Are the Huskies Primed for a Tourney Run?

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Andrew Andrews has been a huge mentor to this young squad.

At the beginning of the season, nobody would’ve predicted the Washington Huskies basketball team to have a chance at the NCAA tournament. They were picked to finish 12th in the conference, as many were skeptical of how much the roster turned over in the offseason. Nine new players. Seven freshmen. One senior. Talent and athleticism everywhere, but hardly any experience and certainly no chemistry. There was simply just too much to overcome for this team to make any noise during their 2015-16 campaign. What Lorenzo Romar was building was a two-year project.

To the surprise of many, UW raced out to a fast start in Pac-12 league play, winning five of their first six conference games. Senior Andrew Andrews was an early favorite for conference player of the year as he led UW to early season success. Possibly the most impressive part was that the young Huskies were winning close games.

However, it was still evident that the Dawgs struggled with maturity. Many of the freshmen got in early foul trouble. The concepts of the defense Romar wanted to run seemed difficult for the young players to master. The lack of a true big man to match up with many of the taller players in the Pac-12. These things caught up to the team in the second half of the league season, as the Huskies limped to a 9-9 record after starting 7-3. They lost the close games that they were winning earlier in the year.

This is when Dawg fans once again voiced their displeasure with Coach Romar and another year without an NCAA Tournament appearance – this would be five straight seasons. Yet another frustrating year for a fanbase that has come to expect more from a coach that put this program on the map a decade ago. But the season is not over.

Now, as the Huskies prepare for their first Pac-12 Tournament game against Stanford tomorrow, they have an opportunity in front of them. Many experts think if they can get win a few games in the conference tournament and beat some superior competition along the way, that they may have a chance for an at-large bid. Though, the only way for the Dawgs to make the tournament for certain is to win the Pac-12 Tournament. And that’s a tall task for a young squad.

Is it possible? If there’s anything that I’ve learned from watching college basketball over the years it’s to expect the unexpected. The Huskies are full of talent and are athletic enough that they can cause some problems for their opponents.

On the other hand, it’s tough to believe this young of a team can pull off this difficult feat. But the Huskies’ youth is also the reason for optimism for fans. I truly trust what Coach Romar has done with the last two recruiting classes, headlined by 2016 five-star point guard Markelle Fultz. Even if blossoming talents like Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss leave for the NBA – which I don’t think they will, barring a huge tournament from them – this program is headed the right direction. There are plenty of freshmen on this team that will be tremendous four-year players: Matisse ThybulleDavid CrispNoah Dickerson, and Dominic Green.

Overall, this season has been a success, even if UW is left out of the Big Dance. It’s the definition of a rebuilding year after cleaning house a season ago. Although it’s difficult to be patient, I think next year could be a special and memorable season for Husky basketball. I guarantee it.

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Husky Basketball Preview and Prediction: Oregon State at Washington

Jon Brockman Matthew Bryan-Amaning

I miss these guys.

It’s been WAY too long since I’ve written something, so here goes…

After starting the season 11-0, the University of Washington men’s basketball program has come crashing back reality. Four straight losses leave this team at 11-4 and an 0-3 Pac-12 record, good for 11th in the conference. A disappointing home loss to Stony Brook (who?!), followed by three straight conference losses has the Dawgs reeling and searching for answers. Suddenly, the feeling of familiar mediocrity has crept back into the minds of Husky fans, making the days of Nate Robinson alley-oops and Isaiah Thomas game-winners seem like “oh-so-long ago.” Even this team’s No. 13 ranking earlier this season is a distant memory. So…will UW hoops be able to right the ship when a hot Oregon State Beavers (11-4, 2-1) team visits Alaska Airlines Arena on Thursday night?

Well the Huskies will not have momentum on their side. The Beavers just knocked off undoubtedly the most talented team in the conference in then-No. 7 Arizona. They are led by a familiar name to most Seattle sports fans: point guard Gary Payton (the second). The 6-foot-3 Payton leads Oregon State in scoring at 12 points per game and also averages a ridiculous 8.2 rebounds per game all while playing 35 minutes per game. UW’s starting point guard Nigel Williams-Goss will be matched up with Payton for most of the night and it will be crucial for NWG to win this battle if the Huskies hope to get their first conference win. As the primary ball-carrier, Nigel needs to take better care of the ball and run this offense the way it’s supposed to be run: through him.

