Andrew Andrews Is Pretty Great

The last great Husky basketball team was from the 2010/2011 season.  Isaiah Thomas’ last year, MBA and Justin Holiday playing big minutes; Wilcox, Ross (as a Freshman), Suggs, Overton, Gant, Aziz, all rounding out a deep and quality roster that saw this team run the table through the Pac-12 Tournament (with IT’s Cold Blooded moment against Arizona one of the most iconic single plays in the program’s history), nab a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and lose in the Round of 32 by three points to an Elite Eight-bound North Carolina Tar Heels team.

THAT … was a fun Husky basketball team.

Every year since then, I’ve tried to talk myself into this being a fun basketball team to watch.  As my expectations dwindled, I at least had hope that there’d be some entertainment value to those teams.  The 2011/2012 season saw two NBA prospects (Ross & Wroten) lead the team to a regular season conference title; but a first round exit in the Pac-12 Tournament relegated that team to the N.I.T.  The 2012/2013 season was built around C.J. Wilcox and not a whole lot else; they were bounced in the first round of the N.I.T.  We had hope for the 2013/2014 season with Wilcox in his senior year, alongside heavily hyped Nigel Williams-Goss, Andrew Andrews in his second year, and JuCo transfer Perris Blackwell rounding out our front court with some other hold-overs we hoped would see some natural improvement.  That team wasn’t even good enough to qualify for the N.I.T.  Which led us to last season, where we bottomed out with a mighty 5 conference wins.  NWG returned for his second season, Andrews was an upper-classman, Robert Upshaw transferred here and looked like the real deal, and Shawn Kemp went into his senior season.  By all accounts, last year’s team should have been something special, or at least A LITTLE better than it was.  Instead, Upshaw got kicked off the team, and the rest of the roster never really meshed.

Which brings us to this year, where the only notable hold-overs are Andrew Andrews and Donaven Dorsey.  Romar’s incoming Freshman class was one of the highest rated in the country (and maybe his highest rated ever), but with that comes a lot of uncertainty.  Would Romar be able to mold everyone into shape in time?  Would the players play well with one another?  Or, would they all be playing for themselves, in hopes to parlay their individual successes into NBA stardom?

It’s taken me a while to want to write about this Husky team, because aside from Andrews, I didn’t know much at all about these guys, aside from what I read in the newspapers.  But, reading about basketball is nothing compared to watching it, and soaking it all in.  I can say, from what I’ve seen so far this season, there’s A LOT to like.

For starters, I just have to say this, Andrew Andrews is playing out of his mind.  As the only senior on this team, he’s had a lot on his plate since the minute last season ended.  And, he has absolutely come through like gangbusters!  I’m sure everyone respects Romar and the other coaches, but basketball teams need on-court leaders, and Andrews has been that and then some.  When you factor in all the youth (six Freshmen playing regular minutes, with a transfer – Dime – also new to the program), this team was only going to go as far as Andrews was able to carry them, especially early in the season, when everyone was just getting used to playing together.

So, what has Andrews done?  Well, he’s leading the team in minutes (33), points (21.7), and free throws attempted and made (189 & 159, respectively).  He leads all guards in shooting percentage (.401%), and he’s second on the team in rebounds, assists, and steals per game (6.2, 4.7, & 1.4 respectively).  Andrews has always had the reputation as sort of a loose cannon when it came to the way he’d jack up crazy shots, but you don’t score over 1,500 points in your career by passing the ball all the time!  He’s currently ranked in the Top 10 of all time Husky scorers, just ahead of legends Detlef Schrempf and Brandon Roy.  Right now, he has 1,513 points.  If he manages to average 20 points per game the rest of the regular season, he’ll end up with 1,733, which would put him just ahead of IT for 7th all time.  An extended Pac-12 Tourney run, with a likely N.I.T. or NCAA Tourney appearance, and it wouldn’t be impossible to see him get up into the 1,800 range (he’d need to finish with 1,805 to tie Jon Brockman for 3rd all time).

In short, Andrew Andrews will go down as one of the greatest Huskies of all time.  I know points aren’t everything, and he’s played on some pretty bad teams the last three years; if he weren’t having the year he’s having now, with the success this team is having so far, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation.  But, he IS having the year he’s having, and this team IS successful so far, and Andrew Andrews is the biggest reason why.  If he’s able to lead this team back to the NCAA Tourney – after so many years in the wilderness with supposedly more talented players (Wroten, Ross, NWG) – then I don’t see how you don’t include Andrews in the same breath as the greats like IT, Roy, Brockman, Pondexter, Nate Rob, and the rest.  Here’s a guy who’s loyal, who stayed through his senior season, who was forced to play behind some highly-recruited 4-star prospects, who’s now shining the brightest when given the opportunity to lead his own team.  He’s the consummate Romar Guy, who has improved each and every year of his college career, and is finally reaping the rewards of all that hard work.  He’s one of the best players in the Pac-12 right now, and absolutely deserves to be in the discussion for Pac-12 Player of the Year.

This was going to be a different post, but sort of morphed into a love letter to Andrew Andrews.  I dunno, I feel like a lot of Husky fans are skeptical about the guy.  Like he’s all of a sudden going to fall apart, watch his field goal percentage plummet, and start jacking up even more crazy shots to compensate.  Do the haters not see how he’s getting so many of his points at the free throw line?  38.5% of his overall points are from free throws!  That’s crazy and awesome!  He’s going to find a way to get his and contribute to this team’s success, even if he has an off shooting night here and there.

But, probably more importantly, as this season continues, there’s going to be less and less of a need for Andrews to be The Guy.  As players like Dejounte Murray and David Crisp start to assert themselves, and as our bigs get more comfortable with the college game and the way fouls are called … I mean, we’re already starting to see those guys step their games up.  But, going forward, I would anticipate there will be less pressure on Andrews to carry the whole team.  He’ll be free to play within the flow of the game and continue to contribute in his usual ways, with the peace of mind to know that it doesn’t have to be ALL on him.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about the rest of the team, as Husky Basketball Week prattles on.

