All Things Considered, This Season Couldn’t Have Started Worse For Husky Basketball

The Huskies are 5-2 after a tougher-than-it-had-to-be victory over Eastern Washington last night.  I’m still pretty sure I haven’t seen a minute of this team play this season, but let’s get real.  These are the same guys we’ve seen for 4 years.  They’ve progressed a nominal amount.  So, in that sense, it’s like I’ve seen EVERY game.

Now, part of why I haven’t seen the Huskies play this season has to do with the Pac-12 conference and our inept commissioner, Larry Scott, who is this disease that just won’t go away.  The exposure-level for this conference is non-existent.  These games against some relatively good schools are being televised NOT on the Pac-12 Network – because no one HAS the fucking Pac-12 Network – but rather the SEC Network (at Auburn) or the Big 10 Network (Minnesota).  It’s 2018 and I live in Tacoma, Washington.  I shouldn’t have to listen to the radio in 2018 to know what my basketball team is doing, because I don’t subscribe to the most elite sports cable package in existence!  These games should be on NORMAL cable sports networks, and they’re not, and that’s a failing that goes right to the top.

Also, I mean, what’s with these 8pm starts?  Are you fucking kidding me?  Who on the East Coast is going to be able to stay up until an 11pm start time to watch our product?  We have ZERO national presence in a day and age where sports are more popular than ever and they’re more in demand than ever!  If ESPN wants to shunt us off to the middle of the night, then maybe we don’t do a deal with ESPN anymore.  Maybe we jump to FOX or maybe we take our product to Amazon, and we get some reasonable fucking start times for these games!

But, I digress.  Our worthless commissioner isn’t the only reason why this season is going down the shitter.  The conference itself is in the worst shape I’ve ever seen it in.  Oregon is the only team in the Top 25.  ASU and UCLA are receiving votes, but come on.  I read somewhere that the Pac-12 has the worst record against Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 teams among all the power conferences, and it’s not even close!  Time’s running out in the non-conference season, and there’s no reason for that to get any better over the next month.  We’re going to head into conference play – where we always cannibalize ourselves into oblivion – as the consensus worst power conference in basketball and when it comes to Tournament time, we’d be LUCKY to get 3 teams in.  Odds are, it’ll be 2.  Non-power conferences are going to start lapping us!

How is it that an entire 12-team conference can be so bad at bringing in basketball talent?  And how can we be so bad at developing the talent we do have?!

The longer this goes on, the more ingrained in the rest of the nation this perception (reality) is going to be.  We’re ALREADY an afterthought in any national college basketball column, at what point are we ignored entirely?  At what point do we become the Sun Belt Conference?

So, we’ve got that going for us.  Then, there’s our actual record.  2 losses against the only 2 quality opponents we’ve faced this season.  Auburn’s a top 10 team, and the game was played down there, so that’s understandable.  But, losing that game to Minnesota on a last second shot – where we essentially threw the game away on a Jaylen Nowell turnover with an opportunity to extend our lead and at least push it into overtime – is a crisis-level event.

Looking forward, the odds of going to Gonzaga and beating the #1 team in the nation is 0.00%.  Even if that game wasn’t starting at 8pm, there’s no fucking way in hell I’d watch that massacre!  That puts us at 0-3 against the big teams.  All that’s left is a neutral-floor game against a highly-ranked Virginia Tech team.  Where is that “neutral-floor”?  Atlantic City.  2,836 miles away from Seattle, and only 446 miles from Blacksburg, VA.  You tell me, who’s more likely to win that one?

Ultimately, it’s probably going to come down to whether or not the Huskies can win the Pac-12 Tournament.  Given the state of the conference, I like our chances as much as anyone.  It would help if we could get into the Top 4 and have a BYE for that first round.  But, I mean, I’ve watched this team.  I’ve watched it for four years.  It’s the same team that can’t shoot, that goes LOOOOONG stretches without scoring, and while it has some nice defensive pieces, it still gets into foul trouble at the drop of a hat.  I would NEVER trust this team to win 3 consecutive conference games with our season on the line!

The fact of the matter is, this team just isn’t getting any better.  It is what it is.  When we shoot well – like we did, for the most part, last night against the Eagles – we’ll most likely win.  When we don’t, and we’re stuck playing a close game down to the final possession, we just don’t have the talent to win in crunch time.

We’re in our second season post-Romar, but being stuck with all of his guys makes it feel like nothing’s changed.  I can’t wait until we’re able to cycle through these duds and see what Coach Hopkins can do with his own players.

The 25th-Ranked Husky Men’s Basketball Team Is Going To Make The NCAA Tournament In 2019

All the cool sports shit in Seattle right now is happening at the University of Washington.

Last year, the Husky Men’s Basketball team won 20 games in the regular season, went 10-8 in conference play, lost in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament to the Oregon State Beavers, and went 1-1 in the NIT, ultimately losing to Boise State.  It was a better first season for new head coach Mike Hopkins than anyone had any right to expect considering the circumstances, and ultimately it’s a nice jumping-off point for a team that should finally get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.

