’s been nothing but a joy to behold.

Two years – and two Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards – later, we’re in some serious uncharted waters. The Huskies went from a real nadir of 9-22 (2-16 in conference) during Romar’s final season, and improved to 21-13 in Hop’s rookie year. From there, the Huskies were conference champs at 27-9, winning a game in the NCAA Tournament (breaking an 8-year drought) to boot.

You could be forgiven if you expect a bit of a step back for 2019/2020, what with all the players we’ve lost. Four seniors – plus the Pac-12 Player of the Year in Jaylen Nowell (who is committed to entering the NBA Draft as an underclassman) – are gone, and they comprised such a high majority of our production last year.

But, while I won’t rule out potential disappointment, I’ll also argue that the ceiling has never been higher for a Husky team. Check out these incoming would-be studs:

  • Isaiah Stewart (5-star center)
  • RaeQuan Battle (4-star shooting guard)
  • Marcus Tsohonis (3-star point guard)
  • Jaden McDaniels (5-star power forward)
  • Quade Green (5-star point guard, mid-season transfer from Kentucky)

That’s on top of returning players including:

  • Naz Carter (averaged 8.1 points in 20 minutes per game)
  • Jamal Bey (came on strong late in the season, earning minutes in a stacked rotation)
  • Hameir Wright (averaged 18 minutes and 1.4 blocks per game)
  • Elijah Hardy (3-star point guard, could see extended playing time until Green arrives)
  • Bryan Penn-Johnson (3-star center, figures to see increased playing time in his second year)
  • Nate Roberts (3-star forward, redshirted as a freshman)
  • Sam Timmins (the only senior who has played extensive minutes on this team, should provide valuable depth at the center position off the bench)

Look, it’s not ideal. Obviously, you like to have as many experienced stars as possible. But, for a team that will largely be playing together for the first time, with every starting role up for grabs (presumably around wherever Naz Carter ends up playing, who should be one of the leaders on this team). But, that incoming class is no joke. Almost all of them should be ready to contribute right away, with one or two of them stepping into some hefty roles. If this team improves as we approach Tournament time, the Huskies could be a real monster.

So, let’s dream a little bit. Let’s say the Huskies come from out of nowhere to make an Elite Eight run! I know Coach Hop just signed an extension, and received a well-deserved raise this past offseason, but if that comes to pass, you REALLY have to wonder how much longer he’ll be classing up the joint.

Indeed, the Huskies don’t even have to make the Sweet 16 for this to be the final year with Mike Hopkins in Washington.

It’s a terrifying thought, and one I don’t really want to dwell on too much, as it’s far too depressing.

Given the way he’s recruited in his short time here, I can already tell Hop is going to be one of the greats. Maybe I’m way off base, with my purple-colored lenses, but that’s just a hunch. The hope, whenever you find someone like this, is that he’ll be the next Mark Few: that he’ll stick around forever, plant his flag for your school, and take you to multiple Final Fours over a multi-decade career. This isn’t like having the SEC in football, you can build a winner ANYWHERE in college basketball! So, why not here? Why couldn’t Washington be the next NCAA powerhouse?

I guess that’s up to him. And the school, to be willing to pay him. And the allure (read: money) ponied up by other schools. You’d like to think it’s easy enough to just pay the man and keep him forever, but if he wants to move on to situations that are perceived to be easier to recruit and win in, then there’s no amount of logical money that could keep him here.

I dunno. I’d be SHOCKED if Coach Hop is still here after another five years. I’d say we have maybe 2-3 years and it’s time to start looking for the next coaching phenom.

Jaylen Nowell Is Going Pro

Since we can’t have really, really nice things, Jaylen Nowell announced he’s going to leave the University of Washington to enter the NBA Draft.

In thinking about what might’ve been, having Nowell around for his Junior season would’ve been absolutely amazing. As we all know, Noah Dickerson, David Crisp, Matisse Thybulle, and Dominic Green were all Seniors and will all be gone next season. That leaves just Naz Carter, Hameir Wright, Sam Timmins, and Jamal Bey left over of the players who didn’t redshirt and who played significant minutes.

