Welcome to the UWDP men’s basketball pre-season shoot around! To get you ready for the start of the Husky basketball season Friday night we’ve assembled all of our experts to give you their thoughts on a variety of topics about this year’s team. It’s been an eventful off-season what with the small matter of hiring a new coach for the first time in 15 years, so let’s get to it!
Think about your expectations for the program moving forward at the moment you heard that Lorenzo Romar had been fired. Compare that to how you feel now. Have your views changed over the summer?
Max: At the time, I felt that the program would be in for a substantial rebuild and unless they nailed the coaching hire then the “years without a tourney invite” streak was likely to hit double digits.
I believe the program is better off than that now. The first big thing was that Hop got Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, and David Crisp to stay. They aren’t going to be a trio that single handedly carries a team to the NCAA tourney but they are a competent nucleus for a Pac-12 squad. Hop also did a better job salvaging the recruiting class than I would have thought by keeping Jaylen Nowell and adding Hameir Wright.
Finally, I got deeper into the weeds of just how much worse last year’s team was than they should have been. If Hopkins is anything close to an average coach it should pay immediate dividends. Pending transfers or severe regression from the Big 3, I think this team should reasonably be expected to make an NCAA tourney in 2018/19 which is a better timetable than I previously imagined.
Chris: As has been well documented, my expectations for the program took a turn downwards in the first handful of weeks after Hop’s hiring. This was based mainly on two factors: 1) the inability to hold together the 2017 or 2018 recruiting classes and 2) the inability to land any coaches within his own coaching tree.
The latter is actually my most pressing concern. While I find comfort in having guys like Dollar and Conroy around the program, it feels like to me that Hopkins basically hired mercenaries to fill spots on his staff after the people in his own network all rejected him. It raises the question of staff continuity and how much time/energy Hopkins is going to have to put into training his own coaches. As this young team struggles, we will have to answer the questions about whether or not this is a team divided with, at worst, each coach having his own little agenda.
I am impressed that Hopkins was able to retain both Dickerson and Thybulle. Those were stabilizing moves. He also stitched together a recruiting class that has at least one player (Nowell) who ought to be able to contribute above replacement levels from Day 1. That’s good, too.
Otherwise, I’m bracing myself for a painful rebuild with a team that has no real scoring talent, no real ball handler and no dominant rebounding capabilities. I hope as many other Dawg fans do that Hopkins has a magic touch when it comes to the motivational side so that we can all endure it.
Ben: Anyone who didn’t temper their expectations for this coming season when Romar was deposed would have been delusional. Losing out on the elite recruiting class is rough and the decision to forego that infusion of talent is going to show itself on the court. That opinion hasn’t changed one bit. For the near future, this rebuild won’t be fun.
The Dawgs still do have Nowell from that class and have retained most of the talent from last season, with Thybulle and Dickerson being the key pieces to that as Chris mentioned. It is a hopeful sign that the trio is still around, and it gives me some hope that Hopkins will be able to assemble talent moving forward. He also has the ability to mold talent, so I am optimistic about the long-term view relative to when the gavel sounded on Romar.
Jason: I would suggest fans of UW Basketball not watch or think of the Missouri Basketball team this year as it will likely make the tourney and be much-talked about this season. With that being said, Coach Hopkins is saying and doing everything correctly. The question is how that translates on the court. Hopkins hired Dollar and kept on Will Conroy which I have mixed feelings about. If the program was going to rip off the band aid by getting rid of Romar why keep two of his assistants? You can make the argument about keeping Conroy to preserve Seattle recruiting ties and bring back Dollar to reinstall the defensive intensity but this seems like more of a way to appease the fan base.
It will take some time for Coach Hopkins to install his way of playing especially with the 2-3 zone. If the team does anywhere near .500 I believe this season a success.
Who is your pick for Team MVP?
Max: Noah Dickerson. I think Matisse Thybulle is the best 2-way player and David Crisp will be the primary ball handler but I expect Noah to lead the team in both points and rebounds. He improved significantly between his freshman and sophomore years and early reports are that he has slimmed down and is in the best shape of his life. I think he ends up as an all-conference 2nd team selection.
Chris: Noah Dickerson. He’s easily the most talented player on the roster and the upward trajectory that he has shown in the past two seasons provides a foundation for hope. UW doesn’t have a lot of options out of the halfcourt offense nor do they have a lot of rebounding talent on the roster. Dickerson has a chance to average a double-double for the season.
