The 2009/2010 season was one of ups and downs. The team struggled to find its identity early on, and it showed when the team left Hec Ed and when conference play started, as they won just one of their first six of those games, and lost their first seven away from home. But down the stretch things started to click and the team found itself. Justin Holiday became a starter and was a revelation, shutting down opposing players night in and night out showing that he's one of the conference's best defenders. Isaiah Thomas became more than just the scorer everyone knows he's capable of being, and was just as lethal dishing the ball as he was shooting it. And he upped his defensive intensity as well. Matthew Bryan-Amaning finally tapped his potential and began putting up regular double doubles while owning the low block against multiple opponents. The team got hot when it mattered, winning 8 of its last 10 conference games, and took that momentum into the Conference Tournament. They won three in a row, got the auto bid, and knocked off a couple good teams on the way to the Sweet Sixteen.
The majority of that squad is back. Yes, there's the loss of Quincy Pondexter who was arguably the Pac Ten's best player last season, and though he will be missed most believe that his loss will be mitigated by the development of returning players and the addition of new faces.
In this coming season, the Huskies have a chance to be very good, and while most are focusing on the abundance of shooters Lorenzo Romar has stockpiled (Scott Suggs and C.J. Wilcox at the forefront), the development of MBA and pairing him alongside Aziz N'Diaye (a 7 footer from Sengal), a breakout season from sophomore Abdul Gaddy, or the continued improvement of Isaiah Thomas, the success of the season will not be determined by any of those things. Yeah, they'll all help, and for UW to move into the upper echelon of college basketball some of them will have to come as advertised, but this year's team has a chance to be very special in a completely different area: the defense.
For the tempo that the Huskies play (regularly among the nation's fastest), the perception is that they're a run-and-gun, all-offense-all-the-time team. Which at times has been true, but Lorenzo Romar would rather hang his hat on the defense. This year, he should be able to. With two first team defensive players returning (Holiday and Venoy Overton), the defensive starts are there to build around. Thomas, as mentioned earlier, is a more than capable defender despite his height limitations. MBA is a phenomenal shotblocker and very good defensive rebounder. Aziz N'Diaye should - on height alone - do those two things very well too, provided he can stay out of foul trouble. The wing players on this team will not be giving up any length to anybody, going 6-5 (Wilcox) 6-6 (Suggs) and 6-6 (Terrence Ross). The wildcard, however will be Darnell Gant. At 6-8 he has the size and quickness to defend pretty much anyone the opposition throws at him. When he gets healthy again, he has a chance to return to the starting lineup where he was for a handful of games last season and nearly every game two years ago and be the garbage man of sorts for this team, defending blocking shots and rebounding.
The new faces on the team look to make a pretty substantial impact this year. Terrence Ross is being touted as the team's best athlete and a surprising offensive rebounder for a guard, highlighting practices and workouts with soaring tip jams. Aziz N'Diaye will be counted on to man the paint for stretches when MBA needs a breather or is in foul trouble, and with the loss of Tyreese Breshers, he has to find a way to stay out of foul trouble and be effective as the team is short on big bodies. Desmond Simmons probably won't get a ton of play unless the Huskies size concerns really become an issue. He is at this point very raw and mostly a hustle player, but has a ton of potential. I think in a perfect world he would redshirt, and if Breshers were still on the roster that would've been almost a certainty, but he may get limited action. C.J. Wilcox, coming off of his redshirt, will be counted on to replace a lot of what Elston Turner did, though the hope is that he can do it better and crack the 40% mark from deep and be a threat attacking the basket at times as well.
Here is the schedule, and how Ken Pomeroy sees things shaking out (keeping in mind that these are his preseason numbers, which are mostly just guesses as he has no data to back them up yet).
When you look at the games individually, it's tough not to like the Huskies chances of winning a ton of games this season. They should be favorites in nearly all of them, and the ones Ken has them as underdogs are all on the road against quality opponents, so they're all justifiable. More notably though, the other teams are all favored by two points or less. There are a couple of games on the schedule that he doesn't have in there though because they're not yet official, those being the second and third rounds of the Maui Invitational. The second game will be against either Oklahoma or Kentucky, and the third could be against any of Connecticut, Michigan State, Wichita State or Chaminade. Would be pretty sweet to have a run where the Dawgs beat Virginia (Tony Bennett), Kentucky (John Calipari and Terrence Jones) and UConn or MSU.
If I had to guess, I'd say the Dawgs record looks something like 25-5 (15-3) at the end of the regular season.