That’s just a lot of overall production that’s leaving the team. And, yes, there are some holdovers whose roles will naturally expand. You figure Bryan Penn-Johnson will vie for a starting spot at one of the bigs. Nate Roberts could see some time at the wing. And Elijah Hardy should get some time at the point. But, it would’ve been nice to have Nowell around to help with the transition.

There’s also, obviously, some incoming guys who figure to play right away, including RaeQuan Battle and Isaiah Stewart; with Quade Green transferring from Kentucky to run the point when we hit conference play. But, without many real veteran holdovers, there’s going to be a lot of unknown with the 2019/2020 squad.

Without knowing anything about the redshirts or recruits, I figure this becomes Naz Carter’s team. He’s had two years in the system now and has shown steady improvement both years, at both ends of the floor. I’ll also be looking for big things out of Jamal Bey, who was really the only Freshman to see the floor this past season, and appeared to get better as the season went along.

Given the pedigree of the guys on the roster, I would once again expect the Huskies to contend for a Pac-12 championship and make the NCAA Tournament. But, you never know when there’s this much turnover. It would’ve been a much safer bet if Nowell had stayed for one more year.

I’m on the record as highly doubting Nowell will be a first round pick, but what do I know? I’m no scout. I don’t even really watch the NBA anymore. It just seems to me that he had more he could’ve improved in his game had he stayed. On the flipside, he was already Pac-12 Player of the Year, so how much more did he have to prove?

If we base it on the college career of Isaiah Thomas – who was the final pick in the second round the year he went out – then based on probably his size alone I think Nowell at least gets drafted somewhere in the second round. But, I dunno. I respectfully disagree with the decision, but I also don’t know all the facts surrounding his financial situation. For a kid making no money for his talents in college, I can certainly understand the desire to go out and start earning a living.

The Huskies Went 1-1 In The NIT

I was a little distracted by my trip to Reno for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, so I didn’t really get to see any of the Huskies in the NIT.  Scheduling issues, you know how it is.

Last Wednesday, while I was in an airplane, the Huskies hosted the Boise State Broncos and beat them 77-74 in double-overtime.  Nowell and Thybulle really dominated the show, as the team hit nearly 50% from behind the arc.  Sounded like quite the impressive game that I would’ve enjoyed a lot.

Then, last night, the Huskies went on the road to play top-seeded Saint Mary’s.  We put up a valiant effort, but fell short, 85-81.  Noah Dickerson was a monster, with 22 points and 9 boards, and Nahziah Carter went 4 for 4 from behind the arc in netting 14 total points off the bench.

This was a really fun season for Husky basketball; something I don’t think any of us really anticipated.  With Romar getting fired, a bunch of our recruits jumping ship, and Mike Hopkins coming across the country to try to bring this team together in a few short months, it would’ve been more reasonable to expect another bottoming-out type season.  Or, at best, hovering around .500 in non-conference play before falling off against the Pac-12 teams.  Thankfully, the Huskies gelled, were able to get some signature victories against the likes of Kansas and Arizona, and were helped by the Pac-12 being pretty fucking terrible as a whole.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot of hope for next year and beyond.  I don’t think anyone is really in a position to leave for the NBA, which means we’re set to have one of the more veteran teams in the conference.  That hasn’t been the case in I don’t know how long.  Probably not since the LAST time the Huskies made the NCAA Tournament, in 2011.

Crisp, Thybulle, Dickerson, and Green will all be Seniors (assuming none of them go pro or transfer).  Timmins and Carlos Johnson will be Juniors (assuming they stick around).  And, Nowell, Wright, and Nahz Carter will all be Sophomores.  Aside from Johnson (who I have to believe will go to another school, as he’s getting buried on the depth chart), these are all players who contributed quite a bit to making this Husky season a success.

And that’s not even counting the incoming recruits.  The Huskies just secured a 4-star center, Bryan Penn-Johnson, to go along with 4-star guard Jamal Bey, and three other 3-star players who will look to compete for minutes next season.  Things are looking UP for the Washington Huskies for the first time in a long time.  I’m proud of these kids.  I hope they work really hard and are rewarded with a berth in the NCAA Tournament next year.