We are now 6 games into the 2019-20 Washington men’s basketball season and while there are many twists and turns ahead of us I think it’s a large enough sample size to start making some definitive statements. Especially as we are in the middle of a sizable 8 day gap between games and don’t have anything else UW basketball-related to talk about.
The Huskies under Coach Hopkins have been a fascinating blend of extremes and this year is no exception. Venture to their page at kenpom.com (subscription only but it’s more than worth it if you’re a numbers loving college basketball fan) and you will see a ton of numbers in bright green and a ton of numbers in dark red. Some opponents are average in a lot of different areas. Washington is usually at the very end of the spectrum. Let’s take a look and see what it tells us about this Husky squad. All rankings are out of 353 total D-1 teams.
31st shortest offensive possession length (15.3 seconds)
347th shortest defensive possession length (19.3 seconds)
The defensive number can’t be considered a surprise. Last season’s team finished 338th in that category at 18.6 seconds. The Washington zone is very good at taking away a team’s first look and it requires several on target passes to open it up enough to reveal the good shot hiding inside. Syracuse ranks one spot slower than Washington and as long as the Huskies play a lot of zone with their size you can expect them to be among the national leaders in that regard and a lot of slower paced games.
The interesting thing is that they’ve contrasted it with a very fast paced offense. Most teams that encourage slow defense also tend to take their time when they have the ball. With Washington’s combination of youth and athleticism it isn’t a surprise to see that they’ve generally pushed the pace on that end. You can attribute some of it to the zone defense providing steals which naturally lead to shorter transition possessions. But last year’s team led the country in steal percentage with Matisse Thybulle at the helm and ranked in the middle of the pack. I think it’s more the case that this young Husky team isn’t quite as adept at passing until they get the best possible open look as well as barreling towards the rim any time there is the slightest chance to run rather than dribbling it back out.
277th in 3pt% on offense (28.7%)
323rd in 3PA/FGA on offense (28.5%)
336th in percentage of points from 3-point shots on offense (19.4%)
I think it’s safe to say that even if things get better that this isn’t going to be a team dominated by making shots from the perimeter. The Huskies don’t take many 3-pt shots and are well below average when they do take them. There are reasons for optimism though. Quade Green is currently shooting 27.3% but is a career 37.3% 3-pt shooter on nearly 150 attempts. Jamal Bey shot 40% last season on a small sample size but was known in high school as a good shooter and has started 1 for 7. RaeQuan Battle was known as a sniper in high school and has started 0 for 3. I don’t think Jaden McDaniels is going to shoot 40% or anything but he leads the Huskies in total attempts and is making 28.6% of his 3’s.
The only player that I think you can say might be shooting above his season long average is Naz Carter at 47.1%. At the moment he’s hitting 80% of his unguarded catch and shoot opportunities. That’s going to come down but if he continues to only take those shots when he’s wide open then I think he can be a legitimate 40% shooter.
303rd in 3pt% on defense (38.4%)
20th in % of points from 3-point shots on defense (39.7%)
Teams have been lighting it up from 3-point range this season against Washington which seems odd considering that was one of the strength’s of last year’s team. But perhaps Matisse Thybulle’s most impressive trait as a defender was his ability to teleport and contest a shot that was wide open a second ago. We’ve seen many more times early in the year where the nearest defender is 3 steps away when they receive the ball and they still get up an uncontested look.
The problem for UW is that those players just aren’t missing when they get the chance. Opponents are shooting 48% on unguarded catch and shoot 3’s this season which ranks in just the 7th percentile nationally per Synergy Sports. There are things a team can do to influence that. Obviously you could play better defense so the shot isn’t uncontested. And you could make sure that you’re only leaving really bad shooters wide open. But that suggests the Huskies are at least a little bit unlucky when the average player only makes about 36% of their wide open 3-pointers. Expect these numbers to get better as time goes on.
9th in 2pt% defense (38.3%)
10th in Block % defense (17.8%)
The flip side of the terrible 3-point numbers are the superlative ones guarding the paint. Teams are currently shooting better from behind the arc than they are from inside of it against Washington. That’s insane.
