Washington took care of business against San Jose State last night, meaning they take on Long Beach State at 8pm tonight on ESPN2.
Long Beach has changed up the starting lineup a little bit over the past few games, but here is the starting five that seems most likely: G Mike Caffey (Sr., 6-0, 175), G McKay LaSalle (Sr., 6-3, 185), G Tyler Lamb (Sr., 6-5, 205), F David Samuels (Sr., 6-7, 225), and Termidayo Yussuf (Fr., 6-7, 260).
The first thing that pops out is that four out of five of those projected starters are seniors. Yussuf actually started in front of F Eric McKnight (Sr., 6-9, 220) and F Jack Williams (Fr., 6-8, 195) last night after one or the other had started every previous game. He chipped in 6 points and 7 rebounds in 23 minutes, but also went an atrocious 4-15 from the free throw line. If McKnight gets the nod over Yussuf, this will be an all-senior starting five.
Long Beach is 3-3 so far this season, including an 0-3 record in true road games. The 95-90 loss at BYU to open the season is understandable, but losing 97-74 to Xavier was ugly. The 49ers (yes, they are the 49ers) also lost 77-63 at UCLA only five days ago. The strongest win so far has to be the 69-60 victory over Kansas State.
Mike Caffey is the primary scorer, averaging 18.0 ppg on 57% shooting, including 47% from beyond the arc. He's also contributing 4.3 rpg, 4.0 apg, and 2.0 steals. The turnovers (4.3 per contest) have been an issue, but overall the kid is balling out to start off the year.
David Samuels has been the biggest contributor in the post, averaging 10.2 ppg and just under 6.0 rpg. Lamb has also chipped in 10.0 ppg and 4.8 rpg.
McKnight, despite starting several games, has only averaged 17 minutes and and contributed 3.0 ppg and 2.7 rpg. You may remember him from his Florida Gulf Coast days. He was not a key player at FGCU either, but he is capable of absolutely posterizing a Husky if they aren't careful.
First and foremost, this team can shoot. The sample size may be small, but team shooting percentages of 49% from the field and 42% from three-point range are undeniably impressive. Five players logging major minutes are shooting above 40% from beyond the arc.
Long Beach's biggest issue may be size. This team can run and shoot with the best of them, but the 6-9 McKnight being the tallest player on the roster may cause some issues against Robert Upshaw, the scariest shot blocker in all the land.
Last night, when Upshaw blocked a team-record 8 shots for his third game with 7+ blocks so far this season, the carnage officially reached comical levels. LBSU is much more talented than San Jose State, but if they continue to go straight at Upshaw the way SJSU did, Upshaw will continue to block a stupid number of shots.
Upshaw is still coming off the bench, and only logged 19 minutes last night. Even so, Jarreau (6-10, 240), and Kemp (6-9, 255) both outweigh everyone on the Long Beach roster but Yussuf, who is a true freshman with one career start. Expect a steady diet of lobs and an emphasis on getting the ball to Kemp in the low post.
I'd love to see Upshaw play more than 19 minutes, but I understand that Romar is hesitant to cut Jarreau's minutes when he clearly needs time on the floor to work off the rust accumulated over the course of a lost season.
One of Washington's most glaring questions has been shooting. Beyond the streaky contributions of Andrews, it seemed transfer Quevyn Winters would be the only hope of consistent three-point shooting. Well, last night true frosh Donoven Dorsey dropped 17 points on 5-6 shooting from the field, all three-point attempts.
Dorsey is now 7-11 from the field in the past two games, with all of those attempts coming from beyond the arc. He and/or Romar appear to view his role as that of a spot-up marksman off the bench. I'm eager to see if he can knock down his open looks for the third game in a row.
Long Beach is the best team Washington has played so far this season, and it feels like a very appropriate, measured type of challenge for Washington at this point in the season. They are 4-0 in games they would have been very upset to lose, and now have a chance to log a solid neutral-court win to give the undefeated record a little bit of weight. Considering the weakness of the non-conference slate, this kind of win may be very important when it comes time to discuss an at-large tourney bid (I know, I know, way ahead of myself).
The key will be to keep pressure on Caffey, who has shot the lights out but turned the ball over more often than he has dished assists.
Perhaps as a result of superior shot-blocking, the Washington guards have seemed to bring more on-ball pressure this year, so I'm optimistic in that regard. My biggest issue with the defense has been a tendency to leave good shooters wide open on the perimeter. Players have at the very least shown good effort in sprinting back to try to contest the shots, but the entire team needs to be more mindful of open shooters.
Offensively, Washington has likely shot well enough in the past few contests to avoid constant zone defense. As long as the Huskies remember to let three-point shots come naturally as a result of dominance in the paint rather than settling for jumpers early in the clock, I'm strangely confident that they will win this game.
Oh, and they'll need to hit some stinkin' free throws. 16-30 shooting from the charity stripe kept last night from devolving into a total blowout. Against a quality opponent, that kind of shooting could cost Washington a win.
Washington 79, Long Beach State 72