First of all, it’s crazy how long it’s been.  It’ll be 8 years this March; that is far FAR too long between appearances.  Even if the Huskies literally have no chance of ever winning the national championship – because we’re not one of those elite teams and we never will be – it’s still nice to be tricked once in a while into believing.  It beats a constant stream of mediocrity and underperforming.

This year should be fun, even if the Pac-12 is as down as it always is.  We’ve got a road game against Auburn, a neutral-court game against Texas A&M, we continue our series against Gonzaga by playing them in their zoo of an arena, and for good measure we face another ranked team in Virginia Tech in a neutral location.  If nothing else, our strength of (non-conference) schedule looks to be one of the better ones in all of college basketball.  We’ll see how it all shakes out by the end of the season, but right now you can’t say the Huskies are loaded with cupcakes and only cupcakes!

I would also argue that it takes a team this laden with veteran talent to handle a schedule like that.  It’s the perfect storm, really, because we’ve got 4 Seniors who figure to play significant minutes, on top of stud Sophomore Jaylen Nowell, all of whom are in their second year in Hop’s program.  I don’t think a team loaded with youngsters could withstand this schedule, not if you’re teaching a bunch of new kids a brand new scheme.

Barring a slew of injuries, this team – led by Nowell, Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp, and Dominic Green – should have no trouble handling the pressure that comes with increased expectations.  All of those guys can score (in a variety of ways) and defend with the best of ’em.  On top of which, we’ve got a number of quality role players to jump in there.  Sam Timmins, Junior Center, had a lot of important minutes last year and should only be more comfortable with his job as a starter playing reserve duty.  Hameir Wright and Nahziah Carter both flashed as Freshmen last year and figure to see increased time and responsibilities.  Already we’re talking about a team that’s 8-deep, and we haven’t even gotten to the rest of the guys on this team.

The fact of the matter is, I don’t know how reasonable it is to expect too much from the rest.  The roster does look like it’s in pretty good shape, both for this year and going forward.  There aren’t any glaring holes or weaknesses.  We’re 3-4 deep at big man, with Dickerson, Timmins, and Wright leading the way.  We’ve also got incoming Freshman Bryan Penn-Johnson who’s got a college-ready body right now; he’ll likely get his feet wet depending on matchups and foul issues with the other guys ahead of him on the depth chart.  We’ve got a team full of ‘tweeners with long arms, a team full of shooters; you could say we’re a little thin at point guard, but I’d argue any number of guys from Nowell to Thybulle to maybe even Green or Carter could handle the rock in a pinch.  The other Freshman I’d be looking at is Elijah Hardy, a 6’2 point guard who could very well push Crisp for minutes.

As always, I think this team goes as far as Crisp takes them.  The good news is, I thought he started to make some strides last year in transitioning from a shoot-first deep threat to a guy more comfortable driving in the paint and looking to make plays.  I thought his game against Nevada the other day was telling.  The Huskies went on the road and beat a consensus Top 10 team in a meaningless exhibition game, but we didn’t treat it as such.  Noah Dickerson sat out with an injury, but the other main guys all played over 30 minutes.  Sure, Crisp was 2 for 6 from long range (not a great percentage, but honestly an improvement over what he’s averaged so far in his college career), but he was 6 for 9 from inside the arc, which hopefully means he’s not just looking to jack crazy bombs all year long.

I’ll be most interested in seeing how the rotations are set up and how minutes are divided.  Assuming everyone’s healthy, you figure Dickerson, Thybulle, Nowell, and Crisp will all be starters and play starters’ minutes.  Timmins figures to be a starting center, with Wright coming in off the bench and besting him in total minutes.  You figure Green will be the 6th man – with occasional spot starts, depending on matchups – to give us a scoring boost off the bench.  And, Carter and the other youngsters will be wild cards.  These things are always fluid over the course of a long season, but assuming everything goes according to plan, it’s pretty easy to see how this team shakes out.

The big variable is how the Pac-12 looks.  It’s weird seeing a pre-season Top 25 rankings without Arizona listed.  I can’t imagine they’ll ever be bad, but they are young and all the legal allegations swirling around the program can’t be good for their focus.  UCLA and Oregon are both ranked, which feels right.  Figure the Bruins will be disappointing and the Ducks will be pretty solid.  Nevertheless, not having a huge Top 10 program in the Pac-12 would appear to be a benefit to a team like Washington, whose non-conference schedule figures to do the heavy lifting.  Being as veteran as we are, I wouldn’t anticipate this team needs a lot of time to gel, so we should come out of the gate pretty strong and ready to upset some of these better teams.

We play all the Pac-12 North teams twice each, so if Oregon remains good, that’s two more opportunities for important wins.  We also play the mountain schools twice; while never really all that impressive, they’re usually decent enough that if they rip off a bunch of wins, they could always sneak into the Top 25.  We play the Arizona schools on the road and the L.A. schools at home (in back-to-back weeks, no less) so take that for what it’s worth.

I’ll be massively upset and disappointed if the Huskies don’t make the NCAA Tournament this year.  Mike Hopkins is getting more out of these players than Romar ever did.  While that’s not necessarily enough to be concerned about losing Hop to bigger and better programs, it’s enough to put him on notice around the rest of college basketball.  The real test of how good of a coach he is will come after all these Seniors graduate and he’s starting from scratch with his own guys.  Luckily, we’re still a year away from that headache.  For now, we get to enjoy the fun new feeling of being relevant in Men’s Basketball again.  I missed this.

