Husky Basketball Is Going Down The Shitter

On New Year’s Eve, I wrote about how the Huskies were in great shape heading into conference play. Then, six games and a Quade Green suspension (for lack of a better word) later, here we are, 2-4 in Pac-12 play, coming off of our best remaining chance for a real signature victory.

The Baylor game feels like a million years ago.

Earlier, I was harping on offensive rebounds, and they’re still a problem, but not as glaring as before. It’s just a lot of little things. Slow starts, an inability to get the ball to Isaiah Stewart in the post, an inability to shoot from behind the arc, turnovers, poor free throw shooting, lack of a true point guard.

The loss at home to Oregon on Saturday was a bitter pill. Of course, ANY loss to Oregon is a bitter pill, but this one really hurt our chances of making the NCAA Tournament. A win there, and it’s not hard to imagine that – combined with a victory over Baylor (still their only loss of the season, as they’ve risen to #1 in the AP Poll) – would’ve been enough for a .500 Husky team to sneak into an 11 or 10 seed. But, now we REALLY need to rip off a lot of wins the rest of the way, as well as make a good showing in the Pac-12 Tourney.

The loss to the Ducks is even worse considering how much we dominated that game, up as many as 16 points with under 14 minutes to play.

One big issue the Huskies need to rectify in a hurry is figuring out our rotation. We pulled Marcus Tsohonis’ red shirt with the Quade Green fiasco, as it doesn’t look like Elijah Hardy is ready to take on a starter’s load. Tsohonis looked great against the Beavers, and that continued through the first half against the Ducks. But, there was some sloppy ball-handling down the stretch, as well as his BRUTAL 0 for 4 at the free throw line that ultimately cost us any chance at winning that one.

He was not alone in the blame.

It’s hard to watch Jaden McDaniels right now, because he looks absolutely dreadful. He might go on to greatness in the NBA – he might even turn things around this season in a likely one-and-done college career – but he’s fucking awful and has been this team’s biggest disappointment (yes, even bigger than a 5-star point guard ruled academically ineligible for a quarter). He’s a mediocre 3-point shooter; he shoots WAY too many long 2-pointers. He thinks he’s a better passer and ball-handler than he actually is; he turns it over way too much. In general, he seems like a bad decision-maker and has a bad overall attitude (if he’s not getting baited into making angry, reactionary fouls, then he just looks like a sulking, pissy baby). I think it’s clear he has zero interest in the game of college basketball and is counting down the days until he can go pro and forget all of this ever happened. Of course, as this is happening, his stock is clearly falling, because what has he brought to the table? How has he progressed since his high school days? I’m sure he’ll still get picked in the first round based on potential, but he could’ve gone in the Top 10 or Top 5 if he decided to actually give a shit.

Most of all, the Huskies just don’t have anyone who can create late in games when we absolutely need a bucket. The last ten minutes of regulation against Oregon were the most excruciating moments of my life, and I’ve had a catheter tube ripped from my pee-hole! The book is out on Washington: double or triple-team Isaiah Stewart and force literally anyone else (mostly Hameir Wright and his 28.6% field goal percentage) to try to beat you. If the Huskies go cold from long range, there’s no one who can dribble drive and create in the paint. There’s no Jaylen Nowell or Isaiah Thomas; hell, I’d settle for Game Overton at this point!

That play-maker was supposed to be McDaniels, but clearly he’s got his own thing going and that’s cool. It’s weird that the Huskies played their best, most complete game of the season against Oregon State last Thursday (a 64-56 victory that only got THAT close in garbage time) when McDaniels was out with an ankle injury.

I wonder if the biggest problem for this team isn’t the fact that we have TOO MANY good players. There just aren’t enough minutes – or enough shots – to go around. It feels like Naz Carter has gotten lost in the shuffle a little bit when he’s this team’s only quality upper classman. Also, I feel like this would be the perfect team for someone like RaeQuan Battle – who got serious minutes against the Beavers and scored 11 points, though he did struggle against the Ducks – to be a role player off the bench that brings a little spark. But, for defensive purposes, you’ve gotta give Wright and Bey significant minutes, you’re not going to sit Carter or Stewart, and every team needs a point guard. With McDaniels as the wild card (apparently), there are some solid role players who are totally buried this year. Nate Roberts should be playing more! Sam Timmins isn’t anything special, but he deserves more than garbage-time minutes!

