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.

Holy Shitballs The Huskies Are Still Undefeated!

The Huskies went into Arizona and came away with a hard-fought 67-60 victory. Even though the Wildcats are down – much like the rest of the Pac-12 this year – it’s still never easy to win in their gym, so I’d venture to say this was one of the more impressive Husky victories of the season.

Noah Dickerson did, indeed, return to action, though he was kept out of the starting lineup in favor of Sam Timmins (Hameir Wright didn’t play at all due to illness). I wonder if the Huskies were going to feel this game out and decide as they went whether or not Dickerson would actually see any action. Like, if the Huskies had jumped out to an early 15 point lead or something, would they have kept Dickerson on the shelf? Odds are, not starting him was a way to simply limit his minutes. If he went out in the first half and didn’t have it, then they could’ve rested him the rest of the way and saved him for ASU tomorrow.

Either way, Dickerson was a welcome sight! He only put up 10 points and 3 boards, but he accounted for a bunch of the foul trouble that Arizona found themselves in during the second half, including sending their best big man to the bench with 4 fouls for a long time.

As usual, there were plenty of stars to go around. David Crisp continued his quality play, finishing with 17 points to lead the team. Matisse Thybulle was the straw that stirred the drink, with 15 points, 5 blocks, and 5 steals. One can only wonder what he would’ve finished with if he hadn’t been in so much foul trouble late in the game. Jaylen Nowell had a quiet game with 12 points, 6 boards, and 4 assists, but always came up big when the team needed a boost. And, Naz Carter started off as cold as can be, but finished on fire with 10 points, 4 boards, and 2 steals.

It was a tough back-and-forth game in the first half, as both teams traded turnovers like they were kids in the 50’s trading baseball cards. The Huskies managed a 1-point lead at the break, then got out to a quick start in the second half, managing to keep the Wildcats at arm’s length the rest of the way. None of our typical cold spells; there was always an answer to every Arizona run.

We go on to play Arizona State tomorrow night, which I GUESS is the second-best team in the conference, but holy fucking hell they just lost to the now 2-win Cougars by 21 points in their own arena! I had it in the back of my mind that if the Huskies beat the Sun Devils that might guarantee the Pac-12 is a 1-bid conference, but even if we LOSE that might be a safe assumption!

I’d still like to see the Huskies get to 11-0 in conference. This is our last chance for a quality win in the regular season, and say what you will about the Pac-12 and the Sun Devils, but they were able to beat some good teams in their non-conference slate and the rankings like them accordingly. Not that I’m worried about the Huskies making the Tourney anymore – I feel like that’s a foregone conclusion at this point – but I would like to get as high a seed as possible, to make it interesting.

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 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!

The Husky Basketball Team Is Winning The Games They’re Supposed To Win

Since I last wrote about the Husky basketball team, they finished out the 2K Classic by getting blown out against Virginia Tech.  You could argue that both Providence and Virginia Tech are simply better basketball teams than the Washington Huskies, and you’d most likely be right.  They’re probably on par with most of the teams the Huskies will face in conference play, which is a scary proposition, but it makes sense.  They’re still gelling into a unit; they’re not ready to face the likes of major conference teams, or even the better Mid-Majors for that matter.  It’s going to take time; it might even take the whole season.  I guess we’ll find out.

Since then, the Huskies have ripped off three wins in a row against inferior competition:  Seattle U, UC Davis, and Kennesaw State.  In those games, we’ve learned a little more about the make up of this Husky basketball team.

Jaylen Nowell, at times, looks like the best player on the floor.  Other times, he looks like a Freshman, tentative and passive.  But, he’s clearly the most talented ball-handler on the Huskies, and over time should be the guy we turn to in crunch time to get the tough baskets.  He had 25 against Seattle and 21 against UC Davis, before a clunker of a game against K-State.  When he’s consistently leading this team in points, I think we’ll start to see something magical.

Noah Dickerson is our rock.  He won’t always be on fire, and sometimes he’s going to get into foul trouble, but whenever we get him going down low, it’s just going to open up so many things for our outside shooters.

Matisse Thybulle does it all.  He truly looks like he was made to play in this style of defense, as he’s 3rd in the nation in steals at 3.6 per game.  I think what we’re looking for is more consistency at the offensive end.  What he needs is improved confidence.  If he can just get a higher percentage of his shots to fall, he’s going to be a real weapon for this team as a 3rd/4th option.  With his defensive abilities, that’ll be a lethal combination.

David Crisp is a lot of things, but lacking in confidence isn’t one of them.  The Huskies will always be at their best when he’s hitting his shots, but at this point it doesn’t appear that he’s taken a great leap forward in his efficiency in that area.  So far, he’s actually averaging fewer shots per game, which is probably appropriate.  I don’t think you want to count on him to be your leading scorer game-in and game-out.  He’s at his best when he’s getting to the foul line, but if we’ve already got Nowell for that, I’d really like to see him bone up on his 3-point shot.  Those daggers he hits at the end of games are vital!  Let’s try to work on that form and have that be your game.

Finally, I’ll say that I’m pretty impressed with what I’ve seen out of Sam Timmins so far.  He didn’t look like he belonged anywhere NEAR a basketball court last year, and I’ll admit I was more than a little concerned with the prospect of him seeing more playing time this year due to the team’s lack of depth at the 4 and 5 spots.  But, he’s actually looked competent in the middle!  You don’t expect a lot out of him, but he’s a big man who can clean up the boards, hit some put-backs, and block a shot now and again.  Considering the talent around him, that’s all I really want from my starting center!  He’s not integral to the team’s success, so you don’t have to have him out on the floor to run the offense; they can easily drop him to go Small Ball on an opposing team.  But, if Dickerson gets into foul trouble, it’s nice to know we have Timmins in there to keep things running semi-smoothly.  Maybe in a year or two, he can develop more of an offensive game, but for now, he’s exactly what this team needs.

There’s one more candycane tune up against Omaha this weekend before the gauntlet of Kansas and Gonzaga.  I’m not expecting much out of either of those games, but it’ll be interesting nevertheless to see where we stand against some of the greats.

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?