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.

The Huskies Lost In The First Round Of The Pac-12 Tournament

Well, it was a nice dream we had once.  Saturday, February 3rd, the Huskies were riding high off of a last-second victory over the Top 10 Arizona Wildcats (pre-scandal).  We were 17-6 (7-3), very nearly cracking into the Top 25, with a couple of creampuff games on the road against the Oregon schools to keep the momentum going.  Obviously, the high-point of our season.

Since that night, the Huskies have gone 3-6, including a whopping 1-4 against those same fucking Oregon schools.  Those Oregon schools that aren’t worth a shit, yet somehow have our fucking number every time.  Even the lone win, against the Beavs, last week, was a nail-biter to the bitter end!

I caught a lot of the game last night at Buffalo Wild Wings in Downtown Seattle, before the Anthony Jeselnik show at The Moore, but I gotta be honest, I was a good 1 and a half sheets to the wind.  So, you know, I remember bits and pieces.  I remember both teams were fucking atrocious in the first half, offensively.  I remember the Beavs kicking it up a notch in the second half.  I remember the Huskies having the ball, tied, with a little over 30 seconds to go.  I remember Jaylen Nowell driving, pulling up in the lane, and missing a difficult shot in traffic.  I remember the Beavs going the other way and getting up a legitimate shot to win it that clanged off.  I remember the game going into overtime and I remember needing to leave right that second as the comedy show was about to start.  I remember my friend checking his phone for score updates, I remember seeing the Beavs with a 3-point lead, and I remember the score not changing as ostensibly the Huskies would’ve missed their final shot(s).

I also remember losing 40 fucking dollars on the God damned Huskies!  WHAT A START TO MY LONG GAMBLING WEEKEND IN RENO NEXT WEEK!

I mean, what can you say that hasn’t already been said?  David Crisp:  2/7 from the three-point line, with only 1 free throw attempt in 41 fucking minutes of game play.  Jaylen Nowell:  4/12 from the field, with only 3 free throw attempts in 31 minutes of game play.  Noah Dickerson, bless his heart, had 15 points and 10 rebounds while in constant foul trouble.  But, one of the keys here was the 3-man bench of Dominic Green, Naz Carter, and Hameir Wright.  They combined for 8 points, were 1/6 from beyond the arc, and ultimately made pretty much no impact in a game that was close from start to finish.  That’ll change next year, as guys are more experienced, and get used to playing with one another, but damn did it hurt the Huskies this year.

The book is out on this Husky team.  Double team Noah Dickerson (or do whatever you can to deny him the ball in the post), let David Crisp shoot all the fucking threes he wants, get physical with Jaylen Nowell, and you’ll live with the other guys trying to beat you, because the other guys are ultimately too unselfish or otherwise not good enough to beat you on most nights.

Mike Hopkins was a very deserving Coach of the Year winner in the Pac-12, considering where this team was a year ago, but he won that award the day this team beat Arizona.  I think it’s more than a little alarming the way this team finished its season.  I still have very high hopes for next year, but I’m also going to be a little cautious.

As for the rest of this year, I guess you could make an argument that the Huskies should be in the N.I.T., but I dunno.  This team has been dreadful over the last month, and there are a ton of teams just in the Pac-12 alone that have been playing MUCH better than us.  So, this might be the end of the line, which is a collosal bummer.  Fingers crossed, I guess.

Husky Basketball Starts Out 2-1 In Pac-12 Play

It’s been a pretty cool first couple weeks of conference play for the Huskies.  As the title states, we’re 2-1 so far through three games, all on the road.  We kicked things off with a win over what I’m told is a pretty good USC team.  We ran out to a big lead at halftime, withstood an early second half USC run, and took home a victory that featured USC shooting 3/20 from beyond the arc.  Only time will tell if USC ends up being a quality team in the Pac-12, but I’ll say this:  any road win against a conference opponent is a huge win.

The only blemish to what could’ve been an insanely great first two weeks of the conference season was a loss a couple days later against UCLA.  In hindsight, it’s all the tougher because we had an 8-point halftime lead and just totally collapsed in the second half, as the Bruins outscored us 46-17.  UCLA didn’t totally go off, hitting just 5 of 14 from deep, but they made their share of two’s, and hit 25/30 free throws to salt it away.  The Huskies, meanwhile, somehow managed to hit only 2/27 from beyond the arc, which if it wasn’t a school record for futility, has to be close to it.  Unfortunately, that’s just going to be the case with this team sometimes.  As it is, we’re not the best 3-point shooting team even when we’re hitting our usual percentage of shots (David Crisp almost always does his part to drag down our average), but there are going to be times where we dip way below, and we – as fans – just have to hope that isn’t a regular occurrence, or else this thing could go south pretty quick.

