The Washington Huskies basketball team is flying under the radar going into this season. While experts are pegging Washington as a tournament team, the Huskies are not a prominent storyline for the Pac-12 this year. Arizona, UCLA and California are all considered top 25 teams in the nation and all three were picked to finish ahead of Washington in the Pac-12 preseason coaches poll.
Despite being back-to-back Pac-12 tournament champions and despite being in the NCAA tournament for three years in a row, there are legitimate doubts on whether this team will perform up to the standard that has been set by Head Coach Lorenzo Romar's recent teams.
Finding out how good this team can be will take awhile because of a soft non-conference schedule in November. Save for a road game against Nevada, all four other games are at home against non-BCS conference schools.
In the first week of December the schedule heats up for the Huskies with two nationally televised games at Madison Square Garden, first against Marquette and then against Duke. Coming out with two wins will do wonders for the Huskies' tournament resume, but one win for the Huskies in this road trip is more realistic.
Beating a team like Duke will be difficult, especially with the Huskies' lack of experience. For a host of teams in the NCAA, losing your three top scorers would likely cripple your offensive production for the following season. However, the Huskies shouldn't struggle in replacing the production of Isaiah Thomas, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday.
This team will get the majority of its point production from Terrence Ross (8ppg, 2.8rpg) and C.J. Wilcox (8.1ppg, 8.5ppg). Isaiah Thomas' absence will enable Ross and Wilcox to have the ball in their hands more often. Last season, they were mainly catch and shoot threats, with Ross occasionally going on scoring spurts when Thomas was being shut down or sitting on the bench. Having Abdul Gaddy back (8.5ppg, 3.8apg) will also open up the offensive games for Ross and Wilcox along with senior Scott Suggs (7.4ppg, 1.9rpg).
Washington's most notable weakness is its interior offensive presence. During Romar's tenure at UW, he has benefited from the post production of Jamaal Williams, Spencer Hawes, Jon Brockman and Matthew Bryan-Amaning. Projected starters Darnell Gant (5.2ppg, 3.8rpg) and Aziz N'Diaye (4.6ppg, 5.7rpg) lack the talent to score consistently in the low post against opposing Pac-12 defenders.
While the Huskies have the ability to out-athlleticize a lot of teams during the regular season, the slow, grinding tempo of the NCAA tournament could produce ugly results for the Huskies, especially when their three-pointers aren't falling. Developing the offensive games of incoming freshmen forwards Martin Breunig, Jernard Jarreau, and Shawn Kemp Jr. will be essential if the Huskies plan on advancing in the NCAA tournament.
Speaking of freshmen, Tony Wroten Jr. is going to be a real play-maker for the Huskies. After seeing highlights of his performance against SPU last Friday, it is scary to think of how effective Wroten will be once he starts to mature and cut down on his turnovers. He sees the game at a different speed and his ability to penetrate and find his teammates in the half court is a skill that will elevate the games of those on the court with him.
As a result of their athleticism, Wroten and Ross will help replace the rebounding production lost with the departure of Bryan-Amaning and Holiday. Averaging five rebounds a game is within the ability of both of those players. Desmond Simmons should also be able to add six to seven rebounds a game and maybe even more depending on the amount of time he sees on the court.
While the offense and rebounding figure to be strengths of this Washington team, their defense is worrying the coaching staff the most so far this season. The downside of welcoming in seven freshmen is their lack of defensive knowledge. N'Diaye's fouling tendencies will force inexperienced players like Jarreau and Kemp Jr. to play more than 15 minutes a game. Though they are both talented shot-blockers, it is likely they'll both go through growing pains especially when they start facing quality Pac-12 competition.
The Huskies have the potential to finish at the top of the Pac-12, but their experience and lack of go-to scorer in the low post will cause them to lose more than a couple of games in Pac-12 play. If the Huskies can't get low-post production at some point during the season, their three-point shooting ability will be depended on - it helps when you have Wilcox, Gaddy, Ross, and Suggs who can all hit consistently from deep.
Obviously, big expectations have been placed on the shoulders of future NBA lottery pick Terrence Ross. If he reaches his full potential as a player, the Huskies could ride his offensive abilities all the way to the Sweet Sixteen - similar to Brandon Roy's performance for UW in 2004-05.
The Husky roster is full of talented scorers and athletic players who can push the ball in transition and force turnovers. These two qualities are the essential pieces to a successful Lorenzo Romar basketball team. An appearance in the NCAA Tournament is expected, but because of the lack of experience and the absence of a low-post scorer I think the Huskies won't make it past the Sweet 16 this year.