I was legitimately surprised I haven’t written about the Husky basketball team so far this season. I would’ve figured at some point I would’ve snuck a blog post in there about the early part of the season, but for whatever reason, life got in the way.
I haven’t totally ignored the Huskies – like I can do when they’re as mediocre as they are – but I also haven’t had a chance to follow along as religiously as I did last year. Moving into a new house and not paying for cable TV will do that to you. But, even if I did have all the sports channels necessary, I don’t know if I’d go out of my way very often. Last year’s Husky basketball team wasn’t great, but it was fun! Terrell Brown was Must See TV; he was easily my favorite Husky in YEARS. The fact that he was only a one and done (for us, as a late-career transfer) was a travesty, to be sure, but you can’t play college basketball forever.
We don’t have a Terrell Brown this year. I guess the closest we’ve got is Keion Brooks (another late-career transfer), but he doesn’t play the same. He doesn’t have that adeptness at the dribble-drive. He struggles to create his own shot in the paint. This Husky team more closely resembles earlier Mike Hopkins teams (from 2017-2020), minus some very key ingredients from those two seasons where we were contending for NCAA berths.
I kinda feel beaten down, as a fan. It’s pretty clear the majority of hardcore Husky fans jumped off the Mike Hopkins bandwagon with that 2020/2021 season. For good reason; we were God-awful at 5-21 that year! I don’t know if it’s smart to EVER give a head coach another season after a performance like that. But, a lot of those same Husky haters were down on him from the season prior, which was just one year removed from our most recent NCAA berth (the only one of the Hopkins era), which I didn’t understand at all. Hopkins won back-to-back Pac-12 coach of the year awards in 2018 and 2019. He follows that up with a 15-17 campaign – following lots of graduations of key players – and you’re right at his throat? It made no sense.
Sure, NOW you can look back and say, “See, I was right! We should’ve dumped his ass then and there!” But, then don’t you just get stuck in this cycle of churning through coaches every two years? Is that smart? Odds are good that you could call for the head of any coach at any point and most of the time you could look back and say you were right. I guess, if it’s not working, it’s not working. But, it seems like if you’re high on a guy enough to hire him away from a nationally-prominent program like Syracuse, and you’re high enough on a guy to give him a raise after back-to-back coach of the year awards, you should have enough trust in him to see if he can actually build a program.
I like to think I’m more restrained in my Husky fandom. I’m a realist. I see this thing for what it is. The Huskies are – at best – a mid-tier program. They shouldn’t be terrible forever; they should contend for (and reach) the NCAA Tournament every few years or so. But, they also aren’t among the elites, and shouldn’t be trying to recruit like one.
We can also do that thing that I hate, which is look back at the players Hopkins had for his 2018 and 2019 runs – seeing all the Lorenzo Romar recruits – and confirm that he wasn’t seeing his biggest success with his own guys, but rather the previous regime’s talent. Which automatically makes you wonder: should we have just stuck with Romar?
I say no, as much as I loved Romar and called for him to stay around probably a year or two longer than he should’ve. It was time to move on. I think Hopkins did more with Romar’s final classes than Romar ever would’ve done. But, that leads me to my next point.
If you’re going to be a mid-tier college basketball program, you need a hook. You need a gimmick. You need a scheme or something that helps you stand out. That tips the scales a little bit. In college football, you’d point to the Air Raid as a prime example. You can do more with lesser talent in the Air Raid system, which will help you compete with the bigger schools. Doesn’t mean you’ll always win. But, Wazzu under Mike Leach was always much more competitive than they would’ve been under any other coach, running a more conventional offense.
I hoped that a zone-heavy defense might be that gimmick for the Huskies. Not a lot of schools run a zone like we do. And, for a couple years, it looked pretty formidable! We were holding down high-scoring teams and winning lots of games. But, as it turns out, you need really special players to succeed in that system. You need a Matisse Thybulle. Failing that, you’ve seen what’s happened the last couple years; the Huskies have largely gone away from the zone defense. What’s our hook now? Mediocrity across the board.
It also doesn’t help that the transfer portal – and the nature of the game in general – makes it nearly impossible to keep that type of defensive scheme alive. It works best when you can practice it over and over, and when you’ve got quality players willing to stick around for mutiple seasons. But, if you’re only going to be here for one year anyway, and your best shot at getting noticed – so you can play professionally one day – is by being great on offense, what’s your incentive to actually try on defense?
And that’s the rub, because the Huskies have been consistently underperforming on offense throughout Hop’s run here. He has the right idea; the game of basketball in today’s day and age is all about spreading the offense and shooting three pointers. But, all of his shooters have been FUCKING MISERABLE. It’s just unbelievable how bad they’ve been. If you’re a basketball player and you’re good enough to be recruited by multiple Power 5 schools, why is it that you come to Washington and become the world’s most brick-heavy shooters? It shouldn’t be this difficult! Make a fucking basket, you’ve been shooting for well over a decade at this point in your lives!
Without a Terrell Brown type, it feels more like a fluke when the Huskies are actually competitive. A fluke in that they have a rare good shooting night (like they did for much of last night’s game at #5 Arizona, before ultimately losing 70-67), or a fluke in that the other team has an uncharacteristically poor shooting night. As such, we’re 9-7, but a downright atrocious 1-4 in conference play.
What do you do at this point? I don’t know if there’s anything you can do. We have zero quality wins and plenty of embarrassing defeats. Kiss goodbye any notion of an At Large bid or a conference title. You can wish for a Pac-12 Tournament title in one hand and shit in the other, and I’ll tell you which will fill up first. And it’s pointless to speculate on next year, because we have no clue what this roster will look like. Between the COVID year, it seems like the mediocre players (Jamal Bey) are sticking around for-fucking-ever, while guys with any semblance of talent blow this fucking popsicle stand as soon as humanly possible (along with the guys with absolutely no talent, making you wonder why they were invited to be Huskies in the first place). Every year, it’s a mostly all-new roster, with a smattering of crappy holdovers we couldn’t shake if our lives depended on it (Cole Bajema).
What’s even more infuriating is the fact that Hop isn’t even free to “look to the future” with actual high school recruits we’re able to convince to come here, because he’s constantly on the hot seat thanks to transfers who aren’t talented enough to get the job done. Combined with a scheme that isn’t able to take advantage of whatever offensive skills they’ve got.
So, yeah, it’s probably time to say goodbye to Mike Hopkins. He’s under contract through 2024/2025, which is two more seasons. That’s a total of $6.3 million though, so you can see why we might balk at such a bitter resolution. Paying him over $3 million per year to NOT coach for us, combined with whatever we’d have to pay his replacement, all for a program that’s not likely to contend for a conference title anyway.
I’m without hope on this whole deal. Ever since that 5-win nadir season, all I’ve been looking for out of the Huskies is to be entertaining. And last year, they very much were. This year? Not so much.
It’s not likely that this program ever makes the turn to greatness. For that to happen, I still believe you have to “build it the right way” and not rely on cast-aways from other schools in the transfer portal. The transfer portal should be a means to supplement an already-solid roster with an influx at a very specific area of need; it shouldn’t be your entire fucking plan for trying to fill out a majority of your roster. You shouldn’t have to go into every single year with an all-new squad, trying to teach them the rudimentary elements of your scheme. It’d be nice to start over fresh. New coach, new scheme, and all new crop of players. No hold-overs who over-achieve and give you a false sense of success.
But, even that doesn’t seem like it’s bound to happen anytime soon.