That’s All Folks: Husky Basketball Season Ends In Yet Another Defeat

The Huskies finished their 2014/2015 season with a 16-15 record, 5-14 in conference play (including the Pac-12 Tourney).  Yep, after starting the season 11-0 in non-conference play (including impressive wins over Oklahoma and San Diego State), the Huskies finished the season losing 15 of their last 20 games (many times in brutal fashion).

A lot went wrong this year, no doubt about it.  Robert Upshaw was kicked off the team.  Jernard Jarreau missed a bunch of games with injury.  Shawn Kemp Jr. missed a few games towards the end with injury.  NWG even had to miss a game, as well as a couple of minor role players.  It hasn’t been pretty.  We’ve been forced to play guys who have no business being on the same court as other major conference schools.

Naturally, though, our lack of success falls on the head coach, Lorenzo Romar.  It has to, we’re talking about four consecutive years without making the NCAA Tournament.  There’s too much talent out there to be this bad for this long.  At the same time, it’s not like the Pac-12 has been this huge powerhouse in the last four years.  It shouldn’t be THAT hard to be one of the best three teams in this conference.

You could say the team has been snakebitten by injuries in recent years, but if we’re putting all of our eggs in the Jernard Jarreau basket, then really, how good were our chances to begin with?  This year looked to be different, but you can see how the lack of depth is killing us.  As soon as we lost Upshaw, we immediately became the worst team in the conference.  We were able to cobble together a fairly strong starting five this year (I include Upshaw in that statement, even though he was relegated to being the 6th man; he still played starter’s minutes), but we had absolutely nothing going on with our bench.

The problem with Romar, as far as I can tell, is that while he’s a good recruiter, and a good leader, and a fine, upstanding role model; his gameday decision-making is a little suspect.  I’m not going to sit here and say the man doesn’t know what he’s doing – I think he did the best with what he had, as the roster fell apart around him – but you can’t help coming away from these games wondering what the plan was, or if there even WAS a plan.  His teams in recent years haven’t excelled at anything.  The defense has been routinely suspect; he seems to have given up on his old, tenacious style of swarming defense (either because he can’t find the right people to run it, or because it’s impossible to bring in quality basketball players on a foundation of defense, because all anyone ever wants to do is show off how well they can score).  The offense doesn’t appear to ever know what it wants to do.  Are we a running team?  Are we a half-court team?  Are we a high-post team?  Are we whatever the hell we were before we started running this high-post?

I would say, beyond the simple gameday stuff, the real menace has been in who he has recruited to come here, and his player development.  These are two aspects of Romar’s job description that tend to receive the most praise.  While he has nearly always struggled to recruit quality big men to UW, we’ve always had a quality guard or two.  I mean, just look at the track record of success of getting guys into the NBA; he’s not over here puttering on the fringes.  He’s bringing in bigtime talent and pushing them through to the show!

And, while that’s great for the star players, and it’s great for Romar’s reputation as a recruiter, it hasn’t translated to a whole lot of success on the college basketball court.  The coach and players get what they want, but what about the team?  Through last year, there have been ten players drafted into the NBA under Romar’s watch.  Upshaw is another talented player who figures to at least get a shot – even with his checkered past – and the jury is still out on whether NWG is a bona fide NBA player, but with his pedigree and hype, I bet he finds his way onto a roster.  Yet, with ALL this talent we’ve had grace this program, what do we have to show for it?  Three Sweet 16 appearances and that’s it.  In 13 seasons.

Romar’s best attribute has been his ability to mold players who are totally inept into quality Pac-10/12 players by the time they’re Seniors.  But, if his plan is to keep recruiting stud athletes, he’s going to have to do a better job of coaching players up in year 1.  Our return on investment is pretty much nil with these guys.  I mean, with all the first-year players we had on our team this year, not ONE was able to break out and at least be a somewhat competent role player?  For all intents and purposes, we were merely running a 6-man rotation, with a couple extra duds thrown in just to give guys some time to rest.

I know it’s an unfair example, but when you look at teams like Kentucky, they’re out there running full starting lineups of Freshmen and getting the job done.  Why is it that seemingly our Freshmen – even our highly-touted ones – consistently underwhelm in year 1?  I feel like that’s a problem that’s not getting enough play.  It’s all well and good if you bring in a 4-year guy, and he makes big leaps in production from year to year.  But, we need help immediately!  We need MORE than one dominant player per season if we’re going to go anywhere!

Anyway, say what you will, but the calls are getting louder now for Romar to be fired.  I’ve always been a pretty big defender of keeping him the last few years, but at this point I’m on the fence.  If I had to put a number on it, I’d say 51% of me wants him to stay and 49% thinks we should just cut ties now and move on.  This isn’t nearly the same as Tyrone Willingham, because he was a fucking loser from Day 1.  Romar at least has a history of being relatively successful with UW.  That has certainly bought enough goodwill to get him to this point, but I wonder if it’ll carry him on into next season.

The crux of the matter is next year’s recruiting class, which is one of the better classes in the country.  We’ve all been kind of focused on this being the start of a turnaround for the program, but part of me wonders if it will even matter.  Is Romar the coach to do it?  Does he have what it takes?  And, if the program does decide to cut ties, what will become of all the players who promised to come here?  Will they go elsewhere in the conference?  Will this be the start of another Dark Age for the program?

I will remind everyone that the Huskies are NOT some historically great basketball school.  Before Romar, we had some marginal success in the 80s.  Before that, we had a pretty good run in the early 50s.  Before that, we had a good run in the 20s & 30s.  But, it’s not like there’s some dynasty in the history of this program.  No one – especially incoming Freshman and transfer students – gives two shits about what the Huskies did multiple decades ago.