We topped off our road trip by knocking off the Cougars 70-65 over the weekend.  The Cougs are primarily a 3-point shooting team, and were held to 7/27 from deep.  That’s exactly the type of team that plays into our hands, as the Husky zone is designed to limit shots from deep (or at least make them harder to hit).

I’ve finally seen a pattern start to develop when it comes to the Huskies.  With the zone, outside shooting teams are going to be kept in check for the most part (though, I anticipate we’ll run into a game here and there where opposing shooting teams have a hot night and put us to bed early).  Our zone needs to be working effectively, because we’re not the greatest offensive team, particularly from 3-point land.  As long as it does, we should be in most games.  As I noted, there will be times other teams just destroy our zone and shoot out of their minds, and there will be times where the Huskies hit a crazy percentage of shots and run the other team out of the gym.  I feel like those games will cancel each other out, and the rest of the time it’s going to be close and it’s going to depend on how the Huskies close out games.

And, quite frankly, I’m encouraged by how the Huskies are closing things out!  USC put a lot of pressure on the Dawgs in the second half of that game, and we hit enough shots and free throws to put things away.  The UCLA game got away from us early in the second half, and that was just a flukey bad-shooting night, so write that one off.  The Coug game, though, was pretty close all along, with lots of lead changes, and the Huskies did just enough late – with a particularly huge shot in the lane by Nowell, and a ton of breathtaking drives to the basket by Crisp – to get the W they deserved.

Now, I think we ratchet up expectations just a little bit.  At 2-1, the Huskies are tied for second (with a lot of other teams) in the Pac-12.  At 12-4, with a number of quality wins (and already 2 conference road wins), the NCAA Tournament is definitely in the conversation.  Who expected that when the season started?

God bless Mike Hopkins.  Let’s keep it going!

The Huskies Went On The Road And Beat #2 Kansas

This.  Was.  Incredible.

If this game happened in Hec Ed, you would’ve seen 5,000-some-odd people storming the court, but it feels so much bigger because it took place in the Sprint Center in Kansas City, so not only was this a road game, but it was a road game where they could manage to cram in MORE Jayhawks fans than if they’d played the game on campus.  And to not only win, but win COMFORTABLY, by a score of 74-65, I just don’t have the brain capacity to comprehend this.

This is the biggest win since dot dot dot:

Well, last year, the Huskies won all of 9 games (they’ve already won 7 this year, but shhh, don’t tell anyone), and they lost handily to every ranked opponent they played.

The year before, we had an NIT team, and the only ranked team we beat was a #25-ranked UCLA squad who wasn’t even good enough to crack the NIT.

The year before that, we were nothing, and somehow beat a #13-ranked Utah team at home (who would go on to the Sweet 16).  We also beat a #15-ranked Oklahoma team on a neutral floor that would also go on to the Sweet 16 and a #13-ranked San Diego State team at home that would go on to the Round of 32.  How that Husky team did nothing whatsoever in conference play is a testament to underachieving.

I could keep going, but the point is it’s been a long time since we’ve seen the Huskies win a game that huge.  I don’t remember them EVER winning against such a highly ranked team on the road; the last time they beat a Top 2 team was in 2004 when they hosted the #1-ranked Stanford Cardinal at the end of the season.

Obviously, we don’t know where Kansas will end up this season, but they’re definitely well-regarded at the moment (they were undefeated heading into the game, with wins over Kentucky and Syracuse), they’re a perennial powerhouse school in college basketball, and barring a total collapse or a rash of injuries, they should be a lock to play in the NCAA Tournament come March.  Are they REALLY a Top 10 team?  Time will tell.  But, right now they’re ranked #2 in the nation, and the Huskies handled them like I’ve never seen!

It was a thing of beauty.  For starters, that defense.  They essentially locked down the perimeter, did a good job staying with the big man down low, and dared the guy in the middle – a Junior guard by the name of Lagerald Vick – to single-handedly win the game on the offensive end.  True to form, he finished with 28 points, 7 assists, and 5 boards, but he was only 12/23 from the floor, and the next-highest scorer only had 10 points.  When you consider this is a Kansas team that lives for the 3-point shot, and has a couple of quality post players, Coach Hop came up with a stroke of genius in shutting them down.  Let’s just hope more teams don’t take this strategy; it would be really cool if Kansas finished the season in the Top 10, so at the very least we can hang our hat on this game being very important.

As impressed as I was about the Husky defense (and it shouldn’t be glossed over; these guys have bought in, and the zone defense really suits this team like a glove!  I think my favorite thing I’ve seen out of this team, from a defensive perspective, is a drastic reduction in ticky-tack fouls.  Sure, the zone will get beaten from time to time, but you don’t really see the Huskies compounding that by giving the opposing team an And One opportunity as often as you’d see under Romar.  I think that’s huge; not getting into early and frequent foul trouble.  I mean, let’s face it, most college players – particularly the One & Done types – don’t want to play defense.  That’s not what gets you into The League.  That’s where the zone comes in.  Sure, there are tons of zone-busting plays out there; it’s not a cure-all.  But, for one, to beat the zone you have to shoot well, and if you have an off night, you can lose to just about anyone deploying it.  Secondly, more often than not it’ll at least keep you in the game, so if YOU shoot well, you can still overcome the other team busting your zone.  It may not be as macho or whatever as playing man-to-man, but as we’ve seen under the last few years with Romar, if you don’t have the drive, the ability, and the mindset to be a good defender, then you’re essentially useless when you play man-to-man.  Also, don’t get me started on that abomination where they’d switch on every single pick play; what the shit was that???), I think I was even more impressed by the Husky offense!

