After the Washington Huskies' non-conference road woes continued after their disappointing loss to Nevada on Friday night, I thought now would be an opportune time to examine what exactly this Husky team needs to improve on in order to guarantee success in March.
These next two games against Marquette and Duke at Madison Square Garden are important for this team's confidence and tournament resume, but even if they lose both of them, their chances of making the NCAA tournament don't drastically decrease.
I don't think there is anyone out there that believes this team doesn't have the talent to make another Sweet 16 run. However, the Saint Louis and Nevada losses have shown that this team has a long way to go until they are playing to their full potential.
I'm not Lorenzo Romar, and I don't profess to know more than him and his coaching staff, but here are a couple things I think that Washington needs to improve on in order to play the best basketball they are capable of playing. Props to The Slipper Still Fits for the idea.
1) Terrence Ross: Ross needs to be more assertive on the offensive end. He has yet to develop the same type of killer instinct that Isaiah Thomas, Quincy Pondexter and Brandon Roy all had. Ross is only a sophomore, but with his elite scoring ability and athleticism, he should be taking over games offensively, especially in the second half. The Huskies have a go-to player in Ross, he just hasn't stepped into the role yet this season.
2) Point Guard Play: Abdul Gaddy and Tony Wroten both underperformed in the team's two losses this season. The pair were responsible for half of the team's 18 turnovers against Nevada. Not only have they failed to keep possession of the basketball, they've shown poor decision-making as well in the team's half-court offense.
Gaddy and Wroten have played tentative, failing to effectively run the half-court offense, especially against the zone. They aren't penetrating the lane enough and finding their teammates on the perimeter.
Wroten has been great at drawing contact, but is shooting a horrid 44.6% from the free-throw line. Gaddy is averaging 5.3 assists per game, but has been a step or two too slow on defense. Solid point guard play is necessary for any team that wants to play in March and the Huskies have been shaky at best at this position so far this season.
3) Senior leadership: Darnell Gant's on-the-court leadership so far this year has been questionable. He's logged ten fouls and six turnovers in the Huskies past three games, and hasn't really inspired his teammates on the floor to step their games up.
Isaiah Thomas wasn't afraid to get his teammates excited and enthusiastic during games. Gant needs to be more vocal on the court with his teammates instead of committing dumb fouls and putting up sub-par numbers. Will Scott Suggs fit into this role when he returns?
4) Defense: The Huskies have yet to prove they can play a complete 40 minutes of solid defense against a quality opponent. Wilcox has been caught jogging back, the guards weren't able to stop a guy like Nevada's Deonte Burton, and Aziz N'Diaye still doesn't always wall-up on the post and instead of blocking more shots, he ends up collecting more fouls.
For a team with this amount of talent, there is no reason why they should be losing to Saint Louis by 13 points on the road. It may be awhile until these four things fully develop, but I think by the end of March these four aspects will be vastly improved.
Talent and personnel are not a problem anymore. It's just plain execution. If the Huskies lose against both Marquette and Duke, it won't be because those teams have taller and more-skilled players. Instead, the losses will result from the Huskies' lack of preparation and their inability to execute their gameplan.