Speaking of NWG, he apparently called a players-led meeting this past week after the home loss to Washington State. Sometimes these kinds of meetings are what turns a club’s season around. Asked what the main topic of the meeting, center Robert Upshaw said it was “confidence.”

From a team perspective, both sides of the ball need to improve for the Huskies to get back on track tonight. Getting their confidence back could play a vital role in that happening. A key part of UW’s hot start was the defense playing extremely well. That has not been the case during the team’s current losing streak, and the offense has also fallen flat. They are terrible at shooting the three and there is just no consistent, go-to scoring threat that Dawg fans are used to seeing on Lorenzo Romar‘s teams. Until someone steps up in that department it’s going to be tough-sledding for a talented young squad with potential.

Overall, it’s hard to think the Huskies will be able to match the Beavers’ confidence. It’ll be another close game, but UW falls to a dismal 0-4 start in Pac-12 play.

Prediction: OSU 72, UW 67

Husky basketball is at it’s lowest low since Romar took over the team over a decade ago. Once packed 10,000 high and one of the toughest places to play in the conference, Hec-Ed is not even half full most of the time these days. It’s time for Romar to give Husky fans a reason to come to the games again. He’s fortunate he has an incredible recruiting class coming in next season that will hopefully spark some interest.

Here’s a video that proves we used to be good at one point. GO DAWGS.

Is Husky Basketball Back?

Lorenzo Romar Washington Huskies

Lorenzo Romar has the Washington Huskies relevant once again.

For the first time since 2011, the Washington Huskies basketball team has entered the national rankings. Following an impressive 49-36 victory over then-No. 13 San Diego State, the team is off to a 7-0 start, landing them at No. 17 in the country in both major polls. But is Husky basketball really back? A.K.A. can this team get back to the NCAA tournament?

Head coach Lorenzo Romar‘s 2014-15 squad is a little different than some of his best team’s in the past. There isn’t a standout scorer (Nigel Williams-Goss leads the team in scoring average at 14.7 points per game). It’s not high-scoring (the team is 148th in the nation in points per game), though the Huskies still like to run the floor in transition. However, what makes UW such a dangerous team is what they do on the defensive end.

The primary reason for UW’s success on defense is the length of their bigger players and the 2-3 zone that Romar likes to run. The emergence of backup center Robert Upshaw as a shot-blocker has forced opposing team’s to score from the outside, and even then his athleticism comes into play. Upshaw is averaging nearly five blocks a game. Bulked-up forward Jernard Jarreau is finally healthy, and his 240 pounds finally match his 6-foot-10 frame. Jarreau’s not going to light up a stat sheet, but his length creates problems for other teams (7-foot-7 wing span!). Forward/Center Shawn Kemp Jr. has also become a major force after coming back from battling Graves disease last year. Kemp looks like he’s in the best shape of his UW career for his senior campaign, showing glimpses of his father’s athleticism and high-flying ability. Fellow senior Mike Anderson is the “hustle” player who does the dirty work and is arguably the best guard defender on the team. Playing great defense will allow the Huskies to stay in games that they may not have been able to in the past few years.

Add the presence of the exciting guard combination of the savvy Williams-Goss and the electrifying Andrew Andrews, and it looks like the Huskies have what it takes to make their first tournament since Isaiah Thomas‘ last year at UW. There’s also many role players getting significant minutes and making a difference, including Darin Johnson, Quevyn Winters, and freshman Donaven Dorsey, who has become the main shooting threat.

It’s very early, and there’s a lot that can happen before March, but Washington fans certainly have reason to be excited. The pieces are there, but they’ll have to stay healthy. The Pac-12 is full of competitive teams, including an Arizona Wildcats squad that should contend for a national championship.

If there’s one thing that the great Washington teams have had in the past that they haven’t had this year is a player who emerges as a true leader. Nate RobinsonBrandon RoyJon Brockman. Isaiah Thomas. Williams-Goss seems like the most likely candidate to secure that role, but that remains to be seen.

Will the Huskies be able to sustain solid defense? Who will put the team on their back? Can they compete for a conference title? These are questions that will be answered in the coming months.

One thing is for sure: UW basketball is becoming relevant again.