I’ve seen Husky teams in the recent past hang in there against superior competition.  For a quarter, or a half, and once in a blue moon all the way to the last 4-5 minutes of the game!  But, inevitably, the Huskies – ever since Isaiah Thomas went to the Pros – lacked that one guy who could make a big shot in crunch time.  Last night, the Huskies didn’t really need anyone to play that role, but that’s only because the entire team stayed composed and made shots the whole game!

Things were a little dicey early, as Kansas jumped out to a 10-5 lead, and I wondered if we could stay within the 22-point spread.  But, as I just said, guys kept making shots and by halftime, the Huskies had worked their way to a 2-point lead, 36-34.

That lead ballooned to 52-44 early in the second half before Kansas went on a nice little run to pull the game to 53-52, with just under 10 minutes left in the game.  That was a real gut check time, as you could hear the crowd start to get into it, and it looked like the better team would finally take over.

Instead, not even three minutes later, the Husky lead was back to 10, 64-54, and it was just a matter of trading buckets to the finish line.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some daggers thrown in there.  That David Crisp three-ball with just over two minutes to go in the game felt like a real back-breaker, to put the Huskies up by 14.  With a good-shooting team like Kansas, you feel like no lead is safe.  Sure, they hit a couple garbage-time threes in the final minute, but they finished the game 5/20 from beyond the arc, and more importantly, were only 4/8 from the free throw line.  No three balls AND no free throws?  I’ll take that every single game!

Getting back, though, the Huskies shot 48.3% from the floor, and 42.9% from long range.  We also got to the line 15 times (only hitting 7).  Hell, we even out-rebounded them!

There wasn’t one star, or one guy carrying the entire team, which is what the Huskies are going to need to do if they want to keep this thing going.  Matisse Thybulle led the way with 19 points (hitting 5/8 from downtown), 4 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block.  Jaylen Nowell had 17 points; Noah Dickerson had 13 points, 14 boards, and 5 assists.  David Crisp chipped in 10 points and 7 assists; Sam Timmins had 8 points and 3 boards in 18 minutes; and forward Hameir Wright came off the bench for 27 minutes, scoring 5 to go along with 6 boards and 3 blocks.

I just couldn’t be happier or more proud of this team.  The young guys are producing, the holdovers are buying in, and you can already see some steady improvement from where we were just one month ago when the season started.  Remember, the media predicted Washington would finish 10th in the conference!  Ahead of only Cal (who looks like a disaster) and Wazzu (who got off to a hot start, before losing their last two, including a 27-point drubbing to Idaho last night).  If the Huskies can continue to play this type of Team ball, who knows where we’ll end up?

I know this, a win on the road against #2 Kansas would look MIGHTY good on a team’s resume, if – for instance – that team happened to be on the bubble.

I’ll be the first to admit, I had zero expectations for that game last night, or this season in general.  The only reason I had the game on at all was to see just how close – or how far away – this team was compared to the best in the nation.  Now that they’ve won, and won handily, my interest has definitely perked up.  If they can go on the road to win in Kansas, what’s stopping this team from coming back home on Sunday and taking down #12 Gonzaga?

I’m not ready to predict a win just yet – after all, the Zags just lost to Villanova and are sure to be pretty salty about it – but before the game last night, there was NO QUESTION the Huskies would lose both of these games.  After the game last night, it’s not off the table that we might win both and find ourselves in the Top 25 next week.

Think about THAT!  Wouldn’t that be something?

I texted it to my friends last night, and I plan on keeping my promise:  every year, we go to the Reno/Tahoe area for the first weekend of March Madness to gamble on sports and drink our livers black for three straight days; the first thing I’m going to do when I land and get checked in is I’m going to place $100 on the Huskies against whoever they’re playing in the Tournament.  Because we’re fucking going!  That’s all there is to it!

My Completely-Uninformed UW Men’s Basketball Preview 2017-2018

The first game of the non-conference slate starts on Friday.  But, with the Seahawks going through a Thursday game this week, I’m bumping this up to Wednesday to even out the week.

As the title alludes to, I don’t know much about this Husky basketball team.  None of us really do, though you’ll find more informed previews elsewhere.  We have a new head coach, obviously, in Mike Hopkins.  This is the first season since 2001 where we’re going into it without Lorenzo Romar, so that’s going to be different.

The hope is that Coach Hop can coach these guys up.  At the very least, I’d like to see some intensity on the defensive side of the floor, but if that exhibition game last week was any indication, we’re going to be in for a bit of a wait in that regard.  Part of that, quite frankly, will have to do with this transition period, and the players who are carrying over from one regime to the next.