Oddly enough, the Huskies might actually be better next year. It sounds crazy, when you know we’ll lose Stewart – who is the best player in the Pac-12 and one of the best players in the nation – but with everyone else we’re bringing back, plus a year’s experience, maybe we were a year too early on projecting great things for the Huskies.

It’s tough to be consistent when you’re playing so many Freshmen and Sophomores. We knew that all along. But, I was hoping by mid-January, this thing would’ve clicked, and we’d gel into a true contender. Instead, we’re gonna be scrambling just to make the N.I.T.

I never thought I’d actually finding myself looking forward to baseball season, but here we are.

Husky Basketball Heads Into Conference Play In Great Shape

Look, maybe not the BEST shape, but still pretty good shape.

The Huskies went 10-3 in non-conference play, and outside from an annoying loss to Houston in the Diamond Head Classic finals on Christmas Day, things went about as well as can be expected. We beat a top-10 team in Baylor on a neutral site, we narrowly lost to the #1 team in the nation, Gonzaga, and we lost to a very good Tennessee team that should make the NCAA Tournament when all is said and done. And, assuming Houston can get their shit together, there very well shouldn’t be a bad loss in the bunch.

As I write this, Washington has fallen out of the Top 25 for the second time this season, but we’re right there. We’re pretty well-regarded, and more importantly, we’re in a conference that’s pretty well-regarded (especially compared to the last few years). Oregon sits at #4, Arizona is #25, Colorado is #26, and even Stanford is in the “others receiving votes” with all of 1 vote. So, we’re all feeling good about what’s going on here.

In conference play, we get the Arizona schools twice, the Bay Area schools twice, the L.A. schools twice, and the Cougs twice. That means we play the Oregon schools just once (in Seattle, in mid-January) and the mountain schools on the road the following week. Ideally, you’d like to get a couple cracks at taking down Oregon, but you play the games you get. If we can find a way to beat them on our home court, all we have to do is not totally fall apart and I think that’s good enough to get us in the Tourney. Otherwise, we’ll want to hover around the top 3 or 4 teams in the conference and make a good showing in the Pac-12 Tourney. But, that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

I think it’s safe to say that Washington is a program still trying to find itself. Isaiah Stewart was billed as one of the very best players in the nation coming out of high school, and I think he’s very much lived up to the hype. It’s been an absolute joy to watch him hit the ground running, averaging 19/9 with 61% shooting percentage and a very respectable (for a college big man) 73% free throw percentage.

After Stewart, it’s been very up & down for the rest of our crew. Jaden McDaniels is the consensus Biggest Upside prospect, but he’s been probably the biggest wild card of the bunch. He can do it all – shoot, dribble-drive, dish, rebound, block shots, get steals – but he still makes a lot of mistakes (3.5 turnovers per game to lead the team) and in general some of his decision making & shot selection has been a little suspect. If he finds a way to put it all together, this team has no limit to how far it can go. My biggest fear is that he doesn’t put it all together until he gets to the pros, and this will most definitely be his only season in a Husky uniform.

Naz Carter continues to improve with every passing season, averaging 13 points and 6 boards, while being probably our best outside shooter and a capable shot-maker in the paint. He also falls into the trap of poor decision-making and goes a little too much to the Hero Ball type of game for my liking. But, he’s clutch; he’s already nailed some huge outside shots late in the game, and there isn’t anyone else I’d rather have shooting that shot in crunch time.

Hameir Wright also continues to improve, but he shoots almost exclusively from the outside, and at 27.5%, is going to need to keep getting better as the season goes on. I love his length, I love his defensive presence, I love pretty much everything about his game … except for the fact that he bricks WAY too many threes. Fix that, and he’s this team’s X-factor.

Quade Green, after a rough start, has really picked up his game of late. He’s the only solid point guard type on the roster, but his shooting has picked up a great deal, sitting at 46% from long range, which is best on the team. He’s averaging 11 points, 5 assists, and has reduced his turnovers to just a tick over 2 per game, which is excellent. Honestly, no notes! Keep up the great work!

The Huskies have mainly focused on a 6-man rotation (the 7th man being Sam Timmins, who mostly spells Stewart for 8 minutes a game, which is really all you want him in there for) with Jamal Bey being the first man off the bench. Bey is only in his second season, and he’s giving you pretty much what you’d expect a second-year player to give you (particularly one who played sparingly as a Freshman). I love everything about Bey’s game from a defensive standpoint, as I feel he gives us 80-85% of Matisse Thybulle on that side of the ball. I just need him to hit a higher percentage of outside shots (he’s currently at 32% from long range) and he’d be perfect. Considering that was also Thybulle’s biggest weakness as a college player, and you could say he’s 80-85% of Thybulle from every aspect; as such, I look forward to great things in the next two years. Ideally, though, for the 2019/2020 Huskies to make a deep Tourney run, they’ll need to see a bump in production from someone like Bey in conference play.

