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Talkin’ Hoops: What should UW fans expect in the second half of the season?

The UWDP writers get together to assess where Lorenzo Romar has this program as they begin conference play.

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Conference play begins on Sunday against Washington State so we thought this would be a good time for the UWDP basketball staff to reflect on the season so far as well as make some predictions about the future.

Who has been the most improved player so far this season?

Dilletaunt: I’m not going to say David Crisp until he shows some consistency. Dickerson had a great game against Seattle and Dom Green did well against WKU in Vegas. Dime has seemingly regressed thus far. That being said, I can’t really say there’s been an improved player from last season which might reflect the record thus far.

Max Vrooman: This comes down to David Crisp and Noah Dickerson and I’m going to go with Crisp. The turnovers are a real problem but some of that blame has to be on the coaches for playing him as a point guard when he’s much better suited off the ball. His shooting has really helped spread the floor and opened up the possibility of him becoming a 20 points per game scorer by his senior year.

Rob: At times Noah Dickerson has shown improvement... but maybe just as much regression this season. He’s being leaned on more, and thus far I’m not impressed with how he has come through, despite a handful of solid performances. I expected less out of David Crisp to start this season, and with that in mind, have been pleasantly surprised with his production. There are certainly flaws to his game, namely the turnovers. But for being asked to play significant minutes out of position by running point, the kid has performed admirably. I can easily imagine Crisp taking on a significant leadership role moving forward.

Chris Landon: I’ll put in a vote for David Crisp here. He is second on the team in scoring and, more impressively, has been efficient with his offensive game averaging 47% from both 2 point and 3 point range. He has much to work on, but I think he’s taken a big step forward from where we left him a year ago.

Lucas Shannon: Not going to buck the trend here, and am going to go with Crisp as well. His 1.9 turnovers per game is still too high, and he hasn’t looked very comfortable at the point guard position this season, which is a bit of a problem considering he is the team’s back up point guard when Markelle Fultz goes to the bench. Still, his 47% three point percentage speaks for itself, and is even more impressive when you take into account that he has attempted at least six threes in seven of the Huskies first twelve games.

What/who has been the biggest disappointment?

Dilletaunt: Malik Dime. While Dime continues to be a shot-blocking force on the defensive end he has not added offense to his game. With a need for more offensive help this year, Dime has not been able to provide any consistency as a low block threat.

Lucas: After going back and forth a bit between Malik Dime and Sam Timmins, I decided on Dime. It is hard to not pick Timmins, he was rated as a four star by and came in with heavy fanfare, but has not looked ready to positively contribute in league play, especially against teams with incredibly athletic front courts, such as Oregon and USC.

However, I am going to give Timmins the benefit of the doubt. He is still young, and despite having an early start to his college career, he came in last January and red-shirted, it is still reasonable to expect him to go through growing pains as he adapts to the college game.

On the other hand, I expected Dime to build off of his solid junior season and provide the Huskies with rim protection and rebounding. While he has improved as a shot blocker this season - he is averaging 3 blocks per game, up from 2.6 per game last season - his rebounding numbers have dropped to 4.6 per game, down an entire rebound from last season. Also, this team seems to clearly lack leadership on the floor, and with Dime being the only senior, fairly or unfairly, the expectation should be for him to be the team’s emotional leader. So far, that does not seem to be the case, and that also has to factor into this discussion.

Max: Coming into the year I had high hopes for Malik Dime. He showed flashes of an improved offensive game and that combined with his shot blocking ability made me think he had All-conference 2nd team potential. On offense, he’s been nearly invisible although it’s hard to tell how much of that is on Dime and how much is the guards not getting him the ball. Dime’s footwork on defense hasn’t seemed to improve from last year and while he’s still blocking shots, he hasn’t been much of a deterrent from guards going to the rim.

Rob: Here’s a vote for all of the big men. But I’m going to focus on a dark horse candidate here and maybe unfairly say Junior Matthew Atewe. There was a lot of hype surrounding Atewe when he transferred from Auburn after the 2014-2015 season. NCAA transfer rules forced him to sit out all of last season, but the hope coming in this year was that Romar would be able to plug-and-play a veteran big man into his young lineup. So far, Atewe has averaged about 4 minutes a game over only nine games. Early on I was hoping that this was just Romar figuring out his ideal lineup. Now it’s become clear that Atewe is simply not the player we were hoping he was.

