I'm not sure about the rest of you, but the last nine months has felt like one big roller coaster as a Husky Basketball fan. After a disastrous end to the season and the departure of Nigel Williams-Goss and Jernard Jarreau, it seemed as though longtime coach Lorenzo Romar had lost his grip on the program.
Just when some thought he was down for the count, Romar responded by bringing in what is likely the most talented recruiting class the Huskies have ever seen, replenishing the program with a gluttonous amount of young talent. Romar has laid the foundation to enjoy a great amount of success two to three years from now.
While that is all great, it still leaves us with next season; What should Huskies fans expect? And what needs to happen next year to for the season to be considered a success? As you'll find out below, this question ended up being too daunting for me to tackle on my own, so I decided to call on some of the UWDP basketball writers to help me answer the question.
Editor's note number one: Portions of the following conversation have been edited to fix grammar and spelling errors.
Editor's note number two: Jason (dilletaunt) was unable to join us for our discussion, but he emailed me his thoughts after the fact. He broke our GroupThink and believes the Huskies need to make the tournament next season. You can find his thoughts at the bottom of this post.
Lucas Shannon: Okay, so a few days ago I set out to write a piece that would define what exactly "a successful season" for the Huskies would look like next year. I figured it would be easy, but honestly, it stumped me. So I figured I needed some help, and what better way than to call a Round-table of the UWDP basketball writers (minus Jason). So gentlemen, here is my first question to: What needs to happen next year in order to call the season a "success?"
Kirk DeGrasse: I'm not going to put a set number of wins or a particular post-season tournament requirement, but it has to be a season where it's clear the program is on the rise. And if they don't make the NCAA Tournament, it has to be clear they are very close. Basically, I'm looking for a very clear upward trajectory. For me, the bar is "Can Romar do better than we'd expect a brand-new coach at the school to do."
Ben Knibbe: To define the season as a success the team needs to improve over the year, and at the end of the season we need to be saying it is definitely one of the top-4-5 teams in the conference. I don't mean improve in how every team improves over the course of the season, I mean huge growth, due to the incredible amount of youth. I don't expect a Tournament berth, but the Dawgs need to end the season by being at least in the conversation, due to strong play at the end of the season.
Jesse Kennemer: That's tough. Obviously a lot of people will instantly say NCAA tournament, but those same people would probably also admit that expecting a tournament run out of such a freshman-heavy team is unrealistic. Perhaps something less could be a success if the arc of the season trended upwards, as Kirk suggested, and young players developed, but then it would depend so much on whether or not all of those players decided to stick around for another year. And it's hard to imagine a trip to the NIT feeling like a "success", even if that is unrealistic.
Kirk: I do think the NCAA tournament the season in '16/'17 is pretty much a must.
Ben: Yeah, have to agree with Kirk on the Tourney being a must in 16/17.
Kirk: For me, the thing we need to do is judge what Romar does vs. what we'd expect a new coach (that we could realistically land) with doing. And already, Romar is way ahead. I don't see any other coach that we could hire landing the kind of class Romar landed for this year
Ben: Kirk, what do you expect out of a new coach?
Kirk: First, I doubt any coach we could have hired would have pulled a class this good. But let's say they did. Given how young the roster is and how it's almost entirely a new team with little built-up chemistry, it seems like a stretch to expect 20+ wins and the NCAA tournament. So if I wouldn't expect a new guy to produce that, I'm not going to say Romar has to just because it would mark 4 straight years not in the Dance. I don't think we should be thinking of making coaching decisions based off of punishment for past sins, but off of what gives us the best chance of success moving forward.
Lucas: To me, this question itself sort of has a second question embedded within it, which is "What do you expect from this team next year?" And the best way for me to answer that second question is to explain what I don't expect to happen (okay, this is starting to get confusing). I don't expect the Huskies to make the NCAA tournament, nor do I expect them to get very close to contending for a Pac-12 regular season title. There is simply too much youth in the program and too many unknowns about how they will all adapt to playing together, adjusting to college game, etc. With that said, I still believe next season can be considered a "success". If that Success is going to happen, the team needs to improve as the season goes along, and end the season on an upward trend. Also, Dejounte Murrary, and David Crisp need to be given a big leash, play big minutes, and be allowed to fail (and learn in the process), even if that means taking minutes/touches away from Senior Point Guard Andrew Andrews.
Kirk: So that's what I want to see out of Romar - clear progress that things are getting better. I also think it's reasonable to expect a good recruiting class for 2016. Which means it's talented, balanced and hitting needs.
Lucas: Completely agree. I don't think a new coach could have pulled in this type of class. While I don't expect this team to make the tournament, I will be disappointed if they aren't playing well enough to win at least a game or two in the Pac-12 tournament.
Ben: If the team isn't playing well enough to make it past the first day of the Pac-12 Tourney then chances are the season is a failure as a whole. I mean, sometimes you can get a fluky loss in the Tournament, but the team as a whole needs to be at a level where we expect a win or two.
