Washington Huskies (15-14, 4-13) vs. #13 Utah Utes (23-6, 13-14), Saturday March 7th, 1:30pm, Pac-12 Networks.
Senior Night has almost arrived, and unfortunately it will be a far more somber affair than one would hope. Of course, there is much to celebrate for the two seniors, Shawn Kemp Jr. and Mike Anderson. A college education, the opportunity to take the sport of basketball to the Division-I level.
Yet, it would be foolish to pretend this is the ending Kemp and Anderson had in mind when they signed on to play under Coach Romar.
Kemp, of course, has dealt with constant comparisons to his father. He was bogged down by undiagnosed Graves Disease, then worked to overcome it in order to start this season in (legitimately) the best shape of his career.
He managed some fine performances and threw down some admirable dunks, but never learned to take advantage of his physical tools to become a plus defender or rebounder.
Anderson, after growing up in Hartford, Connecticut, ended up at a Junior College in Missouri as a stepping stone towards a high-major offer. From the start it was clear his rugged, well-rounded game was well suited to a complementary role.
Circumstances not only demanded an unselfish role focused on defense and rebounding, they demanded that Anderson bang in the paint as a 6-5 power forward for long stretches of both his seasons on campus. It's hard not to wonder how valuable he could have been as a do-it-all utility guard on an earlier, more talented Romar squad.
While Anderson will have a chance to say goodbye via one last performance at HecEd in front of family, it looks like Kemp will have to stay off the court due to continuing concussion symptoms. It doesn't feel fair, and it isn't.
There's just something inherently sad, even a little tragic, about Senior Night for all but the most successful squads. In life, and especially in sports, it's so tempting to think of everything, careers and seasons, as building towards some kind of big, defining moment. Most of the time careers draw to a close quietly, in front of sparse crowds.
Time runs out for the imagined conference championships and deep tournament runs, the kind of moments I imagine high school recruits and college freshmen must picture together as they prepare to step on to the college stage.
Certainly if tomorrow afternoon is to be a tragedy, it is of the most minor kind. Kemp and Anderson are college-educated, just beginning their adult lives, and all the better as human beings for having worked through some of the toughest UW basketball seasons in recent memory.
Plus, even if the NBA isn't likely, both players have a shot at finding steady work playing pro ball overseas. Other recent UW grads like Aziz N'Diaye and Abdul Gaddy have done just that, and seem more than happy to be paid healthy salaries to spend their twenties playing basketball across Europe.
So it isn't the end for Kemp and Anderson. It's just the end of their time playing for us, and it's worth taking a break from whining about another disappointing year and debating Romar's job security to celebrate them for putting in these years of work, and for choosing to spend those years wearing Purple and Gold.
Likely Starting Five: G Brandon Taylor (Jr., 5-10, 167), G Delon Wright (Sr., 6-5, 190), F Jordan Loveridge (Jr., 6-6, 222), F Chris Reyes (So., 6-7, 230), C Jakob Poetl (Fr., 7-0, 235).
Oh, and I should probably preview the game. Short of some serious Senior Night inspiration, it's not going to be good. Kemp is still out. It's unclear if Dorsey will play.
That leaves seven scholarship players, including only two post players. Even if Utah's starting five weren't clearly more talented, the total lack of depth would likely sink the Huskies anyway.
First, a breakdown of Utah should begin with the backcourt, made up of a pair of experienced upperclassmen in Brandon Taylor and Delon Wright.
Wright is versatile and above all else efficient. He leads the team in points (14.4), assists (5.4), and steals (2.2). He's also somehow second in rebounds (4.7) and blocks (1.0). The points have come via 52% shooting (34% from deep), and the passing numbers are boosted by his fantastic ball security (1.8 turnovers).
Taylor is the smaller guard, though he often plays off the ball to allow Wright to run the offense. His specialty has been shooting from three-point range, where he has hit 43% of his attempts. Overall, he averages 10.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.1 steals.
Right behind him as a 2nd/3rd scoring option is Jordan Loveridge. His minutes and volume numbers are way down from last year, but his efficiency has improved. He's still shooting only 42% from the field, but his percentage from deep has leapt from 30% to 45% in a single season. If you aren't seeing the pattern: the Utes can shoot.
In the front court, Chris Reyes will start, though he will only play around 18 minutes. He isn't one to stuff the stat sheet, but he provides solid defense and his size at 6-7 will be no problem against Washington's decimated front court.
The real problem is Jakob Poetl. Despite cooling way down since his hot non-conference start, and particularly struggling over the last four or five games, Poetl is a mismatch for every single healthy Husky.
Based purely on size, likely starting center Gilles Dierickx should have a fighting chance at 6-11. However, Gilles lacks physicality and has not really looked like a viable Pac-12 contributor in his limited opportunities this season. Jernard Jarreau will be starting at power forward, and he also lacks the physicality to deal with the Austrian freshman.
If I'm coaching Utah, I see this game as a chance to restock Poetl's confidence in advance of the upcoming tournaments. While there's no doubt the Utes can dominate playing their normal gameplan, it seems logical to feed the big man in an effort to get Dierickx and/or Jarreau in foul trouble and force four or five guard lineups.
We saw what a talented post like Josh Scott did to this front line only a few days ago, and there's little doubt in my mind that Poetl is capable of doing the same despite his lack of recent production.
I obviously hope to see the Huskies put up a serious fight in their final opportunity to play in front of home fans this year. Especially with Kemp stuck on the bench to close out his career, somehow stealing an upset over a ranked opponent would be an awesome way to close out a rough, rough season.
Unfortunately, the Utes are on a business trip. They have their eyes set on achieving big things in the NCAAs this year, and likely have little interest in bowing to feel-good narratives.
Utah 72, Washington 58