I’d say the lack of bench production could hurt this team, particularly if we can’t find someone off the bench to hit a respectable number of ourside shots. I’m disappointed -as I think we all are – that RaeQuan Battle isn’t getting more of an opportunity. With his size, I can’t imagine he’d be a liability on defense; and we have enough guys who can bring the ball up court. Seems to me we should be able to find a way to carve out 10 minutes per game to get the sharp-shooter in there on a regular basis to boost this team’s scoring.

As anticipated, the Huskies’ size is giving teams fits down low. But, our lack of rebounding ability is starting to become a problem (it’s the sole reason why we lost that Houston game). Maybe that was just an off night, but if we don’t bring the effort in that area, then what good is having all that length? Especially when we don’t have enough outside shooting to compensate for opposing teams doubling us in second-chance points.

I’m still pretty high on the Huskies. I believe we’ve made a lot of progress from the start of the season to today, and I believe there’s still room for this team to grow in the weeks ahead. The goal all along has been to get back to the NCAA Tournament, and I think we’ve done enough to get in (assuming, of course, that we don’t completely fall apart from here on out). Now, our goal needs to be to get a Top 5 or Top 6 seed. That’s not unreasonable! Good enough to avoid the really BIG heavies until the Sweet 16 or so. Get to the Sweet 16, and let the chips fall where they may from there.

I think we can do it! Gotta keep building up that resume.

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 Future Looks Bright For Husky Basketball

Of course, where do you put the emphasis in that sentence? “The Future LOOKS Bright” vs. “The Future Looks BRIGHT” can make all the difference.

The Huskies took care of business against a bad Cal team on Saturday. After a sluggish start – where the Huskies started off shooting 1/14 – we managed to take a 1-point lead at half, as our shooting woes reversed. That lead ballooned out to an eventual 19-point victory, which was just what this team needed as we embark on a tough trip to Oregon this week.

The victory makes us 5-0 in conference, half a game ahead of Arizona, and 14-4 overall. As I wrote about on Friday, if we break up the season into 6-game chunks, the Huskies need to go 3-3, then 5-1, to properly align themselves for an At Large bid. I would honestly settle for going 1-1 the next three weeks, if it’s all the same to you. Anything above and beyond that would be all the better.

But, that’s not the only reason why the future looks bright. Over the weekend, the Huskies got a verbal committment from a 5-star big man (Isaiah Stewart), a guy rated 6th in the country heading into 2019. There’s a lot of good information here, so go read all about it! The Huskies now have a Top 20 recruiting class for next year, and that could very well jump up, depending on where the local kid decides to go. As it is, we’ve got three guys coming in, two in the Top 100 (Stewart and RaeQuan Battle) and another guy in the Top 300 (Marcus Tsohonis). That’s on top of transfer Quade Green, who will be eligible to start halfway into next season (I don’t get how that works; why can’t he just sit out the rest of this year and play from the start next season?).

That’s A LOT of talent coming into the program! Sure, the Big Three (Crisp, Dickerson, Thybulle) will be leaving after this season (maybe the Big Four if Nowell decides to leave early), but could we be talking about a team that might actually improve over whatever this 2018/2019 team does? That’s certainly on the table, if the new guys can gel quickly.

Of course, what’s also on the table is something akin to what we saw out of a lot of those later Romar seasons: Freshman studs playing hero ball, en route to an N.I.T. finish, with our NBA hopefuls sitting out late in the season to preserve their bodies for the Draft.

Look, I just don’t trust 5-star guys around these parts. We’re not Duke, we’re not Kentucky. We generally don’t have sufficient depth to pair with those highly-rated guys to make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. One & Done players look out for themselves and that’s it. Washington is as good a place as any to showcase one stud’s amazing talent – Markelle Fultz is a testament to that – but we don’t matter on the national scene like those other programs.

I hope I’m proven wrong, and this is the beginning of something huge. I’d like to believe Washington can be a powerhouse, but I’ve been burned so many times before. At this point, I’ll believe it when I actually see it.