This team is going to have to rely on the likes of Junior guard David Crisp, Junior forward Noah Dickerson, and Junior swingman Matisse Thybulle.  Those guys – along with incoming Freshman Jaylen Nowell – are going to carry this team, for good and for ill.  The holdovers haven’t been asked to play much defense thus far in their careers.  So, the question becomes:  do they buy in?  Or, do they go through the motions because they know this team can ill afford to bench them for any great length of time.  Without those three guys, this team might go winless this year, or damn near close to it.

Then again, even WITH those guys, the team likely won’t be very good.  That’s what happens when you’ve only got two Seniors on your roster, one who has 46 career minutes at the college level, and the other who is Dan Kingma.  And, after the big three, the other two Juniors on the squad are Dominic Green and Devenir Duruisseau.

So, yeah, young this team is.  Young and inexperienced and mediocre.  And, on top of that, lacking in quality big men!  There are four players who are 6’8 or taller.  One is Noah Dickerson, who will start, but who is also prone to foul trouble.  One is the aforementioned Duruisseau, who hasn’t done much of anything in his first two seasons, other than emergency fill-in duty when one (or, more likely, more than one) of our other big men got in foul trouble.  Then, there’s Sam Timmins, the center from New Zealand, who averaged 14.6 minutes last year, but never really made much of an impact.  And then there’s a Freshman by the name of Hameir Wright, who I don’t even know if he’s going to play this year or not.

I think, what’s going to end up happening, is you’re going to see a lot of small ball out of this team.  I think you’re going to see Dickerson at the 5, and some of our taller swingmen like Thybulle or Green playing at the 4.  But, essentially it’s going to be a 4-Guard situation, and oh by the way, can’t forget the fact that this team doesn’t really have a true quality point guard either.  Crisp will most certainly be the primary ball-handler, but he’s not a guy who can really create off the dribble.  I guess we’ll see about Nowell or the two Carter boys, hopefully that works itself out before we start conference play.

It doesn’t look like we’ll have Nate Pryor, who apparently isn’t academically eligible I guess?  That’s a bummer, I guess, but what can you do?

I don’t totally know where to peg this team as far as how it will rank in the Pac-12, but they were 11th last year, and that feels about right for this year too.  What I worry about, more than anything, is that there really isn’t one of those Take Charge type of players.  That guy you turn to when you need a big bucket at the end of the game.  The closest thing to that is probably David Crisp, and I’ve seen him clang more rushed jumpers off the rim to last a lifetime.  If that’s the guy we have to turn to when we’re tied, or down by 1-3 points inside a minute, we’re going to lose A LOT of games.  Prove me wrong!

It’s actually too bad this team won’t be good, because the schedule is pretty enticing.  We kick off the season this Friday against Belmont, who is a perennial Tournament darling.  Next week, we have the 2K Classic in Madison Square Garden against the likes of Providence, Saint Louis, and Virginia Tech.  We go to Kansas City in early December to face the Jayhawks in the Sprint Center; then on the 10th we come home to take on Gonzaga at Hec Ed.  Oh sure, THIS team will get killed by all those teams; but a GOOD team might be a lot of fun to watch against such robust competition.

As it stands, remember how the 2008 Husky football team had one of the toughest schedules in the entire league, with a non-conference slate against #3 Oklahoma, #15 BYU, and Notre Dame?  Remember how Oregon and USC were both really great that year and we ended up going 0-12?  Well, it’s damn near impossible for a basketball team to do something like that, and aside from Arizona, I’m not really sure how great the rest of the Pac-12 is in basketball this season, but a non-conference slate that features Kansas and Gonzaga, among those other teams, is a doozy for a rebuilding program like Washington.

It’s almost as if that non-conference schedule was built for a certain Lorenzo Romar-coached team, featuring a certain future #1 overall draft pick who now plays for Missouri.  But, I guess that’s not important.

You want something to root for?  Root for steady progress.  Root for this team building a real identity.  Root for the Huskies to pick up the intensity on defense.  Ultimately, root for this team to be better in March than it is right now.  So that maybe NEXT year we can dream a little bigger.  Dream about a spot in the NCAA Tournament in 2019 or 2020.  That’s not too much to ask.

It is too much to ask this team to be good right now.  So, don’t get your panties in a wad when they look awful.

Coach Hop Is Rounding Out His 2017 Class

After all the defections and transfers, we’re finally at a point where a team is starting to take shape for the 2017/2018 season.  First, there were a couple of lower-level pick-ups in Michael Carter III and Nate Pryor, both guards.  Then, they were able to hang onto erstwhile Romar recruit Jaylen Nowell, who is also a guard.  In lieu of going after some JuCo transfers (who are notoriously difficult for the Huskies to bring in, due to our stupid high academic standards), Coach Hop has opted to poach from his old New York stomping grounds, in picking up shooting guard Nahziah Carter (who just so happens to be Jay-Z’s nephew), and 6’8 small forward Hameir Wright (who was thought to be a 2018 recruit, but is planning to reclassify to this year).

What this continues to emphasize is the Huskies’ considerable lack of big men.  Dickerson is the only real true power forward on the roster, and our two centers are a couple of nobodies in Sam Timmins and Devenir Duruisseau.  Which means that we’re either going to be playing A LOT of small ball, or we’re going to be giving considerable playing time to a couple of ineffective centers just to play defense and hopefully not get in anyone’s way.