Landon: Perhaps the hype train was in overload, but I think fans were really counting on Sam Timmins to come in and make more of an impact than what he has to date, in particular as a low post scoring threat. There are reasons to believe that he has upside, but the Huskies could really benefit if he could earn more time on the floor.

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Gonzaga
The majority of the UWDP staff agree that Malik Dime has been a disappointment this year.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

What is the most intriguing story line for UW in the second half of the season?

Dilletaunt: Can the Husky defense stop anyone? If the Huskies make a run, it will be due to the defense making stops. Thus far, allowing opponents 81 points per game is not going to do it. While the Huskies are averaging 85.6 points per game, this isn’t Paul Westhead’s 1990 LMU team.

Lucas: Whether or not the Huskies can get the ship turned around enough to win back some of the fan base. I have been one of Romar’s biggest defenders over the last half decade, but it is getting increasingly hard to defend him against his many critics. Fan frustration is mounting, and arguably even worse, apathy seems to be setting in as well. What do the Huskies need to do to create some on-court momentum heading into next season? I would argue they need to win at least 10 league games, and also advance in the Pac-12 tournament in order to create some sort of concrete, on-court (non-recruiting) evidence for fans to be able to point to when arguing in favor of keeping Romar.

Max: The most intriguing story line is whether the defensive problems are a result of poor coaching or player inexperience. This team has 100% turnover from the 2014-15 season which means no one has worked with anyone else in the program for more than 1.5 years. That lack of continuity is most evident in the propensity to over-reach on defense rather than trusting that teammates will be in position. If this team shows a marked improvement it will suggest youth is the primary problem and not Coach Romar.

Rob: Is this team still developing and capable of meaningful improvement? Or is this team devoid of notable talent beyond Fultz? Can Romar coach his team out of this? Or will he coach his way out of a job? Will enough fans even stick around to watch the outcome? Or will they just assume the worst and tune out till next year? Take your pick, they’re all legit questions.

Landon: The clock is the most intriguing story line ... and I’m not talking about the shot clock. Lorenzo Romar does not have enough production coming out of his second rotation nor enough defense out of any rotation to qualify as a tournament-bound team. If this team can’t make a run in conference play, will the clock finally expire on LoRo’s tenure with UW?

What is your prediction for UW’s final conference record/standing/tournament status?

Dilletaunt: While 9-9 was a disappointment last year, 9-9 might be a triumph considering how bad they’ve looked in the non-conference. UCLA, Oregon, Arizona and USC should be locks for the tourney while Colorado, Utah and Cal should be right there in the next tier. The Huskies will need several upsets to get to the bubble.

Lucas: I think I may be the most pessimistic of the group when gaming out the conference season. While the prospect that the league may be down this season does provide a glimmer of hope for Huskies fans, it is hard for me to see this Huskies team having any semblance of success in league play. I think the Huskies finish the season at 7-11.

Max: The aforementioned lack of experience for this team means I’m optimistic that this team will improve as the season goes along. I’m also not overly impressed by the rest of the Pac-12 to this point which means I think they can get to 9-9 in conference. Unfortunately, the weakness of the conference means that 9-9 combined with the non-conference results isn’t good enough to sniff an NCAA tournament berth.

Rob: 7-11, with a ceiling of 9 wins and a floor of 6 wins. Simply put, while this is a down year for the Dawgs, they are not the worst team in the conference. They should be able to secure a few wins out of Wazzu, Oregon State and Arizona State and maybe a couple more against Stanford, Utah or Cal. Outside of those teams, unless they grow up fast and go on a significant run to start league play, I don’t see them pulling off too many major upsets against the top of the league. That said, I also believe that Fultz is good enough to take over a game to the point where he could be the difference maker. If the Huskies are going to pull off any miracle wins this season, it’ll be with Fultz at the helm.

Landon: This is not a tournament team as it stands now. Fultz has been a savior, but the lack of cohesion among the younger core parts - Crisp, Green, Thybulle, Timmins, Dickerson, and Atewe - is a disappointing scenario. The good news is that we know that this team can score. We also have seen moments of defensive cohesion (and, thank goodness for Malik Dime). The raw materials for a second half run are present. But there isn’t enough time to bake the casserole. I expect UW to finish around .500 in conference play and miss the Dance.

