Like many of us, the Huskies took time off over Thanksgiving, but they are back in action with three games this week. They opened the week on Monday against South Dakota with an uneven victory in which they eventually pulled away. Jaden McDaniels started strong and finished with 20 points. Isaiah Stewart was the key as the Huskies stretched the lead in the closing minutes and he tallied 16 points and 15 rebounds. Defensively, the Dawgs held a team that had been shooting well from outside to 4-23 on 3s.
Then last night in a complete foul-fest they were able to outlast Eastern Washington by a score of 90-80. That was a season high in both points score and points allowed which shouldn’t be a surprise given the combined 58 free throw attempts and an opponent that ranks in the top-20 nationally in terms of tempo. Isaiah Stewart played probably his worst game as a Husky (and still got 12 points and 6 rebounds) before fouling out while fellow 5-star freshman Jaden McDaniels also fouled out. Quade Green was benched at the start of the game but used that as fuel and had his best game at Washington with 20 points and 8 assists. Most importantly, Sam Timmins made a three.
The non-conference game we’ve all had circled on our calendars this year is Gonzaga on Sunday. The Zags made a run to the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis last week before dropping the last game to a red hot Michigan squad. On the way, they knocked off 11th ranked Oregon in OT. They also beat Texas A&M by 30 earlier in the year, so their 8-1 record has some nice results in it. Stylistically, this is a fairly familiar Gonzaga squad with dominant big men and an intelligent, team-oriented approach. With Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke in the NBA, Serbian big man Filip Petrusev has emerged as the go-to option. He’s averaging over 16 points and almost 9 rebounds per game while shooting over 53% from the floor. Killian Tillie is another skilled big for the Zags. He has struggled with injuries his whole career, but he played against Michigan and looks to be on track to play against the Huskies.
The aforementioned Gonzaga-Oregon game was one of three games against top-15 opponents for the Ducks in the Bahamas. They won the first against Seton Hall, took Gonzaga to overtime, and lost to North Carolina by 4 in the 3rd place game. Even at 1-2, it was a respectable showing for the team and conference at large. Payton Pritchard continues to lead the squad with 18.6 ppg, 5.5 apg, and 4.4 rpg. With Chris Duarte and Anthony Mathis adding offensive firepower, the Ducks are set on the perimeter. Unlike previous years, their weakness is on the inside. Transfer Shakur Juiston has shown promise, but has also disappeared at times. Likewise, Francis Okoro has only played about 20 mpg despite the need for more of an interior presence. Oregon is ranked 13th at the moment and they deserve it, but they will need to develop their big men as the year goes along in order to become a national contender. One name to watch is freshman CJ Walker, who has seen his minutes increase in recent games. Also 5-star center N’Faly Dante will soon be able to join the action after starting off the season academically ineligible.
Elsewhere in the conference, Arizona emerged unscathed after some unexpectedly tough tests. Lorenzo Romar’s Pepperdine pushed the Wildcats to the limit in a 93-91 game, then UA was challenged by both Pennsylvania and Wake Forest. In spite of the questionable final scores, Nico Mannion continues to grow into one of the most impressive players in the country and a likely lottery pick in the NBA draft. Arizona will have a tougher test against #18 Baylor on Saturday. Also keep an eye on #20 Colorado’s trip to Allen Fieldhouse to play #2 Kansas on Saturday.
Michigan made giant waves at the Battle 4 Atlantis. They came into the tournament unranked and blitzed through a decent Iowa St. team, followed by top-10 foes North Carolina and Gonzaga. Few expected such a strong start for Michigan after coach John Beilein left for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Wolverines also lost the top three scorers from last year’s Big 10-runner up and Sweet 16 team. New coach and Fab 5 legacy Juwan Howard has brought a focus on defense and the team is 7th nationally in defensive efficiency. They rank among the best nationally at limiting three-point and free-throw attempts, as well as making it hard for opponents to get easy buckets off of assists. Center Jon Teske has taken on a bigger role and plays as an old school, shot-blocking big man in the middle of the defense. Isaiah Livers and Zavier Simpson are other incumbents who have stepped forward. Their #4 ranking might be a little ambitious for a team ranked 14th in KenPom. Their loss on Monday at #1 Louisville further demonstrates that they might not be a true title contender yet, but even as their shots weren’t falling against the Cardinals, the defense kept them in the game. This Michigan team will be hard for anyone to score on all year.
This weekend will bring the start of conference play for some teams. UNC will travel to Charlottesville to play UVA in a battle of top 10 teams although both are coming off blowout losses in the ACC-Big 10 challenge. One of the more compelling non-conference match-ups that doesn’t involve the Pac will happen at Hinkle Fieldhouse where a talented Florida team will take on Butler. Between UW-Gonzaga, UA-Baylor, and Colorado-KU, the Pac dominates the most intriguing games over the rest of the week.