Washington finished last season strong, winning the Pac-10 tournament and making a run to the Sweet Sixteen. As the best team in the Pac-10 on paper this year, will the Huskies rise to the expectations and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament?
After a slow start last year, Washington turned it on down the stretch, winning the Pac-10 tournament and securing a berth to the NCAA tournament. From there, the Huskies rolled through the first two rounds, making it back to the Sweet Sixteen before falling to West Virginia.
Gone is Quincy Pondexter, the Huskies' versatile forward that was a threat to score from anywhere on the floor. However, the Huskies bring a talented group of players back in the form of Isaiah Thomas, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Abdul Gaddy -- the highly-touted point guard who didn't live up to expectations in his first year.
Thomas, a preseason Wooden Award top-50 pick, will again shoulder the scoring load for the Huskies. The speedy junior has proven himself adept at getting to the lane, drawing fouls and getting to the line. He's also a threat to catch fire and rain down threes at any moment. A consistent presence since stepping on campus, Thomas has emerged as a leader in his junior year and is ready to take Washington to new heights.
How will Washington deal with the lofty expectations placed upon them? These five storylines will go a long way towards determining how successful the 2010-11 campaign is for Romar and the Dawgs.
Is Abdul Gaddy Ready To Step His Game Up?
Gaddy is a favorite of mine, but expecting him to come in and be a game-changer right away -- he was only 17 last year -- may have been too much. After seeing extensive playing time for the Huskies last year, Gaddy should be acclimated to the speed and physicality of the college game. An offseason spent working out with Thomas and the rest of the Husky guards couldn't have hurt, either.
Lorenzo Romar is pushing Gaddy prior to the season, making him earn a starting spot by battling with senior Venoy Overton. His teammates, especially Thomas, are busy hyping up Gaddy prior to the season and there's no reason to think the sophomore won't see a big jump in production.
Having another point guard that can score at will and -- most importantly -- distribute to the many weapons Washington has on the floor will be a key in any tournament run the Huskies expect to make.
How Will The Huskies Handle Size?
The Husky front-court is small and thin this year. With the loss of Tyreese Breshers, UW only has three viable post options in 2010 -- Bryan-Amaning, newcomer Aziz N'Diaye and Darnell Gant. Bryan-Amaning will shoulder the load in the post, but if he gets into foul trouble Washington is in trouble. Breshers brought a physical presence to the low-post that none of Bryan-Amaning's backups do.
N'Diaye is a bit of an unknown. He's been slowed by an ACL injury but should be fully healed by the time the season kicks off. It remains to be seen if the JC transfer can run the floor like Romar expects from any big man in his system.
Looking at the roster, it's clear the Romar will run his standard guard/wing-oriented lineup again this year. With a talented trio of guards and Bryan-Amaning in the post, Washington can continue to wear opponents down with their speed and athleticism, hopefully offsetting the lack of size in the lineup.
Can The Huskies Get Off To A Hot Start?
The non-conference schedule doesn't do Washington any favors this year. After three cupcake games at home, UW travels to Maui for the always tough Maui Invitational. In the first round, Washington drew Virginia, reuniting old foes Tony Bennett and Lorenzo Romar. A win sends them into a likely matchup against John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats. It doesn't get much tougher than the Maui Invitational.
Outside of the tournament, the Huskies only leave Seattle once for a non-conference game -- a forced matchup against Texas A&M in College Station. In that regards, Washington helped itself by staying in the friendly confines of Bank Of America Arena. Still, a non-conference schedule that provides games against Virginia, Portland, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and two other potentially tough opponents in Maui is no cakewalk. How the Huskies start this year will go a long way to determining where they'll end up in March.
Which Of The Newcomers Will Contribute?
Even though they missed out on Terrence Jones, Washington has another talented group of newcomers this year. C.J. Wilcox will see his first action as a Husky after redshirting last season. Wilcox is widely regarded as the best pure shooter Washington has. His smooth stroke will go a long way toward helping the Huskies break the zones that teams regularly threw at them last year.
Terrence Ross, a freshman out of Jefferson High in Portland, should step in and play right away. The long, bouncy wing has the athleticism to run the floor and finish with some eye-popping dunks.
N'Diaye, as mentioned above, will also see plenty of time in the front-court rotation. His size -- listed at 7'0 260 -- gives Washington a big, physical presence in the middle. His athleticism should also create matchup problems for opponents.
Desmond Simmons is also a bit of a wildcard. With the addition of Ross to the recruiting class, Simmons has been overlooked. Still, Simmons plays with effort and intensity while getting out in transition and slashing to the bucket. Whether he will contribute remains to be seen, but look for him to be a factor down the line.
Can UW Break Through The Sweet Sixteen?
The Sweet Sixteen has been a ceiling for Romar and the Dawgs, but the pieces are there for a deep tournament this run again this year. Washington hasn't advanced past the round of 16 since 1953, leaving many fans to wonder if they'll ever get there again. With Thomas, MBA, Gaddy, Ross and others, UW will again have to deal with lofty expectations. Anything less than a Pac-10 title and deep run through the NCAAs would be a disappointment.
The pieces are in place and the Huskies come in more experienced this year -- only losing Pondexter to graduation while replacing transfers with more talented underclassmen. The experience from playing in the tournament last year, and knowing what it takes to get back there, puts the Huskies in a good spot ahead of the 2010-11 season.