Ideally, the Huskies would find a way to make quasi-small ball work, with Dickerson at center and Wright at power forward, but that’s going to hinge on those two not getting into constant foul trouble.  If they can manage that, this isn’t as crazy as it sounds.  Mostly because the Huskies have a lot of good height among their swingmen.  Nahziah Carter is 6’5, Nowell is 6’4, Thybulle is 6’5, Green is 6’6, Carlos Johnson is 6’4, Carter III is 6’4.  The only guy who really figures to get a lot of playing time who’s under 6’4 is David Crisp.  As long as we defend well and give a lot of effort in the rebounding department, we shouldn’t get too killed for being undersized (except when we play the Arizonas of the world, which is what it is).

I’m keeping my expectations pretty low in his first season, understanding that these types of transitions take time to really make an impact.  At this point, I’d settle for a team that’s fun to watch and maybe wins a few games it shouldn’t, but ultimately loses too many games it should, and finds itself in the N.I.T. range.  With the way the NBA is turning into a long-range shooting league, you’d think that sort of strategy would be ideal for a small-ish team like the Huskies, to just spread everyone out, drive the lane, and pass the ball well.  Ultimately, where size might kill us is defensively, if teams continuously decide to go after the likes of Dickerson to get him into foul trouble.  Hopefully, the coaching staff is working on making up for this deficiency somehow.

Noah Dickerson Is Staying With The Huskies

By crikey, it’s been nothing but reasonably good news for the Washington Huskies men’s basketball program since its nadir about a month ago!  I mean, honestly, how could it get much worse?  The Dawgs just finished the season 9-22 (including only a whopping 2 wins in conference play).  They fired longtime head coach (and one of the best-ever in program history) Lorenzo Romar.  They lost out on 4/5 of their top-notch recruiting class (and one of the best two or three in the entire nation).  And, they were looking at a bevy of potential defections from last year’s team, including the aforementioned Noah Dickerson.

Well, after testing the waters as it were, including a trip to the University of Virginia (where I’m certain the chances of playing for a winning program and an NCAA Tournament berth were paramount among the coaching staff’s sales pitch), Noah Dickerson has indeed decided to stay with the University of Washington.

WHEW!

I know that looked sarcastic, but it actually is a relief that Dickerson is staying.  Obviously, Husky basketball has been on a downward spiral for a while now, but Dickerson is still a capable and productive big man at the Pac-12 level.  Among returning players, he’s second in scoring and first in rebounds from last season.  He also – as has been pointed out in various articles and blog posts – really came on late in the season, particularly in the last four games where he averaged 21 points and 10 boards in the absence of Markelle Fultz.  Now, obviously, you could look at that and say, “Of COURSE his numbers went up with Fultz going out!  Who else was going to pick up the slack on that team?”  And, obviously, the answer is no one.  The Huskies had no one else last year.  Not a God damned person.  But, you know, from the eye test, if nothing else, it looked like Dickerson really made some strides in his game.  Now, we’re going to pair that with a fresh set of coaching eyes in Mike Hopkins, who will hopefully be able to bring out even more in a talented ball of clay like Dickerson.

So, looking at the 2017/2018 Huskies now, we have an even clearer picture.  Returning, we have:  Crisp, Thybulle, Dickerson, and Carlos Johnson.  We’ve also got Dominic Green, who from what I’ve read, appears to be some sort of special project for Coach Hop.  He was quoted as saying something to the effect of how fans won’t even recognize Green next season, with all the improvements to his game.  If that’s the case, color me intrigued.  Also, for what it’s worth, Sam Timmins returns as another big man to throw onto the pile.  As has been noted pretty much everywhere, the Huskies have room to recruit more big men – almost certainly from the JuCo Transfer scrap heap – so stay tuned there.

On top of those returning players, we have Jaylen Nowell, who most certainly has the talent to step in and start right away.  You can pair him with Crisp at guard, with Johnson as a spark off the bench, with Thybulle and Green as your swing men, and Dickerson as your forward (or center, if you want to play small ball), on top of whatever we’re able to get out of our two other recruits – Michael Carter and Nate Pryor (who I still contend will be bench guys who hopefully see more playing time as the season progresses) – and I’m still not going to go overboard on this team’s potential, but I could be talked into the Huskies being something of a “surprise” team.  One that’s projected to be among the dregs, but out-plays its projections to be middle-of-the-road.

Obviously, without seeing these guys in action, I’m making some HUGE assumptions here.  I think a lot of it depends on what we’re able to get out of Timmins in his second season.  I highly doubt Romar ever wanted him to be our starter, but with the Dime injury in the middle of the season, Timmins got a lot more minutes than he probably deserved.  And, quite frankly, he didn’t look good at all.  You’re certainly not counting on him to be a heavy scorer, or even get a lot of looks down in the post, but you need Timmins to play good defense and clean up on the boards.  If you can just get that, and something similar from the JuCo ranks, and you can get the rest of this team to really buy in to the whole “playing defense” thing, I think that’s really your best bet for a fun and exciting Husky basketball season.