That being said, a young, talented time like this exact Husky team is going to be prone to wide swings of performance. The gap between the highest of highs and the lowest of lows is wide, and we won't know if we will see cohesiveness each and every night or if we will see dribble, dribble, dribble, shoot and a lack of rotation defensively. With a team like this those swings could occur on the same trip into the Bay Area. One out-of-character loss at the end of the season says a heck of a lot less than the trajectory of the team as a whole, to circle back to what all of us said at the start.
Kirk: Yep. I'm more willing to forgive poor showings early in the season. Romar's teams tend to gel later, and that's what I'd expect from this group especially.
Lucas: Also, if they can avoid an 11-0 start and a 16-15 finish, that'd be nice.
Ben: Yeah let's start 0-11 and finish 16-15 instead.
Kirk: I know this drives some of our fans crazy, but I just don't care that much about "accountability" as a means of making coaching decisions. I care about who gives us the best chance at success moving forward. I know some readers are going to go crazy that I'm OK with keeping Romar if they don't make the NCAA this year.
Lucas: You're starting to get it, Ben.
Ben: I think the entire staff at UWDP is okay with keeping Romar even without a berth in the Big Dance so long as we see necessary growth.
Lucas: Well they will be unhappy with me as well. I’m sorry but it is not realistic to expect such a young team to make the tournament.
Kirk: Yes, but there are definitely some vocal fans that want his hide if we miss out a 4th straight year
Ben: He is becoming a victim of his own success, really.
Kirk: And really, I'm not sure a 16-15 record - even if they played better in the 2nd half of the season - would be good enough. I think this team probably should be closer to 18-20 wins.
Lucas: Husky fans being vocal and calling for their coaches’ head due to unrealistic expectations? Nope, sorry you must have us confused with a different fan-base.
Kirk: Heh. "YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM WITH YOUR LOWERED EXPECTATIONS, ETC!"
Jesse: I don't know if my expectations are low because I have no idea what to expect out of these kids.
Lucas: Wait, Kirk you think this team should win 20 games next year?
Kirk: I think that's at the high end of possible. Probably more like 18. I do think a better record than last year is realistic. Am I crazy?
Lucas: Very good point Jesse. I expect Andrew Andrews to get up his long twos, and for Dorsey to get up his threes. Beyond that, it's all just one big guess right now. But, nonetheless here we are! And no Kirk, I don't think you are crazy. Though I think 20 is the absolute highest I am willing to go at this point.
Jesse: Even Andrews, who is now our veteran, feels like an unknown because he will be presumably be starting at point guard.
Kirk: Yeah, 20 wins would mean everything coming together really quickly. But man, the talent is impressive.
Ben: I don't want Dorsey to get up his threes. He wasn't recruited as a shooter. He was recruited as an athlete. The shooting was a hot streak that will not continue. But his athleticism is a real thing.
Kirk: Anyone have any idea why he was so thick last year? That was a complete shock - he was MUCH thinner in H.S.
Ben: He was always kind of big... Jesse and I actually got mentioned by him on Twitter when we were talking about it. I would bet he is slimming down.
Kirk: I was expecting a more athletic wing, not a bulky 3-point shooter. Man, the pictures I saw of him in H.S., he sure looked skinnier.
Jesse: It seemed like it improved over the course of the year, but I could be wrong.
Ben: I don't remember (from grainy highlight videos) him being bigger, but maybe I am wrong.
Lucas: I'm not so sure his three point shooting will disappear altogether. He has a nice looking stroke. I'm not expecting him to shoot high in the upper 30s, but I don't think expecting him to shoot 32-35% from three is all that crazy. But yeah, it would be nice to see his athleticism improve next year.
Kirk: He has a good stroke. I'm hoping he can parlay that into giving him more room to drive
Ben: Dorsey wasn't given any rope offensively to do anything other than shoot, when the hot streak ended he lost his rotation spot. If he can't drive and open up the offense that way, his defense isn't anything special and Thybulle will pass him up quick.
Lucas: Closing thoughts?
Kirk: I'm excited for this season. It may look rocky at times, but the talent is there and they appear to be returning to the style of play that got everyone excited back in Romar's early days. I think Conroy will provide the kick in the butt this coaching staff has missed since Dollar left. I think we're headed on the right path again.
Jesse: I sure hope so. Adding Noah Dickerson last second made me a little less stressed about the front court, too.
Kirk: That was a critical get since Atewe isn't going to get that waiver
Ben: We are going to see flashes of talent and we are going to see flashes of youth, oftentimes on the same possession, We are going to have to take the good and the bad but the amount of pure talent that Romar has amassed makes me excited for the upcoming season.
Lucas: I haven't been this excited about Husky Hoops in a long time. While I expect this group to have a great deal of success two or three years from now, i am excited to watch this team grow and mesh next year, and hopefully they will find their groove by the end of the season and surprise everyone by winning the Pac-12 tournament. Hey, I’m allowed to dream aren't I?!
Jason: I think for me its pretty simple regarding expectations. Romar's team needs to make the NCAA tournament. Fair or unfair, I think the Husky men's basketball program needs to get out of the "trough" it is in sooner than later. The upheaval this past season with all the departures is a telling sign about the state of the program. It's time for Romar and his staff to turn the program around now.