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Second Half Storylines: UW Men’s Basketball

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What are the biggest questions for the Huskies as they enter conference play?

NCAA Basketball: Montana at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Conference play begins tomorrow so let’s look ahead to what the major story lines are for the Huskies in the second half of the season.

Will the freshman wall hurt the Huskies?

This team has been increasingly reliant on its freshmen to carry the load. Hameir Wright and Nahziah Carter have clearly passed Dominic Green and Carlos Johnson on the depth chart. If Michael Carter III comes back from injury in a few weeks and resumes backup point guard duties it will mean that a full half of the main rotation for the Huskies is made up of freshmen.

Jaylen Nowell made one of the great debuts in Husky history scoring 15 points in the last 6 minutes against Belmont to carry the team to a W squarely on his back.

Here are Nowell’s stats versus mid major opponents: 17.4ppg, 3.1rpg, 3.1apg, 1.8 turnovers, 2.2 fouls, 56% FG, 38.5% 3pt.

And here are Nowell’s stats against their 4 “premier” opponents so far: 15.8ppg, 3.8rpg, 2apg, 3 turnovers, 3 fouls, 51% FG, 25% 3pt.

It’s not a drop off a cliff but unsurprisingly Jaylen hasn’t been nearly as efficient against teams with greater talent. If he puts up those first set of A/TO and shooting %’s for the rest of the year it will make it really difficult for the Huskies to pull off some upsets.

The concern with Hameir Wright is whether he can sustain his massive leap from the first 3 weeks to the last month. In UW’s first 6 games Wright looked completely lost and it was hard to believe that he was a 2-star recruit much less a 4-star recruit. In those 6 games he played a combined 35 minutes and put up totals of: 2 points, 6 rebounds, 1/6 shooting, and 11(!!) fouls.

Since that point he has averaged per game: 23.7 minutes, 6.8 points, 5 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.9 fouls.

If Wright can continue to put up those kind of numbers off the bench it will be a huge boon to the Huskies’ chances. It’s no surprise that Wright has the 3rd best +/- on the team over the past 5 games (behind Thybulle and Timmins).

Can David Crisp Ever Solve the Point Guard Equation?

Everyone knew that moving David Crisp to point guard would have its ups and downs. And while the Kansas game was one heck of an up, the downs have been far more frequent than fans would like. The growth of Andrew Andrews was thrown about (including by me) of one potential example of a success story. Andrews wasn’t handed the reins until his senior year rather than junior but his assist rate nearly doubled while his turnover rate remained constant when asked to be the primary distributor.

Last season, Crisp had an assist rate of 17.2% and a turnover rate of 19.3%. This year so far the numbers have been 17.8% and 19% respectively. Technically better but almost identical. The eye test confirms this. Way too frequently Crisp gets the inbounds pass, dribbles up the court, and launches a 3-pointer without setting his feet or making any attempt whatsoever to start the offense or even wait for an offensive rebounder to get in position. If he’s just made 2 shots in a row I can live with a heat check but it happens 3-4 times a game and realistically should go down as a turnover in the stat sheet.

Crisp is getting to the line almost twice as often which is nice but his overall shooting numbers are down everywhere except at the line. Michael Carter III is set to come back in a few weeks and maybe having some competition again will light a fire under Crisp. But at this point in his career it’s officially less likely we see a point guard lightbulb turn on than stay dark.

Can the Husky bigs consistently compete against Pac-12 front lines?

The lack of depth on the interior was viewed as a major problem for the Huskies entering the season. The zone has helped mask those problems as UW can run Sam Timmins or Noah Dickerson at center and don’t require anyone else to match up against a true PF. But the reckoning is potentially speeding down the tracks.

Arizona plays a pair of 7-footers including likely top-2 draft pick in freshman DeAndre Ayton. USC plays a pair of 6’10+ future-NBA players in Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu. Utah can throw out a combination of 3 skilled 6’10+ bigs in David Colette, Jayce Johnson, and Tyler Rawson.

Noah Dickerson and Sam Timmins have both taken major strides this year but the games have been few and far in between where both have gotten into foul trouble in the same game. Part of the reason Hameir Wright has taken off recently is they’ve stopped attempting to play him at center where he fouled out instantly and instead have him on the wing where he can play help defense. He’ll need to take on more of the defensive burden against lineups with a pair of skilled big men.

NCAA Basketball: Bethune-Cookman at Washington
Dickerson has been a leader for the Huskies but will face his biggest challenges coming up shortly.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Can this UW squad make the postseason a year removed from a 9-22 record?

With a 10-3 non-conference record and a win on the road over a top-10 team it’s reasonable for people to ask whether this team might be able to challenge for an NCAA berth. Unfortunately, that’s a little aggressive for this year’s team. Part of that is the strength (or lack thereof) of the Pac-12. The conference slate is primed for the Huskies to accumulate wins but the NCAA selection committee is going to be looking for quality over quantity and it’s going to be hard to do that.

Washington plays only one game each against Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, and USC. Those are the only 4 teams currently in the bracket according to Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology. You can maybe throw in road games against Oregon and Utah as contests that would move the needle for the tournament but otherwise a win has value only in that it prevented a damaging loss.

However, the NIT is a potentially reachable stretch goal. The Pac-12 got 3 teams into the NIT last year. Those teams finished 47th, 62nd, and 72nd in kenpom’s efficiency rankings and all had at least 19 wins. Washington is at #132 right now and 10 wins. It has a long way to go.

But 20 regular season wins plus 1 or 2 in the Pac-12 tournament could be enough. If Washington beat every team ranked #117 or worse in the conference that would be 10 wins right there. UW needs to prove it is at least the 7th best team in the conference, beat everyone below them, and find at least one upset along the way. That’s not a crazy formula.

Who is going to be on next year’s team?

When the Huskies got 4 verbal commits and had one open spot it became apparent that some Hopkins math would be required to sort out the situation. Devenir Duruisseau announced he was transferring which opened up one spot. Bitumba Baruti is redshirting which would allow him to go anywhere in the country next year and play immediately. That seemingly opened up another. And then Ed Chang failed to sign in the fall signing period amidst unconfirmed rumors that he would be reclassifying. Problem solved, right?

I don’t know about that. The Huskies are still among the leaders for 2018 top-100 C Bryan Penn-Johnson who has been a primary target for Hopkins since almost day one. And Chang has never formally announced that he plans to reclassify. It seems just as likely that Change held off to see if a spot naturally opened up due to someone falling out of the rotation.

And I think it will. I mentioned earlier that both Dominic Green and Carlos Johnson have been passed in the rotation. Johnson became a fan favorite last year with his intensity but he looks completely lost in the zone and just doesn’t appear to be a fit. His game lends itself to being an undersized PF at a mid major school where the height difference is less of an issue.

Meanwhile, Dominic Green had one crazy hot streak in the decimation of Bethune-Cookman but has otherwise shown no progress on the offensive end. Take away that game which came when UW was already up 30+ against an overmatched opponent and Green is shooting 24% from the floor and 26% from beyond the arc. Even if his defense has improved, you just can’t get away with having that poor of an offensive player out on the court. Especially for a team that needs spacing to run the offense through Noah Dickerson and Sam Timmins.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see one or both decide to move on after this season if their minutes continue to fall with Jamal Bey and potentially Ed Chang coming in as yet more competition on the wing.

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