It is one game past the halfway point of the Pac-12 conference season. The Washington Huskies hold a 7-3 record in conference and could be tied for first place by Super Bowl Sunday. For a team picked 11th in the conference at the beginning, Dawg fans are pleasantly surprised with the play of this very young team.
Taking a look at the team, they are 15-7 overall, going 10-3 at home and 3-2 away. They are also 2-2 in neutral court games (i.e., China and Bahamas).
It’s February and we can still talk about the prospects of March. This is a good thing for Coach Lorenzo Romar and attendance for the last 4 games at Alaska Airlines Arena. What’s the key to the success of this team? How are they doing it? What can we expect for the rest of the season?
First, let’s take a look at the team:
Clearly a frontrunner for Pac 12 Player of the Year, Andrews leads the league in points per game (21.0 – this probably went down after Wednesday’s game). He is shooting 39% from 3 and almost 85% from the free throw line as well. Overall, Andrews has been playing smart and recognizing the hand check rules so as to ensure he receives ample opportunities from the free throw line.
The concern is that Andrews has struggled in the past three games. He went a combined 6-24 against the LA schools. Although he made key plays in the win against UCLA, his shot was not going down in SoCal. The struggle continued Wednesday. He went 2-13 against ASU. Granted, he made the shots when it counted (in OT), but his porous shooting led to what seemed like forced shots and frustration. You can’t blame him, but he is in a definite funk after a hot start.
If the Huskies are to finish off this season with a tournament berth, they will need Andrews’ senior leadership and scoring. He is providing the leadership; it’s just the scoring that the Dawgs need now down the stretch.
At the beginning of the season, Murray was thought to be the breakout star from this class of freshmen. After a so-so start Murray is starting to play into the hype. He still plays a little too fast causing some bad turnovers, but we are starting to see why he is a special player. Murray is very fluid with the ball in getting to the basket. In my opinion, his ability to get to the hoop whenever he wants to is reminiscent of when Tony Wroten played for the Huskies.
Maybe I’m not the only one. Of course, I meant the Wroten comparison as a compliment.
Murray’s no doubt super interesting. But he’s still pretty Tony Wroten-y right now with the decision-making (is a slightly better shooter).— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) February 4, 2016
ASU on Wednesday provided evidence that he can take over a game if he needs to. With Andrew Andrews not making anything, Murray stepped up.
Interesting stat relayed by the broadcast team from the ASU game: no Husky has recorded a triple-double in team history. Could Murray be the first? Last night he had 34 points (a career high), 11 rebounds, and 6 assists before fouling out. If Murray can cut down on the turnovers and improve on his outside shot (he has one, right?), he can take some pressure off Andrews in the scoring department.
Perhaps Dickerson and Malik Dime are the two under-the-radar freshman for this team thus far. Dickerson has what I’d like to call an "old man’s game." Nothing special or high flying, but he has very sound, subtle post moves and finishes at the bucket. He also can stick the 15-foot jumper, which will keep defenses honest when guarding him.
Chriss showed flashes of dominance early in the season, but fouls have hampered his play. Unfortunately, his inability to stay out of foul trouble is preventing us (and him) from seeing his potential. He has some nice low post moves and is stepping out to hit shots from the perimeter. On the defensive end, he is a presence underneath. However, his aggressive play leads to fouls. Coach Romar has stated that he is working on this but with 11 disqualifications (yes, 11 according to UW stats) already this season, he is still working on it.
Thybulle has provided solid defense and is a streaky three-point shooter. In fact, Thybulle narrowly edges Andrews for top 3-point % on the team (39.7%). The only issue with Thybulle is fouls. Similar to Chriss, he’s foul-prone and is second on the team in DQs with 8 including Wednesday night.
David Crisp, Malik Dime, Dominic Green and Donaven Dorsey have been solid throughout the season. Crisp and Dime stand out for the Huskies as each has given the team quality minutes. Crisp is a threat from three-point range and is reminiscent of another shorter, left-handed point guard. Dime has been great on defense; he leads the team going away in blocks with 60, and spearheaded the record night in blocks (15) against the Buffaloes. The junior transfer is 8th in the NCAA in blocks per game, which has aided the Huskies to lead Division I in blocks per game. Green has been getting more playing time of late and we are starting to see what he can give to this team. He is a lengthy defender who can hit the three.
Although Dorsey is seeing less time, he still can contribute as a three-point threat. His three to tie the game late against UCLA after the Huskies blew an 18-point halftime lead is a prime example.
When asked by the media, Coach Romar has complimented this team on the fact that the young freshman are coachable. Although he gave names or specific examples, in an interview with KJR he alluded to the fact that some young players tend to think they know how to do things. This team, Romar indicated, is willing to be coached. The good news is that Romar has willing pupils that will listen to him, and it appears that everyone has bought into the system and style that he wants to play.
The Huskies' defense is special. It leads the nation in blocks per game and has caused at least 10 turnovers by their opponents in each game this season (14 last night against the Sun Devils). The defense creates the tempo, as once they get the ball, they push the ball up court creating quick shot attempts.
Until this past weekend, the deceiving stat for the Huskies was that despite being 10th in the NCAA in scoring at almost 85 points per game, the team was outscored overall (i.e., opponents scored more points than the Huskies this season). This stat can be attributed to a huge blowout loss to Arizona and several very close games. Thus, the other side of this stat is the team is winning close games. OT wins against UCLA, WSU, and ASU, as well as a comeback home win against USC, underscore the team’s ability to play well when the game is close. This characteristic cannot be highlighted enough. When it comes down to the wire late in the season, this team’s resolve and experience in tight games should be an attribute for March.
With the Huskies at 7-3, I previously alluded to the fact that 10 wins in conference should put the Dawgs in the tournament due to the RPIs of the rest of the conference members and strength of schedule. In an interview on KJR, Huskies broadcast analyst Jason Hamilton thought 11 wins in conference would do it. Thus, per JHam, 5-4 the rest of the way would do it.
In summary, if there was a formula to break down what the Huskies need in order to make it into the tournament, it would be cutting down the TOs and fouls, bumping up their field goal percentage while continuing to play their suffocating defense. Andrew Andrews and Dejounte Murray are the key scorers, but a third option should surface to step up as possible threat. This could be Chriss but his foul problems are a huge issue. If Chriss can cut down on the fouls and stay in the game, he can be the force in the low post.
At this point, the Huskies remain on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. I would expect that the Dawgs remain teetering going into the Pac-12 Tournament. But that’s not a bad thing for this team considering where they were just a year ago and the prognostications for the team this year.