Ben: Because everyone else is going one direction I am going to go another. Matisse Thybulle is going to be the most valuable player for the team. Pick his shooting or his ability to be disruptive on either end and you get a player with the ability to be useful. Add them together and he has the potential to be something special.
Jason: Noah Dickerson. He seems to be the only one on the team where his presence on the court matters. He has the ability to score inside and is one of the only consistent rebounders on the team.
Outside of the big 3 (Thybulle, Dickerson, Crisp) who are you most interested to see on the court this year for the Dawgs?
Max: I’m intrigued by Hameir Wright. It’s been a while since the Huskies have had a player similar to Wright. The last one I can think of is probably Darnell Gant. Wright is a long, lean forward who has enough skill to play in the post and on the perimeter. This team is dangerously if not suicidally thin at the 4 and 5 and so Wright will have every opportunity to step in and contribute right away.
Chris: Jaylen Nowell. It’s no secret that Nowell is the jewel of the incoming class. If UW is going to tap into any upside in Hop’s first season, Nowell’s maturation as a scorer and even as a secondary ball handler is vital. But that is a lot to ask for a young player in his first year.
Ben: Jaylen Nowell. He’s the most highly-regarded recruit so there’s a good chance that he’s the best player we haven’t yet seen in Purple and Gold. He’s going to need to play an important role for this team to climb out of the cellar, with his scoring being the first factor in that along with his other potential abilities.
Jason: Jaylen Nowell. For the sheer fact he was the only heralded recruit that decided to stay. Nowell made the right choice to stay as he will get some important playing time as a true freshman.
What is your best case scenario for this Huskies team in terms of conference finish and postseason aspirations?
Max: My projections model probably overestimates this particular team given the lack of depth at the point and down low. But of the 20 teams closest to their projected efficiency, 10 made the NIT, 5 made the tourney, and 5 missed the tourney. Therefore I’m saying the best case scenario is a spot on the bubble but ultimately an NIT berth. You have to squint really hard for this team to finish better than 7th in conference so I’ll say that’s the best case.
Chris: I’ve often been accused of being a honk around here. Let me now be accused of being Mr. Negative. I think the best case for this team is .500 in out of conference and five conference wins (basically, winning the home games we have against similar competition). That puts us a little better record-wise than where we were at a year ago.
While I like that we get the LA schools off the conference schedule very early, I can’t shake the worry that this team is going to be at a severe lack of offense. There aren’t any players who thrive in the kind of half court offense that Hopkins’ zone is going to elicit. In addition, I can see turnovers and rebounding being real problems for this team.
Ben: The best-case scenario is that the team doesn’t look like a total embarrassment all season. We get a whole bunch of players who collectively were bad last season and throw them into something new. That’s not a recipe for success right now. It’s the directions for something a broke, drunk college student throws up before choking half of it down. I’m not looking for wins, I am looking for improvement in familiarity with the system and cohesiveness. Best case is that we do see the improvement down the stretch and pull out a win or maybe even two in Vegas.
Jason: The good news is that with Kansas and Gonzaga on the schedule no one can argue that they play a bunch of cupcakes. The bad news is that this team will look awful if they cannot adopt to the 2-3 zone quickly. If they can flirt with .500 at the end of the season, we can call it a success.
What is your worst case scenario for this Huskies team for conference finish and postseason aspirations?
Max: Worst case scenario is essentially a repeat of last year. Hopkins can’t get anyone to play defense either, Crisp leads the conference in turnovers, and several players regret having not transferred when they had the chance and kill the chemistry. They go 3-15 in Pac-12 play and once again finish 11th in the conference with only Wazzu behind them.
Chris: The worst case I see isn’t much worse than the best case, at least as conference play is concerned. To me, the real concern has to be that it takes the early part of the out of conference schedule to grow to whatever our par level will ultimately become. That might knock a few wins off the ledger.
Ben: Worst case is that nobody buys in to Hopkins and we don’t see growth through the season and the team continues as a cellar dweller without hope for the current regime to put things together, though Hopkins will get more than just this season before his seat heats up.
Jason: Worst case is that the Dawgs cannot defend the perimeter and allow a ton of points while having difficulty scoring themselves which would leave them near the bottom of the conference. Also, Coach Hopkins cannot get this team to play defense and the Huskies cannot score leaving them with an early Wednesday one and done in Vegas for the Pac-12 tournament.
Give us your responses to these questions in the comments section or simply respond to our thoughts.