If we’re going to turn this program around – and not have it be a blind fluke – we’re either going to need to find a real amazing recruiter (someone who’s probably a little shady, like Kentucky’s head guy), or we’re going to have to find a coach with a scheme that’s unique and super-difficult to match up against.  Who’s the next Chip Kelly of college basketball?  That’s who I’m talking about!  If we don’t find that diamond in the rough, then it really won’t surprise me to see this program spinning its wheels for the next two decades or more.

The bottom line is, it’s fun to be a mid-major like Gonzaga who finds the perfect head coach who not only chooses to stay for decades, but is a great recruiter and a great tactician on gameday.  But, it’s also pretty fucking easy to be that school – with that unicorn of a coach, who consistently dominates in fledgling conferences like the WCC, when your conference competition is nothing – and make the NCAA Tourney year-in and year-out.  The Huskies are at a real disadvantage, because we play in a REAL conference, that’s more or less loaded with talent up and down the standings.  Here’s to hoping we find that unicorn of a head coach, because more often than not, any kind of good head coach will see the Huskies as a stepping-stone and certainly not a final destination.

I’ve said it repeatedly in the past:  I don’t want to get rid of Romar for just anyone.  He needs to be legitimately better, and ideally he’d be someone willing to stick around for the long term.  Failing that, replacing Romar just to have someone different is no way to run a basketball program.

Husky Basketball Is Slipping

Well, it was a disaster of a weekend down in the Bay Area as the Huskies lost to Cal on Friday and followed that up with an overtime loss to Stanford on Sunday.  Like our loss to Stony Brook the Sunday prior, both of those games were within our grasp.  And, both of those games were given away thanks to an inept offense.

There’s going to be a lot of criticism being thrown around here, but before I get started, I want you to know one thing:  I don’t have a bad word to say about Robert Upshaw.  He’s doing everything he’s been asked and then some.  As players like Jarreau and Kemp find themselves in early foul trouble, Upshaw has been asked to enter games as our primo sixth man earlier and earlier.  And, he’s been forced to stay on the floor longer and longer.  Over the last three games, Upshaw has averaged nearly 33 minutes per game.  And, what’s more amazing is that this hasn’t led to a direct drop-off in production, as he’s still averaging nearly a double-double per game while averaging around 4 blocks per game over the last three.  Nothing is too big for this kid.  The competition picks up, and he picks his game up.  I’ve never been more convinced that he’s going to be a One & Done player for us.

As for everyone else, I’ll just say this:  they need to do more.

Shawn Kemp Jr. has looked great on the offensive side of the ball this year.  He’s cleaning up the boards and getting really good at making those put-backs.  He’s also a force in the alley-oop game, which tends to be pretty effective early in games before teams have a chance to adjust.  But, he needs to be better defensively.  He needs to STAY ON THE FLOOR.  Stop with the ticky-tack fouls, because you know the refs are going to call them every time!

Nigel Williams-Goss needs to be better with the basketball.  I see about four or five baffling decisions every game out of this kid.  He seems to think he’s so good with the basketball that he can complete any pass, no matter how small the window.  At the same time, NWG needs to be more selfish.  He’s giving up on some of these drives to the basket where he could easily finish, all in the name of boosting his assist numbers.  We don’t necessarily need more assists out of NWG, we need POINTS.  We need him creating shots for himself and we need him getting to the line with more regularity!  He’s averaging only 3 foul shot attempts per game; that’s ridiculous!  If these role players on this team won’t step up and start hitting shots, then NWG needs to take it upon himself and LEAD.

If someone could tell me what happened to Andrew Andrews, I’d be all ears.  After some clutch success early in the season, his outside jumper has gone in the tank.  Granted, part of his deal is poor shot selection, but that’s ALWAYS been his deal.  He’s hitting around 34% of his shots and 34% of his three pointers.  Unacceptable.  If that’s going to be the case, then I’m REALLY going to need him to drive the lane more.  He needs to find a way to finish at the rim and draw more contact, because we can’t have a shooting guard who chucks up bricks and lets other teams get out on fast breaks all day every day.

Mike Anderson?  If you’re going to be a starter and play starter’s minutes, then I’m going to need you to produce LIKE a starter!  I like what you bring to the table as far as rebounding and filling up the stat sheet is concerned, but I’m going to need you to be a little more selfish too.  Your percentages are good (48.6% overall, 40.6% behind the arc), but you need to be shooting more than five shots per game.  I dunno, maybe it’s time to bench Anderson.  Bring him off the bench with the express purpose of being a spitfire to jumpstart this offense.

Jarreau:  stop getting into foul trouble and stop shitting your pants on some of these passes into the post (especially when the other team drops into a zone defense).

Dorsey:  hit some fucking outside shots already!

Winters:  hit some fucking outside shots already!

Johnson:  hit some fucking outside shots already!

We can’t keep going in the tank offensively for minutes at a time.  Our defense is good, but it’s not THAT good.  NWG and Andrews need to take these opportunities to drive the lane and get to the line.  The role players need to hit some fucking shots already to take some of the pressure off of our stars.  EVERYONE needs to just play better, God Dammit!

These were two games we could have had and by all rights, these were two games we SHOULD have had.  They would have been a big boost to our RPI and our overall chances at cracking the Tourney.  If we’re not careful, we’re going to let this whole season slip away.

Next up:  we’ve got three straight home games against the northwest schools.  We absolutely, without a doubt, MUST sweep these three games.  Anything less than a three-game winning streak and I’m calling it right now.  It doesn’t really get any easier than what’s right in front of us.

Husky Basketball Nears Perfect Non-Conference Season

Since I last talked about the Huskies, they’ve since beaten a ranked Oklahoma team (then at #15) and a one-loss Tulane team, AND are now the 13th-ranked team in the country (so, yeah, I’m going to keep writing about them, as I know we can do better with the home sellouts).

