Let’s be honest. That football game sucked. It hurts to think about. So let’s not think about it. Let’s focus on a basketball game that Washington won! Washington won a basketball game that counts! For the 1st time since January 18th of 2017! That’s almost 10 full months! Here are some thoughts:
It turns out that not having a point guard makes it more difficult to get open shots. Who could have known? This team is going to go through periods where it really struggles to put the ball in the basket. The Huskies finished the 1st half with just 3 assists and ended the game with just 8. And yet, they scored 86 points! We’ll talk about how that miracle happened in just a bit.
After not playing in the exhibition game, true freshman Michael Carter III did get in the game as the backup to David Crisp. However, it looks like Crisp will be playing 35+ minutes per game this year getting a short rest each half. We didn’t get much of a chance to see Carter III in action as he finished with 1 assist, 1 rebound, and 0-1 shooting in 7 minutes but it certainly looks like the team will have to endure without a true passing guard.
Heads Down, Thumbs Up
The reason the Huskies won the game with just 8 assists were two-fold. Reason #1 is that they got to the free throw line a ton. Coach Hopkins said over the off-season that there would be a heavy emphasis on increasing the aggressiveness of the team and it’s shown through this game plus the exhibition. The Dawgs finished with 36 free throw attempts, making 26 of them for 72.2%. UW is 7th in the country (with the smallest of sample sizes) in free throw attempts per field goal attempt which shows how frequently a team gets to the line. That total will go down against stiffer competition but it emphasizes Coach Hop’s style to put your head down and drive to the hole rather than settle for 3’s.
The second reason is that Jaylen Nowell is really freaking good. In the last 6 minutes the team basically just let him go 1v1 with his defender and he just didn’t miss. The team is relying on the shot making ability of Nowell, Crisp, and Dickerson plus the raw athleticism of Carlos Johnson and Matisse Thybulle to get by on offense. It has a chance of working against lower competition but it isn’t a sustainable strategy once they get into conference play. Hopefully, they’ll adjust by then.
Stealing my Heart
While there were times when the 2-3 zone had issues (particularly when Belmont snuck a player on the baseline unaccounted for) it was able to force plenty of mistakes. Belmont had 16 turnovers and 12 of them resulted in steals by Washington. Once again small sample size caveats but they are also 7th in steal percentage with a steal on 15.5% of defensive possessions.
Matisse Thybulle is going to end up leading the conference in steals. It’s probably not going to be close. He had 5 last night and had another 4-5 times where he got his hand on the ball and deflected it either out of bounds or Belmont got it back on a loose ball scramble. With the troubles in the half court, getting steals and turning them into fast break layups will be critical for this team to score enough points against quality opponents.
Remember how people were concerned that this team didn’t have enough depth in the front court with just Dickerson, Sam Timmins, and Hameir Wright at taller than 6’7? Well, it’s going to be an issue. Hameir Wright and Sam Timmins both had 3 fouls in the 1st half and Dickerson had 2 and then fouled out with 7 minutes left. Devenir Duruisseau played 1 minute in the 1st half but Hopkins was more inclined to go with a 5 guard lineup than play him in crunch time.
Once Wright picked up his 4th foul, Hopkins went with a lineup of Crisp, Nowell, Thybulle, Green, and Johnson which allowed them to complete the comeback. Johnson tied for the team lead with 5 rebounds and just like last year has been very effective playing the 4 or 5 in small lineups. Teams like Arizona or Utah will bludgeon the Huskies inside but against a lot of teams in the Pac (and especially bench units) I think the Dawgs would be able to get by with a similar lineup.
Watch: Full highlights from Washington's 86-82 season-opening victory over Belmont at Alaska Airlines Arena. #TougherTogether pic.twitter.com/YYA03nbOJ1— UW Men's Basketball (@UW_MBB) November 11, 2017
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