Somewhere out there, there’s an alternate universe that’s almost exactly the same as this one, except in that universe Lorenzo Romar didn’t get fired, and we’re looking at a team with his recruiting class coming in.  I feel like the alternate universe version of myself would be about as jacked up as can be about the prospects of that team; either it would be fantastic, and we’d ride that wave into the Tourney, or it would be a disaster, and we’d be out of our minds with fear and loathing.

In this universe, I’m still pretty jacked up for the upcoming season, but for very different reasons.  I can’t wait to see Coach Hop in action, I can’t wait to see how the players respond, and I really can’t wait to see the Huskies start winning some games they’re supposed to lose.  It’s been a while since I can remember the last honest-to-goodness upset go in our favor; usually it’s the other way around and it’s the Yale’s of the world upsetting us on our home court.  Any way you slice it, there’s going to be a lot to discuss about the Washington Husky basketball season later this year, and when was the last time you could say that?

Huskies Were Able To Keep Jaylen Nowell

Big news on the recruiting trail, as Jaylen Nowell decided to maintain his committment to the University of Washington.  He’s a 4-star guard out of Garfield High who is the only one out of Romar’s final (5-man) recruiting class before he was fired.

I’ll admit, I had my doubts on this one.  I thought it bode pretty poorly that A) his high school coach was recently hired by Wazzu to bolster their assistant coaching staff, and B) Lorenzo Romar himself was hired to be an assistant with the University of Arizona.  Oh yeah!  Did I bury the lede on this one?  Lorenzo Romar is with the Wildcats, as the rich get richer (side note:  his contract apparently pays him $400K per year).

To be fair, with the prior stories coming out that even after Romar had been fired, he was still encouraging players to stick with the University of Washington, in the ultimate Good Guy move to end all Good Guy moves, it seemed unlikely that he would subsequently try to poach Nowell.  And, also to be fair, we have no idea Arizona’s level of interest in a player like Nowell.  Maybe they’re stuffed to the gills with 4-star guards!  I have no idea and I refuse to do any research on the topic.  Nevertheless, there was always the outside chance that Nowell would’ve been so smitten with Romar that he would’ve followed him wherever he went.  It’s just nice to see the University of Washington and Coach Hop have at least a little sway in the community.

I find it terribly interesting how this Romar to Arizona thing plays out.  He is, if nothing else, a boss recruiter, and I’m sure all those relationships he’s built with future recruits will MORE than translate.  I mean, if he was close to getting some brilliant 2018-and-beyond recruits to come to Washington, imagine how much easier it’ll be for him to convince them to go to a place like Arizona!  As a Husky fan, it’s gut-wrenching, because I think this sets up the Wildcats to be even better than they already would’ve been (as it stands, they were always going to be at or near the top of the conference).  I think this puts them in the conversation to make the Final Four and be a HUGE juggernaut in the years to come.

I also wonder just how long he is for a place like Arizona.  You’re talking about a guy with significant head coaching experience.  If he’s this quick to stay in the game he loves, that tells me he’s still got the hunger in him.  In which case, I’m sure he’s itching to get back in the hotseat somewhere, to control a program his way.  What an opportunity like this affords him is that he’ll be able to write his own check, so to speak.  Say what you will about his last few years at Washington, there’s no denying he was able to get some very high-profile recruits to play here.  Now, imagine you’re a higher profile school like Texas or UConn or Florida or something.  I’m just picking names out of a hat here, but imagine you’re a bigtime university who wants to be a bigtime basketball program (or you’re a recent basketball power who fell on some hard times).  If you hire Romar, it’s going to be MUCH easier for him to recruit those 4-star & 5-star guys than it was for him at Washington.  He won’t need to make deals with the Porter’s Fathers of the world to get incredible talent.  When you tack on a successful short-term stint at Arizona, where he can point to bigtime players he’ll be able to help bring in, it’s going to be all that much easier for him to get a very high profile coaching gig.  And that’s saying nothing of the man’s character, which is his obvious primary selling point.  So, watch out for bigtime programs going through some NCAA troubles in the coming seasons.

The obvious ultimate destination for Romar is UCLA.  He was an assistant coach there in the early 90s, and while their current head coach, Steve Alford, has taken them to the Sweet 16 in three out of four years, the Bruins obviously have higher asperations.  Can you imagine Romar’s recruiting power if you gave him that job in Los Angeles, California?  I’m telling you, it will be a sight to behold.

As for Nowell, this really softens the blow after the exodus following Romar’s dismissal.  Pair him with Crisp and Thybulle in the backcourt and you’ve got something there.  Again, this doesn’t diminish the fact that the Huskies have little-to-no depth – particularly in the front court – but for now I’m just going for them to not be collosal embarrassments.  Anything resembling the Huskies being a fun team to watch in Year One I’m going to consider a success.  Anything beyond that is something out of my wildest dreams.  Baby steps with the new regime.  They get a hearty KUDOS from me in getting a very important local player to stay local.  Add him to the other two guards we brought in, and it looks like we’re more than set in that end of the court.  Now, bring in a big man or two, and convince Noah Dickerson to stick around, and I might even allow myself to dare to dream!