Saturday’s neutral floor battle with the Sooners at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas was a thrilling up-and-down affair.  The Huskies grabbed a lead about three minutes in and never relinquished it.  The lead would balloon to 20 points in the first half before the Sooners closed to within 13 at half.  It was the best I’ve ever seen this team play this year, at the best possible time.  When the Huskies are playing their style of defense AND hitting jumpers at the other end?  Watch out, Pac-12, because you’ve got some trouble on your hands.

In the second half, the Sooners really walked back that 13-point advantage we had.  Slowly but surely, eating away at chunks; they’d get some, we’d grab some back, they’d go a little deeper, we’d push back.  All the way down to two points, with the ball in hand.  With three minutes left, Oklahoma had the possession that may have sealed the contest.  No less than THREE offensive rebounds off of missed shots, but they couldn’t convert.  That allowed us to go down and have NWG hit a jumper to bring the game back to four points.  They hit a free throw, Upshaw missed a BUNCH of free throws, then, they hit a jumper to pull to within a single point.

As close as you can get, but no dice.  After getting the ball back following a Husky miss, they had a final possession with under 20 seconds to go.  They got a decent-looking shot, but it looked rushed overall (and was certainly not shot by one of their star players) and it clanged around before Andrews picked up the rebound with less than a second to go.  He hit a free throw and intentionally missed the second to bring about the 2-point margin.

I know the story of that game right now is “Huskies Blow 20-Point Lead, Hold On For Dear Life”, but as long as Oklahoma can continue winning, all anyone is going to see at the end of the season is the ranked Huskies defeating another ranked team on a neutral floor.  THAT should be the story.  Yeah, that’s a pretty big fucking lead, but it was early in the game, and frankly, good teams are able to come back from large deficits all the time!  Hell, you’ll see these very Huskies come back from similar deficits at points this year, so don’t piss your pants or anything.

That single game vaulted the Huskies three spots in the national rankings to 13th.  Not for nothing, but we’re officially one spot ahead of Utah, who has been well-regarded since the first sets of rankings came out.

Last night, two days after that draining victory in Vegas, the Huskies were back home to take on the Tulane Green Wave.  I’m happy to say I got to see this one in person.  Baby steps with the whole attendance issue, but considering it’s a holiday week, I’ll take it.  Hell, we nudged across the 7,000 barrier for the first time all year!

What those seven grand & change witnessed was some sloppy-ass basketball, but that’s a Glass Half Empty perspective.  I much prefer the stance that this team is making some real adjustments at halftime for the first time since I can remember.  Tulane was 5 of 10 from behind the arc in the first half and finished the game 7 of 17.  Meaning:  we played better perimeter defense and funnelled them into the paint.

Where we’ve got Mr. Upshaw, who finished with 11 points 10 rebounds, and 6 blocks.  I said it before and I’ll say it again:  he’s destined to get a triple double this year where blocks are part of the “triple”.

Shawn Kemp was an alley-oop machine in this game, where we’re pretty sure at least six of his seven made baskets were dunks.  He finished with a game-high 16 points.  NWG was the only other Husky in double-figures with 14 points to go along with 9 assists.

Turnovers and rebounding were problematic.  18 turnovers in total, which is too many.  But, part of that can be explained away by fatigue (having travelled back & played a basketball game two days prior) and a simple lapse in the mental aspect of the game.  Coming off of an important game against a ranked opponent, to face a nothing school (at least, as far as RPI is concerned, I think Tulane is somewhere around 160), just a few days before Christmas where most of the campus is a ghost town.  The important thing, again, is just getting the win.  Avoiding losses against bad opponents is almost as vital as getting wins against impressive opponents when it comes to Tourney Time.

More important than turnovers, is the rebounding issue.  Tulane had 16 offensive rebounds to keep them in this game for most of it.  Overall, they out-rebounded us 36-33, which is simply unacceptable.  Teams are averaging a little over 13 offensive rebounds per game this year, which ultimately is going to bite us in the ass.  Granted, part of that is due to Upshaw blocking the world, but a lot of that is simply being out-hustled.  You could see it against Tulane – who, while talented, is probably closer to Grambling State on the basketball spectrum – as they just wanted it more.  They were crashing the boards and catching guys like Jarreau flat-footed on more than one occasion.

I’m sure it’s something they notice and are working on, but it’s their one major flaw.  If the Huskies can clean up some of the rebounding issues, this team is LEGIT.  Certainly worthy of their #13 ranking, as this is the best Husky team I’ve seen in nearly a decade.

The next game’s against Stony Brook on Sunday at 5pm (on the Pac-12 Network), so you won’t hear me badgering you about not paying attention to this team until after Christmas at least.  Stony Brook marks the end of conference play.  They’re not very good at much of anything, but it looks like they rebound well, so keep an eye on that.  We win that one, we’re perfect in non-conference and don’t play again until the following Friday on the road against Cal.

We’re ramping up!  Jump on the bandwagon while there’s still room!

The Huskies Thumped Grambling State Before A Pathetic Crowd

The Huskies played Grambling State last night, but the opponent doesn’t matter.  Yes, it was a tune-up game against a 2-win basketball team playing thousands of miles away from home.  A team two years removed from going 0-28, and a single year removed from winning all of 5 games.  Obviously, we’re not talking about a marquee matchup.  But, again, the opponent is irrelevant.  What’s most important is all the purple that can be seen in the stands.

Oh no, not the purple of a capacity crowd donning one of the school’s primary colors!  I’m talking about the purple of empty fucking seats.  In a 10,000-seat arena where there isn’t a bad view in the house.

I’m looking at you, aged Sonics fan who supported professional basketball in this city for decades.  I’m looking at you, Husky alumni, who opted to abandon this program after two down years.  And, quite frankly, I’m looking at the fucking UW student body.  What has HAPPENED to our Dawg Pack?  Does the school no longer give those tickets away for a song?  Do you realize you’re getting literally the best seats in the house – in an age where basketball student sections are frequently pushed to behind one of the baskets?  You need to fucking appreciate the opportunity you have to see bigtime college basketball at the 50-yard line of a bigtime basketball arena!