Last season the Huskies finished the year 26th in 2-pt% on defense but teams still shot 8% better than they have so far this year. Washington will undoubtedly regress in this regard. Michigan State led power conference teams at 41.9% last year and Washington isn’t going to both lead the country and set close to an all-time record. But the improvement is real. With Noah Dickerson/Hameir Wright guarding the paint opponents shot 51% within 5 feet of the basket last year as opposed to 38.7% with primarily Isaiah Stewart.
Washington finished 4th nationally in block percentage last season with Matisse Thybulle making up for the lack of an absolute premium rim protector. The Huskies don’t have a 2/3 with quite that versatility this year but their length means that they’re above average at essentially every spot. Six Huskies currently have a better individual block percentage than Noah Dickerson did last year including all 5 players that have seen at least some time in the center of the zone. Even if the numbers drop a little you can expect this to be a top-20 shot blocking team in college basketball.
71st in A/FGM O (57.9%)
351st in A/FGM D (70%)
The hope was that by bringing in Quade Green it would increase the ball movement for Washington and help lead to more assists. So far it looks like that’s happening for the most part. Green is averaging 5 assists per game. The previous high in any season under Coach Hopkins is 3.1 by David Crisp in his first year and Jaylen Nowell in his second year. The 14.8 total assists per game is also 3 higher than in either of Hop’s first two seasons at the helm. The percentage of isolation possessions that Washington runs is down 33% from last season as there’s no one capable of breaking down a defense single-handedly the same way that Nowell could.
Washington is almost last in the same metric on defense which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What that number signifies is that it’s nearly impossible to score on the Husky defense without good ball movement. Teams are completely unable to score if they don’t get an assist and pass the ball around the zone. Washington finished around 60% each of the past two seasons while Syracuse regularly finishes around 70%. One of the hallmarks of the zone is the necessity by opponents to have good ball movement and that has certainly been the case against the Huskies so far.
7th in Average Height (6’6.6”)
314th in Minutes Continuity (314th) and 332nd in Experience (1.03 years)
2nd in 2-foul Participation (68.3%) and 330th in Bench Minutes (22.2%)
These are all interesting numbers from a trivia perspective but none are particularly surprising. With a starting lineup featuring a trio of 6’9 players and reserves coming in that are 6’6, 6’10, and 6’11 it’s no surprise that this is one of the tallest teams in the country. It will be interesting to see what happens when Washington goes up against Gonzaga who are one of the few teams that rank ahead of the Huskies in this metric at 4th overall. The Zag’s primary 8 man rotation features no players shorter than 6’3 and 4 players at 6’8 or taller.
The next two pairs of metrics are heavily related so I grouped them together. We knew this was one of the youngest and least experienced teams in the country and it certainly shows right there. Last year’s UW team led the country in minutes continuity and was 43rd in experience. In college basketball you are never able to keep that up for more than 1 and maybe 2 seasons. Eventually the bottom falls out and you have to go with a youth movement and that’s what the Huskies are in the middle of right now. The 12 scholarship players for Washington includes 1 senior, 2 juniors, 3 sophomores, 2 redshirt freshmen, and 4 true freshmen.
So far this season Coach Hopkins has shown a complete unwillingness to bench a player just because they picked up their 2nd foul in the first half. This runs counter to traditional college basketball strategy but is absolutely the correct thing to do. Especially for teams that run a zone defense where it’s harder to get attacked off the dribble. Hameir Wright is the only player in the rotation right now averaging more than 3.6 fouls per 40 minutes. Everyone else has shown to this point that they can be trusted not to pick up a silly 3rd foul for the most part.
That leads directly into the fact that Washington is not going to their bench very often at all. Hop played extremely tight rotations against both Baylor and Tennessee and while he’s opened up the lines late in recent blowouts he hasn’t been giving many guys extended minutes in the first half. Six players have played at least half of Washington’s minutes this season and no one else on the roster is over 25%. The Huskies will likely be losing a lot of talent to the NBA Draft after this season with currently 0 recruits replacing them in the class of 2020. Washington will need the rest of the team to stick around and trust that they’ll have an expanded role waiting for them next season. Hop is walking a tightrope in balancing between winning right now with his premium talent and giving enough experience to the players that will need to take over next year and beyond.
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