It has been roughly two weeks since Lorenzo Romar announced that Jernard Jerreau would require knee surgery, and would be sidelined for 4-6 weeks. It's time for us to take a look at how his absence has affected the Huskies. Specifically how his absence has affected the Huskies defense, their depth, their already anemic offense, and their defense.
Before I get started, it is important to address the seven-foot elephant in the room. When it was announced in the Spring of 2013 that Robert Upshaw had decided to transfer from Frenso State and into the Husky program, Husky fans knew that they were some risked involved, as Upshaw's off the court issues have been well documented. Nonetheless, his abrupt dismissal on Monday came as a shock, and the Huskies will have to figure out how to adjust after losing likely the best shot blocker in school history.
Upshaw's dismissal puts the Huskies in a very difficult position, to say the least. While Jarreau has been out, the Huskies have been forced to start Upshaw (while he was still a member of the team) and also put more pressure on players like Donaven Dorsey, Darin Johnson, and Queyvn Winters to produce. The results have not been good. Dorsey has been up and down, as his performances are predicated almost solely on the ability to knock down three point shots. His defense in both man and zone has been disappointing and at times, rather frustrating. Johnson has also suffered injury issues of his own during Jarreau's absence, and seems to have taken a step back this season, as his minutes, points per game, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage have all dropped this season.
Newcomer Winters has also struggled to adjust to Pac-12 play this season, as he saw himself get benched against Colorado. To be fair, both players had their most productive games of the season on Wednesday against Stanford and may have turned the corner a little bit. The fact that this trio has struggled is not necessarily all due to Jarreau's absence. However, Jarreau's absence has placed pressure upon these players to produce more in order for the Huskies to compete, and so far, it has not worked out.
It has been well documented on this site that the Husky offense has struggled this season no matter what players are on the court this year. The Husky offense has actually seen a slight uptick in production since Jarreau went down, before his injury the Huskies averaged a putrid 55.6 points per game. They have improved that number to 64.4 points per game during Jarreau's absence. It's important to give a little context to these numbers however, the past five games have seen the Huskies score 85 points against Oregon, their season high, and 74 points against Stanford the majority of which came after the Cardinal opened up a 26-point lead and essentially put the game out of reach. The other three games during Jarreau's absence have seen the Huskies score, 52 and 56 twice, which is much closer to their season average.
The Huskies were forced to start Upshaw and move Kemp to the four, which did help get Upshaw, a talented scorer on the low block, the ball more, it also cramped the floor and hurt the Huskies spacing. It's hard to run an effective high low and post up orientated offense when neither one of the big men can space the floor with mid range jump shots from either the elbows or the corners, not to mention the fact that guards struggle with their own jumpers as much as it is. Jarreau supplies some spacing, as he is an above average mid range jump shooter. His most canny offensive skill however is his play making ability. At 6'10 he has a remarkable ability to handle and pass the ball, and is able to throw Husky big men lobs for dunks from the high post from time to time. Most importantly, his abililty to facilitate and handle the ball from the top of the key from time to time takes some pressure off of Nigel Williams-Goss, who has had to create even more scoring opportunities for his teammates since Jarreau's injury.
It has only been one game, but after the dismissal of Upshaw the Huskies seem to have decided to return to the small ball basketball fans have gotten used to over the last few years. There is a trade off here as well, at least one guard or perimeter orientated player is woefully undersized on the defense side of the ball at all times. Which is a nice to segue into the...
The defensive side of the ball has arguably been where Jareau has been missed the least, but now with the dismissal of Upshaw, the Huskies certainlly miss his length. Despite putting on weight in the off season, Jarreau has never really been a banger down low, but he competes hard in the post and is quicker than most power forwards in the league. One of Jarreau's best defensive traits is ability to almost seamlessly switch onto guards during pick and rolls, a rare talent that allows the Huskies to switch most of the ball screens that he is involved in, limiting opposing teams' ability to score out of said pick and rolls. He is not an elite rim protector, averaging just 0.9 blocks per game this season, but his length would still be an upgrade on the defensive end, with his mere presence allowing Dorsey and Winters to slide back to their normal positions.
When Upshaw walked out the doors of Alaska Airlines arena for the last time, he took with him the Huskies identity as a stout defensive team. This is one of the problems facing Lorenzo Romar and his coaching staff. One of his most talented players will not be back for another two weeks at the earliest, and it could be about a month until he takes the floor for the Huskies again. At 3-5 and ninth in the Pac-12 standings, the Huskies must make a move now if there is any hope for them to be dancing in March. That means they must find a new identity as a team, and do it quickly. If the Stanford game on Wednesday was an indication for what is to come in the future, it seems as though the Huskies will go back to playing with four guards, otherwise known as "small ball." This sets up for a possible dilemma, assuming (solely for arguments sake) that Jarreau's recovery only takes a month, and he returns against the Sun Devils in Seattle on February 15. If the Huskies are still in the hunt for the NCAA tournament at that point, that likely means they have been able to establish switch their identity as a team half way through the season and are winning games as a small ball team.
The question then becomes, does Romar re-insert Jarreau into the starting lineup, which could potentially throw off the team's rhythm and send them into a second identity crisis? Or does he play the versatile forward out of position as a center, where he may be less effective and more of a liability on the defensive end?
There is no way to answer this hypothetical question besides watching the rest of the season play out. And honestly, if the Huskies found themselves in a situation similar to what I just proposed and their tournament hopes are still alive, i will take any sort of roster problem that may come about during Jarreau's return. Because right now, it seems that such a scenario is a bit of a long shot.
Here is to hoping that the Huskies prove me wrong.