Hey, newsflash, to everyone out there:  you don’t necessarily have to be a fan of the University of Washington to go to Hec Ed and appreciate the type of basketball on display!  I mean, granted, if you’re a Coug or an alumnus of some other unfortunate school, you might not want to go.  But, if you have no ties to any local university, and you just want to watch some great basketball, I don’t understand why you’re not going to these games!

I’m not here to spend your money.  It’s not like I’m out there every game, with season tickets or whatnot.  I’m gonna go to the game on Monday, but that’s neither here nor there.  If you can’t afford season tickets, or it’s too much of a hardship to get there, I get it.  But, that arena used to be filled on a regular basis, and now we’re lucky to see it half full, and that’s a damn shame.  Because that means we’ve got people in this city who could easily afford the cost, and who could easily afford the time required to go to the games, but they’ve chosen to turn their backs on the program.  Hell, this city used to fill up a 17,000-seat arena for Sonics games; you’re telling me all of these basketball fans in this city have suddenly died out?

How are we supposed to be expected to support an expansion NBA franchise when we’re letting a legitimately good, legitimately RANKED college basketball team play in front of ghost towns?  WAKE UP, SEATTLE!  I know there are basketball fans out there, hungry for something great.  Well, the University of Washington has a great basketball team this year, and it’s about fucking time you got your asses out to a game or two.

If everyone is just waiting for conference play to start, I’ll stand down.  But, in the meantime, even though there aren’t any great home matchups left in the non-conference schedule, you’ll probably never again have a chance to get some really primo seats for basketball this good.

As for the game last night, what can you say?  The Dawgs were throwing alley-oops like they cured cancer or something.  This really wasn’t a contest whatsoever.  Nevertheless, there was some great stat-padding.  Shawn Kemp Jr. had 21 points on 9/12 shooting.  Andrew Andrews was 4/8 from behind the arc, en route to another 16 points.  NWG had 9 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds, as the Huskies are inching ever closer to having their first-ever triple-double.  Mike Anderson filled up the stat sheet with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals.  And, of course, Robert Upshaw finished with 15 points, 15 boards, and 4 blocks.

My only quibble, if I strain to have one, is that Romar didn’t go to his deep bench early enough or for long enough.  Seriously, what’s the point of having NWG in there for 33 minutes in a game where we’d end up winning by almost 50 points?  Why not throw a bone in the FIRST half to some of our walk-ons?  Why wait until the game is practically over?

Looking ahead, the Huskies travel to Vegas to play the 15th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday night at 6pm, in the MGM Grand Showcase.  It’s being televised on ESPNU and WatchESPN (if you have a cable subscription).  That’ll be a HUGE battle, and our final non-conference ranked opponent.  Oklahoma figures to have an awesome RPI by season’s end, so winning this game would be one of the bigger feathers in our cap come Tournament time.

Then, on Monday, the Huskies are back home to face Tulane.  8pm start time, which is a little rough (with great Pac-12 television money comes great responsibility), but just do like I’m going to do:  go to the game, then just go to work late the next day!  Print this out and hand it to your boss as me giving you permission.  I can be very persuasive (that’s not true, I’ll cave in like a big ol’ caveman).

Husky Basketball Keeps On Chooglin’

The Huskies have played just one game since their big win over San Diego State.  The big win that finally got us back in the world of the ranked basketball teams.  The big win that spells great things for our post-season chances.

That one game was on Sunday, at home, against Eastern Washington.  Doesn’t sound like much, right?  I mean, the Big Sky Conference?  Come on.  But, like the dogfight the Husky football team found itself in with Eastern earlier this year, the basketball team was in a similarly-contested fuckfest.  The difference this time, however, is Eastern figures to be in the NCAA tournament this year (or, at least, be a major contender for its conference’s automatic bid, if not a contender for an at-large bid).  They’re a Top 50 RPI opponent, and those are always the ones you want to win, no matter how small of a school.

Going into this game, you knew it was going to be vastly different than the defensive snoozefest that was the San Diego State game.  Eastern can shoot the ball, they like to run, and they’ve got scorers at pretty much all positions.  Indeed, the Huskies struggled to keep pace early, going into halftime down 11.

That’s when the stars of the team took over.  As usual, the Huskies leaned heavily on Andrews and NWG, who put up 18 & 19 points respectively.  Both players were relatively cold in the first half, but ended up hitting some big shots down the stretch to seal the deal.

The star of the game, though, was Robert Upshaw.  The Huskies saw what’s possible when you unleash the big man and let him start to play more extended minutes (26 in this game, which is a season high).  He still didn’t find himself starting in the second half, but after a few minutes, he played the duration (sitting out a couple of late possessions, as he’s a free throw liability).  Upshaw finished with 21 points (8 of 10 from the field, almost exclusively right around the basket), 9 rebounds, and 6 blocks.  And OH MY GOD, were those blocks impressive!

I missed quite a bit of the first half, but it sounded like Eastern was hot from the perimeter.  Which is why the second half was so shocking, because it seemed to me that the Eagles were making a concerted effort to drive the lane and attack Upshaw on a near-constant basis.  I don’t know if that was our defense funnelling them to the paint, or if that was a conscious decision they made, but it was foolish and ultimately cost them the game.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Eastern probably wanted to try to get Upshaw into foul trouble.  Needless to say, he’s the best defensive big man we’ve got on the team.  Shawn Kemp Jr. didn’t fare very well in this game, and overall hasn’t had a huge impact in the last few games.  And Jernard Jarreau saw his minutes cut drastically in this game, with Upshaw being so effective.  Upshaw did have a couple fouls in the first half within a few minutes of one another that probably cut into his minutes.  But, guess what:  he ended up the game with two fouls, while playing almost all of the second half.