Should Jen Cohen fire Lorenzo Romar after this season and what will she actually do?

Dilletaunt: Cohen has come out as “100% behind” Romar when she was first hired and passed on speculating about the future last week. But, the future is always coming. It should be noted, that the Washington Athletic Department was projected at nearly a $15M deficit for 2016. Romar’s salary is not gaudy, at $1.7 million, but there’s also a $3.2 million buyout. If Cohen decides to let Romar go, we would likely see a young (likely cheaper) coach inserted in Romar’s spot. But that would also mean blowing up the coaching staff and likely the good will in recruiting his program has done. It’s a hard decision since the team will not make the NCAAs for the sixth straight year but once again have a NBA first round pick (i.e., Fultz). Cohen is likely doing the right thing by letting this season play itself out, but she has to consider what to do if the basketball team fails to win as many games as the football team this season.

Lucas: This is the question that has plagued the UW basketball fan base for years now, and seems to have reached a fever pitch this season after the Huskies disastrous non-conference start. I am incredibly torn on this topic. On the one hand, the Huskies are bringing in the best player in the country in Michael Porter Jr., and are also adding very talented players scorers in Daejon Davis, Jaylen Nowell, and Blake Harris, who should all be able to compete for starting minutes right away. Couple that with the fact that this team shall return everyone save for Malik Dime and Markelle Fultz, (granted, kind of a big loss) and they should finally have quite a bit of depth.

On the other hand, it is pretty much impossible to defend Romar at this point based off of the on-court performance. I mean, I just projected that the Huskies will win seven conference games. If that actually happens - for the record, I hope they blow past that projection - it is going to be very hard to argue that the University should bring him back.

I completely understand and sympathize with the argument that coaching decisions should be made off of potential hires. I also agree with the argument that UW basketball is not an incredibly appealing power five job, especially when you consider that the basketball program is lagging behind considerably in the facilities arms race.

However, if the Huskies miss the tournament for the seventh year in a row, which, barring a miracle Pac-12 tournament run, is almost certain to happen, and if they finish in 10th, 11th, or 12th place, also in the realm of possibility, then Cohen may have no choice but to pull the plug.

Max: When contemplating coaching hires, the question isn’t should they make a change, but rather would the potential next hire be better than the current option? I think the UW job isn’t quite as appealing as some fans make it out to be which means replacing Romar with an unproven mid-major coach along the lines of what USC did hiring Andy Enfield. It has worked out for USC so far but that isn’t always the case.

Lorenzo Romar is the epitome of the kind of person you want representing your University off the court. Regardless of how the rest of his career shakes out, Coach Romar deserves respect for the way he truly cares for his players and the UW. That said, if UW doesn’t show marked improvement in conference play I unfortunately think it’s time for a change. However, the reality of Michael Porter and the incoming recruiting class combined with the substantial buyout required to move on from Coach Romar means he’ll be on the sidelines next year barring something like a catastrophic 11th or 12th place finish.

Rob: As a longtime Romar apologist, I’m just as fed up with him now as I feel most other Husky fans are. Accepting mediocrity over a period of time as long as this is not a recipe for success. As a lifelong Mariners fan, I’ve learned that first hand. That said, next year’s incoming class, and the one after it for that matter (Jontay Porter), are too good to overlook. I know that’s the cliche response, but it’s true. Fire Romar now and you begin what will likely be a long rebuilding process with a brand new staff. If you have no faith left in Romar, I can understand why that might sound like the right thing to do. But I believe in talent. Keep him around for another year and allow this to play out. If next year resembles anything like this year, its probably time for Romar to go. In terms of Romar’s buyout, I’ve heard multiple sources close to the program say that Jen Cohen will likely ride out his contract through its end in 2020. I’d like to think that if things get bad enough where they really start to do serious damage to their relationship with the fans, she’ll make the right move.

Landon: I don’t see any reason to pull the trigger on Romar now. It really isn’t the case that this team is under-performing to their capabilities. It is more the case that they are not accelerating the timeline a la Chris Petersen and his football team. UW will lose Fultz and Dime after this season, but everyone else will return. Blending in more of a front court threat like Michael Porter to a team that all of a sudden is comprised of juniors and sophomores is a situation where expectations are fair to set. I don’t see the point of sacrificing Porter and leaving an incoming coach with a roster with no true star to build around.