Okay. Maybe I was exaggerating with that sub-headline.
Certainly, the blitz of success that Chris Petersen and his football team have had in opening 2016 as an undefeated team has overwhelmed some of the other stories coming out of UW sports. For example, the women’s volleyball team is off to a terrific start, and we’ve hardly taken note. The men’s crew just won the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston and nary a peep from our audience. And yes, men’s basketball is about to tip off with what many people project as the future #1 pick in the NBA Draft as a headline attraction, and not a word can be heard.
I get it. There is only so much emotion that the average person who has something vaguely resembling a life can invest into college sports. Or sports in general. Still, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t shine a light on what is happening over on the hardwood. There are some interesting developments happening in the world of UW men’s basketball right now.
With the season just about two weeks away (vs Yale, Sun 11/13), here are three reasons you ought to be getting excited about Husky Basketball.
The Youthful Complexion
By now, you have heard about the phenom that is incoming freshman Markelle Fultz. Many entities, including CBS Sports and Draft Express, project him as the top NBA prospect in the next NBA Draft. The 6’5” point guard is about as finished a product as you could hope for from an 18-year-old. He demonstrates explosiveness with the ball in his hands, has a plus perimeter shot, and is a lockdown defender whose size allows him to man up against bigger players and to get the occasional blocked shot. Right now, he is neck and neck with incoming UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball as a favorite to win Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year.
But Fultz isn’t the only young face giving a new complexion to Lorenzo Romar’s long-in-the-tooth tenure. UW. Several sophomores, including G David Crisp, G Dominic Green, and F Matisse Thybulle, return after promising freshman campaigns to make up a core part of both the team’s identity and rotation. True freshman Harold Baruti is a 6’6” ball of hustle who will compete with sophomore Devenir Duruisseau for the role of roving floor defender and fast break trigger man.
In addition to those guys, take note of true freshman Carlos Johnson. He is an unheralded PG prospect who measures in at 6’4” and 235 lbs. He is going to be a load as a backup to Thybulle and as a complementary player to Crisp.
A Basket of Big Uglies
Outside of the occasional appearance of a singular talent like a Robert Upshaw, it seems like UW has had trouble attracting and deploying bigs into their program. No more.
In 2016, UW will roll out one of the deepest and most diverse front courts in the entire conference. The headliner is 6’9” Malik Dime, a defensive sensation who captured the hearts of Husky fans as a transfer player a year ago. Dime will finally have some support with the arrivals two new faces. 6’8” 250 lb Matthew Atewe is eligible after sitting out a year following his transfer from Auburn. Atewe projects as a rugged defender and rebounder thanks to his big frame and long arms.
Also to make his debut is freshman center Sam Timmins. Timmins is an experienced international player who moved to UW after playing with the New Zealand national team. He actually joined the Huskies part way through last season and earned a red shirt.
My personal pick for a breakout season is sophomore Noah Dickerson. The 6’8” PF started 25 games a year ago for UW averaging 7.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. He is exactly the kind of inside-out PF who should meld well with Fultz in a half-court offense. This big man was a top 50 recruit a year ago and is primed for a great season in UW’s newly refurbished front line.
It has been a long time since I can recall looking at a Pac-12 conference that will open the season with so many teams as legitimate contenders. The favorite right now is Oregon and rightfully so. The Ducks were the only team to get past the round of 32 in last year’s tournament and are regularly showing up in the top 5 in preseason polls. Doubts also exist, stemming from roster turnovers and a lingering injury to their star Dillon Brooks.
Arizona, UCLA, and Cal are all very relevant contenders who each bring something unique to the table. Arizona still has great roster depth, though rumors are swirling that star SG Allonzo Trier may have eligibility issues. UCLA has what might be the best offense in the league while Cal boasts some of the best young talent in the conference.
Beyond those top four, everyone is expecting teams like Colorado, USC, and Utah to provide ample resistance and to take a bite out of some of those teams in the upper echelon.
The bottom line here is that it is hard to project any single team to run away with the PAC and, in fact, I’d be shocked if we didn’t get to the Pac-12 tournament with at least four teams widely viewed as realistic candidates to win it all.
UW has a schedule advantage. Unlike football, which divides into divisions, basketball keeps a singular ledger where everybody plays everybody. The presence of twelve teams means an imbalanced schedule, with four teams who UW will play only once each.
Two of those four teams include a couple of the better teams in the conference. The Huskies will play Oregon, the consensus favorite in the conference, at home on January 4th and that’s it. Likewise, UW travels to Cal a week later for their only meeting with the Bears.
This scheduling quirk might have a negative affect on RPI, but it might help UW swap out one or two losses for wins on their overall schedule. If it comes down to a bubble exercise at the end of the season, that one- or two-game relief might be enough to get UW into the NCAAs.
2016 is shaping up to be a fantastic year for Husky athletics. The football team has set the table by stoking up widespread interest among alums and the fanbase. There is ample reason to believe that this momentum might carry over into a surprising and exciting basketball season.