That’s the thing that will take some time for people to understand:  Robert Upshaw isn’t a walking foul-out like most big men we’ve had in years past.  He’s very balanced, very poised, and able to keep his position without biting on ball fakes all the time.  Truly, he’s the most remarkable defensive big man I’ve ever seen in a Husky uniform.  He’s got the size everyone covets.  He’s got the long arms.  But, this was really the game that put me on notice:  Robert Upshaw is FOR SURE an NBA player.  If he can develop even a small semblance of a post game, he’s going to go far in the league.  That, and I suppose improved free throw shooting.

The Huskies often found themselves behind in the second half, down anywhere from three to ten points.  It seemed like every time we went on a run to get it close, they’d counter with some crazy shot to balloon it back out.  If the Huskies were going to win that game, they had one shot, and it was at the charity stripe.  We put the Eagles into foul trouble pretty early on in the second half, which was the way to go.  Drive the lane, draw fouls, get to the line.  Slow the game down, get some cheap points, and wear them down with your superior talent.  Which is what the Huskies did, but we SUCKED at free throws.  Upshaw finished 5 of 14 from the line, but I think he started out something like 2 for his first 10.  We eventually turned our team percentage back to respectable, going 24 of 37 overall, but that required a massive effort out of our starting guards (Andrews, NWG, and Mike Anderson) going a combined 17 of 19.  We’ll need Upshaw and Kemp to be better at the line this year if we don’t want to kick away games we should probably win.

Overall, though, that’s a pretty small criticism.  I’d be much more upset if I’m an Eagles fan.  Aside from constantly targeting Upshaw being the losing battle that it was, their guys were jacking up some RIDICULOUS threes from about 30 feet, fading away.  I know, if you’re a Big Sky school, going into an opposing Pac-12 arena, you’ve got to have some hot shooting luck on your side, but they almost had as many airballs as they did made threes (finishing 10 of 30 overall from behind the arc).  As it stood, the Eagles’ free throw shooting really gave them their best shot in this thing (they finished 17 of 21 at the line, which is VERY impressive for a smaller school on the road).

The Huskies find themselves 8-0 and #16 in the nation (up one spot from last week).  We play Grambling State tomorrow, before a neutral-site game against Oklahoma on Saturday.  Overall, we’ve got just four more non-conference games before we face Cal on January 2nd.  The Sooners are 15th in the nation, and will be the biggest challenge before we go into conference play.  If we manage to win these next four games, it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see us approach the Top 10.  Even if we slip up on Saturday, if we can pull out the other three games, we should at the very least head into Pac-12 play as a ranked team, which is good for everyone.

The Huskies Are Back, Baby! (Men’s Basketball Edition)

It’s been a while since the Huskies beat a ranked non-conference opponent.  In fact, you have to go all the way back to Tuesday, December 22, 2009, at home against Texas A&M.  You MIGHT remember that game as the one where that one guy (Derrick Roland) broke his leg in a freak accident under the basket, ending his college career.  You might remember that season as the last time the Huskies made the NCAA Tournament (but you’d be wrong; the Huskies made it to the Tourney in 2011 as well; though this was the last time the Huskies made it to the Sweet 16).

We’re talking FIVE years since the Huskies have had a victory as big as the one on Sunday night, against 13th ranked San Diego State.

Since that A&M game, we’ve played seven ranked non-conference opponents and have lost them all.  It’s the primary reason why we haven’t gone to the NCAA Tournament in so long (especially in 2011-2012, when we won the regular season conference title, but were bounced down to the NIT).  I’ll be honest, I’ve thought all along that this team is the best one we’ve had around here in a while, but when I heard about the Aztecs and how good they are on defense, I had my doubts.  I thought it’d be close, but I figured they’d have the horses to pull away.

So, imagine my surprise at the beatdown we laid on them Sunday!  We held them to 15 points in the first half, and 36 points overall.  It was truly remarkable and it’s put the Huskies back on the map in a big way!

Granted, it wasn’t the prettiest of games.  You don’t watch two teams play a basketball game, with neither being able to surpass 50 points, and say to yourself, “My, that was an enjoyable exhibition of athletic prowess!”  But, I would argue, this also wasn’t just a game full of wildly crazy shots being bricked up.  You saw a notoriously good defensive team in San Diego State go head to head with an underratedly good defensive team in Washington.  And, on this day, the Huskies came out on top.

I absolutely cannot say enough good things about Robert Upshaw.  This kid is a stud through and through.  He tacked on another 4 blocks to go with 7 rebounds and 7 points in an all-around dominant performance.  When the Huskies go to their 2-3 zone with him in the middle making life miserable for anyone who dares enter his airspace, it’s just lethal.  Robert Upshaw is where basketballs go to die.  I’m honestly giddy at this point, because we’ve NEVER had a big man with his height, his adeptness around the hoop, his athleticism, and his hands.  What’s more, he’s not a foul-out waiting to happen, he’s able to block shots to teammates (as opposed to the showy blocks out of bounds that tend to get the fans all excited, but ultimately don’t help your team quite as much), and he can hit the occasional free throw.  This here is a complete player who certainly has the ability to play in the NBA if he keeps progressing.

I can’t tell you how huge this is.  The Huskies have needed a quality big man for the last half decade, and now they’ve finally got him.  Right now, he’s not starting, but I wouldn’t expect that to hold forever.  Either way, with Kemp producing at a high level, it’s a good problem to have.  When they’re both on the floor at the same time, inside scoring is nearly impossible.  When just one of them is on the floor, you don’t really miss a beat.

In this early going, the Huskies are relying on their three bigs (lump Jarreau into the mix) and their starting back-court in Williams-Goss and Andrews.  In the game against the Aztecs, NWG and Andrews combined for 28 of 49 points, with each of them hitting critical threes at the most opportune times.  San Diego State never really had a chance to get back into this game, because whenever they even thought about going on a run, the Huskies had a response.

