The Huskies have lost five straight and nine of the last twelve games. Progress has been hard to come by in the wake of Upshaw's dismissal. At this point, it feels almost unfair to ask such a short-handed team to face one of the two or three most physically impressive basketball teams in the nation.
Imposing as they may be, the Wildcats are fresh off of a 81-78 road loss at rival Arizona State. When top teams are upset, you can take it one of two ways: they'll be vulnerable in a hostile environment so soon after a let-down, or they'll absolutely dominate to make a statement.
Basically, we can't know how the loss will help or hurt Washington's chances. We do know that it would take an epic effort from Washington or another down day from Coach Miller's squad to allow Romar to break his losing streak on Friday night.
Projected Starting Five: G T.J. McConnell (Jr., 6-1, 195), F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (So., 6-7, 220), F Stanley Johnson (Fr., 6-7, 245), F Brandon Ashley (Jr., 6-9, 230), C Kaleb Tarczewski (Jr., 7-0, 245).
Key Bench Players: G Gabe York (Jr., 6-3, 185), G Elliott Pitts (So., 6-5, 185), G Parker Jackson-Cartwright (Fr., 5-10, 160).
Instead of playing four guards (or even five) like the Huskies, the Wildcats opt to start a point guard with three extremely long forwards and a true center.
Washington has a size advantage at point guard and that is it. Hollis-Jefferson and star freshman Stanley Johnson both possess ideal size and athleticism to play small forward in the NBA, Ashley possesses a prototypical power forward's build, and Tarczewski is a mountain of a man.
On paper, the Wildcats boast near-comical athleticism and length, and they will face an undersized Washington team with a serious turnover problem.
Strangely enough, neither Ashley nor Tarczewski average even 1.0 block per game. Ashley is averaging 0.7 while Tarc is down to 0.6 per contest after averaging exact one last season.
Instead, the Wildcats steal the ball. A lot. McConnell is good for 2.1 steals per game, leading the conference, while Stanley Johnson averages 1.5 and Hollis-Jefferson 1.1.
Meanwhile, Nigel Williams-Goss is up to 3.0 turnovers per game (just behind Tyrone Wallace for most in the conference), with both Anderson and Andrews averaging about 2.0 per contest.
Most recently, UW turned the ball over 22 times in a loss at Oregon State on February 8th. The Beavers are fantastic at forcing turnovers, but it's difficult to picture those issues suddenly going away against the top team in the conference.
Even ignoring UW defense vs. AZ offense, I think this disparity is enough to decide the contest. The Huskies will have an incredibly difficult time scoring against this defense, which only allows 59 points per game on 40% shooting.
Without any credible perimeter threats aside from Dorsey, UW will need to score in the paint to survive. Tarczewski and Ashley will be waiting under the basket. It's easy to picture lots of flailing attempts at the rim from Andrews and a bunch of ill-advised bail-out passes to be tipped and collected by Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson. AZ is lethal on the break, and the Huskies allow teams far too many fast-break chances.
Arizona's offense is solid, if not spectacular. AZ is second in the Pac-12 in scoring (75ppg) and second in true shooting percentage (57.3). One weakness: the Wildcats only assist on 52% of baskets (8th in the Pac-12).
I do not see UW's zone defense giving them much trouble. AZ boasts enough shooting from McConnell, Johnson, York, and Pitts to keep guards honest out on the perimeter, while Kemp and Dorsey are not at all prepared to control Tarczewski and Ashley in the paint. Expect lots of offensive rebounds and a couple posterizing rim-rattlers.
Speaking of rebounds, the Wildcats are tops in the conference in terms of total rebound rate, 3rd in offensive rebound rate, and 1st in defensive rebound rate. Washington...is not.
To see the Huskies keep this game close, or somehow pull off the upset, would be glorious. If Upshaw were still around and Jarreau were healthy, it might even be realistic. As of now, it's too much to ask a team with one real big man to defeat a team boasting this kind of NBA size and athleticism, even in Seattle.
Arizona 72, Washington 54