The offense is just plain better with NWG on the floor.  In this game, both he and Andrews played 36 of 40 minutes.  In the early going, Andrews is averaging a shade over 30 minutes per game and NWG is averaging even more, at a little over 34 minutes per.  They’re both amazing athletes who can probably handle the load, but you’d like to see those numbers come down just a little bit, if we want to keep them fresh for the long haul.  But, I can understand the over-reliance.  NWG is the engine.  The bench guys may develop into quality role players, but they’re going to need to build up experience and confidence.  Until they do that, we’re going to have to continue to lean heavily on the stars.

On the plus side, Mike Anderson is a quality role player right now.  He’s yet to really pour in the baskets, but he does enough of everything else to be one of those glue guys.  Hustles, plays solid defense, rebounds, can hit the occasional shot.  Then, we’ve got Donaven Dorsey and Quevyn Winters who – once they get acclimated to the game – have the potential to really rain down the shots from outside.  Once they get going, this Huskies team will be something special.

As for right now, we’ve got a 7-0 Huskies team that’s ranked 17th in the nation.  HOW ABOUT THAT???  In the eyes of the nation, we’re the third-best team in the Pac-12 behind #3 Arizona and #13 Utah.  This year couldn’t be going any better so far.

And, quite frankly, you won’t find many happier than myself.  I’ve been on the Romar bandwagon for the duration, even in these lean last couple of years when he wasn’t so popular.  When everyone was talking about getting rid of him.  Truth be told, Romar is my favorite head coach in any sport right now, and is probably on my own personal Mount Rushmore of Favorite Seattle Sports Head Coaches (with George Karl, Lou Piniella, and I gotta go with Pete Carroll over Holmgren because he actually brought us the championship).  No one deserves this success more than Romar, and I hope this is just the beginning of another epic run by the best Husky head coach in men’s basketball history.

If A Husky Basketball Season Ended & No One Is Around, Does It Make A Sound?

The Huskies went 17-15 (9-9 in conference) and lost in the opening game of the Pac-12 Tournament to the Utah Utes.  In that game, the Huskies were down double digits early, made a heroic second half run to take a brief lead, and with less than a minute to go, with the game tied, gave up a go-ahead three-pointer that proved to be the game-winner.

Quality wins arrived in the form of a shocking upset on the road against Arizona State, and home wins against Colorado and Oregon.  That’s it!  So don’t piss down my leg and tell me it’s raining, because this team stunk!

If you thought this team deserved an N.I.T. bid, you’re a fool.  Just playing in a major conference, and being one of its worst three teams, doesn’t automatically garner you any consideration, even if it comes from a lesser field of teams.  Truth be told, I don’t think the Huskies were among the top 100 teams.  Ostensibly, if they were, then they should roll through the C.B.I. (which they either weren’t invited to, or turned down), but I can all but guarantee the Huskies would certainly lose in the first or second round of the C.B.I.

This team had two guys:  C.J. Wilcox and Nigel Williams-Goss.  Wilcox averaged 18 points and shot 39% from three-point land.  He was so clearly our number one offensive threat that each and every game he had to contend with the other team’s best defender (or some rolling coverage his direction).  He was still able to put up some impressive numbers, but we didn’t really have anyone else to take up some of the scoring load, so we ended up struggling to score far too often.  Combine that with lackluster defensive effort, and you’ve got yourself just a so-so team.

I wouldn’t call NWG elite, but he was great for what he was:  a true freshman.  13 points, 4 boards, 4 assists, 3 turnovers … those are solid true freshman point guard numbers.  You’d like to see a few more assists (or a couple fewer turnovers), but there wasn’t anybody else aside from Wilcox on this team who could hit a shot, so that’s not really his fault is it?  Plus, you figure other teams’ entire game plans revolved around denying Wilcox the ball … you do the math.

After that, we had two just kinda sorta okay guys in Andrew Andrews and Perris Blackwell.  Blackwell was on his last year of eligibility after transferring to UW, and he averaged 10 points and 7 boards a game.  On a good team, those numbers are Brockman-esque!  He was a grinder down low.  The offense didn’t run through him (nor should it have), but he found a way to be effective as the only big man this team could count on.  Desmond Simmons started off the year injured and never really made an impact once he returned.  His jumper was always off and he seemed to be in a lot of foul trouble (or just get lost in the flow of the game) far too often.  And the less said about Shawn Kemp Jr., the better.  He was a walking personal foul waiting for the ball to be put in play so he could slap at someone and make his way back towards the bench.  And the two other newcomers – Darin Johnson & Mike Anderson – showed flashes of potential, but again, I don’t think they’re ever going to carry the burden of the scoring load.

This team needs guys who can score, bottom line.  We’re losing a quarter of our scoring in one guy, with Wilcox going into the NBA draft.  When you add in Blackwell (also leaving the ranks of college basketball), we’re losing damn near 40% of our scoring.  In two guys!

NWG should obviously take a big step forward next season, since he’ll be The Man in only his second year.  But, that’s assuming he decides to stick around.  Who knows; maybe he hears something he likes and decides to take his chances in the draft.  Lost in this whole season of losing has been concern over NWG being a one-and-done kid.  I’m getting the feeling that everyone around this program just assumes he’s going to be around forever, but let’s not forget how highly rated he was out of high school.  Let’s also not forget that his freshman year was pretty damn impressive when you consider how bad this team really was.  I think he could use at least another year’s seasoning, but I ALWAYS think that, and I’m almost always proven wrong.  Hell, even Tony Wroten is making me look the fool by being a better shooter than I could have ever thought possible!

The fact of the matter is, college basketball needs to get rid of the one-and-done rule.  It’s a complete farce!  It only rewards the teams that are going to be good anyway.  If you know you’re going into the NBA after your first year of college, wouldn’t you want to just go to the best teams, have some fun winning a bunch of basketball games, and see yourself on highlight shows during the NCAA Tournament?  You’re not going to be too likely to go to a school like Washington when there’s a school like Louisville out there ready to reload for another Final Four run.

Without the one-and-done rule, Romar wouldn’t have to spend so much time and energy on one-and-done players.  He could go back to recruiting his types of guys.  Guys who may be a little rough, but over the course of their four years here, they’ll improve to the point where we’re always playing at a high level whenever we’ve got a new batch of seniors.

The one-and-done rule is tainting the game of college basketball.  Yes, I’m sure the NCAA likes seeing the very best players going at it when they can showcase them during March Madness, but nobody’s going to remember these guys in 20 years when all of them leave after a single year and become stars in The League.

I dunno.  I’m just frustrated, I guess.  I still think Romar is the guy for this team, but I also think I’m in the minority.  I fear we’re in for some heavy changes and I just don’t know if I’m up for it right now.

The Husky Basketball Team Is Sliding Into Another Disappointing Season

It was another rocky non-conference schedule that ended with exactly zero quality wins (and a few distressingly bad losses).  You could tell straight away that this wasn’t going to be our year.

But, then we opened up conference play with a strong win over Arizona State, and a strong close loss to #1-ranked Arizona – both on the road – and by God, we could dream, couldn’t we?  Unlike years past, the Pac-12 is pretty solid right now, so if there was a chance to improve our RPI, conference play could be it.  And we followed that up with a couple solid home victories over Utah and Colorado, allowing us the opportunity to dream even higher.

Since that point – our high water mark on the season – we’ve gone 0-5 on the road, losing the Bay Area games, the WSU game, and over the weekend, the mountain games.  Two home wins over two bad Oregon schools are the only notches in our belt.

It’s frustrating, because you can see the promise in this team.  C.J. Wilcox is a legitimate NBA shooting guard who’s averaging nearly 20 points per game.  While Lorenzo Romar’s seat remains hot in some circles of Husky fandom, it’s nice to see he’s still able to coach up and get the best out of players who put in the effort.  C.J. Wilcox has gotten better every year he’s been with the team, and he has taken arguably the biggest leap this year.

Nigel Williams-Goss looks like the real deal too, but his game isn’t quite established just yet.  I REALLY hope he comes back for a second season, because I think he’d greatly benefit from another year’s tutelage under Romar.

Andrew Andrews can be electric or maddening.  I’d like to see him spend his off-season working on his jumper and nothing else.

Perris Blackwell would be a solid role player of a big man on a better team, but he’s simply being asked to carry too much of the load on this under-sized team.

Mike Anderson does a lot of things well, sort of like a Desmond Simmons type.  You’d like to see him improve on his jumper, because quite frankly you can only have so many Desmond Simmons types on your team before you need someone else to help pick up the scoring slack.  Speaking of which, you’d almost want to have a whole team made up of Desmond Simmons – if it meant they’d actually play some defense – but I guess you can’t have everything.

Finally, Shawn Kemp Jr. is a walking personal foul waiting to happen.  With a guy his size, it’s not unreasonable to expect better things, but at some point you just have to wonder how much the guy wants to be better.

I dunno.  I like to see what’s possible in our guys, and with this team, what’s possible should be A LOT better than what we’ve seen recently.  When things are clicking, we’re a tough team to tangle with.  But, more often than not, things DON’T click, and we’re left with lopsided defeats to good teams and baffling defeats to bad teams.

There are seven games left to go in the season.  Five at home (Bay Area schools, WSU, and L.A. schools) and two on the road (Oregon schools).  If this was a good Washington basketball team, we’d win every single one of these games and finish the regular season with 20 wins overall.  Want to impress the Hell out of me?  Do just that and blow my mind.

Husky Basketball Season Has Already Started, You Guys

I was vaguely aware of the first game last Sunday – an 88-78 victory over Seattle U – but since I don’t have cable, and I wasn’t in a place that does, I couldn’t tell you much about the game that wasn’t described to me over the free radio waves.

There was, of course, a bit of bad news to kick off the season:  Jernard Jarreau tore his ACL and is out for the year.  He can still get a medical redshirt, so he won’t technically lose a year of eligibility, but it’s still a huge bummer.  How huge, we won’t know.  But, all signs pointed toward him starting and him making an impact on this team.  I can only imagine what he would have done for us, but knowing what I know about guys improving under Romar, it would’ve been significantly more than what he did for us last year.

There doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of hype around this Husky basketball team, but I’ve maintained all along that this team will likely be a suprise in the Pac-12.  C.J. Wilcox is back for his senior season.  He will have to stay healthy, and if he does, he’ll be one of the best players in the conference.  Andrew Andrews returns to man the point, as does superstar incoming Freshman Nigel Williams-Goss.  That back-court alone makes me rock hard!  But, then you’ve got the other incoming Freshman Darin Johnson (who will hopefully help us pick up some of the outside shooting slack when Wilcox and Andrews have off nights) and transfer Mike Anderson (who sounds like a defensive stopper and a total Romar Guy).

If nothing else, expect this team to be quicker.  Last year, we were not only stuck with bad basketball, but we were stuck with SLOW bad basketball.  This year, at least we should be entertained.

On the front court, the injuries don’t stop with Jarreau.  Desmond Simmons had a surgical procedure and will miss a bunch of weeks.  Perris Blackwell is another transfer who sat out the last game with a concussion, but should be a force for us in the middle.  And, we’ve got Shawn Kemp Jr. who can muck it up with the big guys as well.

This is still going to be a team that goes as far as its guards will take it.  We might be a little under-manned until Simmons comes back, but there’s nothing saying that this team can’t go on a nice little conference run.  The key to success for this team will be balanced scoring.  In the last few years, the scoring load has fallen on two or three guys.  This year?  Aside from Wilcox, we’re going to need lots of other guys chipping in to be effective.  It’s going to look a little like some of those Jon Brockman years.  Now, whether or not we have the type of talent we had during those Brockman years, I guess we’ll see.

Consider me one of the optimists, going into this season.  I like what Romar’s doing and I hope this is the team that takes us back to the NCAA Tournament.  That ought to shut some people up.