With a humbling loss at Cal in the rearview mirror, the Huskies gear up for their final home-stand of the season against the Oregon schools. UW has already clinched the Pac-12 regular season title and the top seed in the Pac-12 tournament. Barring a complete collapse, the Dawgs should return to the NCAA tournament. With all that in mind, the time feels right for a Husky basketball roundtable.
1. At this point in the season, what would be a satisfying outcome for the Dawgs in the NCAA tournament?
Ryan Priest - Maybe it’s the long absence we’ve had from the tournament that’s playing on my emotions, but I’m holding myself to an honest answer here: I’m going to achieve a baseline status of satisfaction at the mere sight of the Huskies playing meaningful basketball in the month of March. We’ve been away from the tournament for too long to take something like March Madness for granted. To anyone who says that this season is a waste if the Dawgs don’t make the Sweet 16, my answer is this: bee-effing-ess. The Huskies are relevant in the sport of college basketball once more! Life’s too short to not enjoy important steps forward like the ones we’ve seen this program take under the leadership of Mike Hopkins.
Brad Johnson - Ryan got #1 correct right out of the gate. It’s not “diminished expectations,” and the expectations for this season won’t be the same as others moving forward, but for 2018-19, hearing their name called on Sunday and showing up for a first-round game is a big enough step to make this season successful. If you’re a fan that must gnash your teeth, do so quietly, or better yet, hold off until next season.
Andrew Berg - Going into the season, I was firmly in the camp with Brad and Ryan that making the tournament was the ultimate goal for the year. The way the Huskies have played in the conference has changed my expectations. Perhaps I’m realistic, perhaps I’m greedy. Either way, my primary desire is to continue to show an upward trajectory. Certainly, going from the outside of the tourney to the field is positive momentum. On the other hand, if UW follows through with a solid seed, losing in a first-round upset would feel like a letdown. Both ESPN and CBS currently project the Dawgs to earn a #7 seed. Losing the fraught 7-10 game wouldn’t be the end of the world, but if UW inches up to a six or five seed, it would yield an easier matchup and one that I would feel even more pressure to win. After all that, I guess my answer to the question is that I’d be thrilled with one tournament win and I’d find a first round loss acceptable but slightly disappointing.
Kirk DeGrasse - Getting to the tournament is itself a highly satisfying result as others have pointed out. I don’t think anyone should be disappointed with the season if they make the tournament and then lose in the first round. And yet...in a year where the Pac-12 has really suffered, it sure would be nice to see the team advance at least one round (if not two) so as to not have the significance of winning the conference this year diminished and with folks looking back and saying “Well, they were just a decent team in a terrible league.” I know that a lot of Husky fans don’t really care about the conference as a whole, but it would be a benefit if the Huskies can mitigate the stench of this Pac-12 season by making a nice run in the tournament. And with their zone defense, I think that’s entirely possible.
2. Who gets your vote for team MVP, Thybulle or Nowell?
Ryan Priest - With all due respect to Jaylen, I can’t imagine giving this award to anyone but Matisse. He’s all but locked in a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Award for the second year running, and will become only the second Pac-12 player (alongside Gary Payton II) to do so. His proficiency in generating both steals and blocks is almost unprecedented in conference history, and it’s hard to imagine that we’ll see anyone in a Husky uniform replicate his unique skill set in the near future.
Brad Johnson - I don’t know if Matisse Thybulle has a realistic shot to win national defensive player of the year awards, but it’s going to be a travesty if he isn’t at the very least mentioned. He’s on the short list for “all time great” at Washington as a defender, and he’s forcing himself into the conversation for the entire history of the conference. 2.3 blocks a game, 3.6 steals, and maybe even more impressive, he gets a deflection on 22.7% of the opposing team’s offensive possessions. Okay, that last stat is entirely made up.
Gabey Lucas - While I obviously am the least qualified person here to talk basketball, I 100% agree with Ryan’s first two points. For the second I’m mega-biased because ya girl thinks defense is the best fence, but even if he weren’t statistically incredible, Thybulle is just so ridiculously fun to watch.
If making it to March is a restoration of Husky basketball being fun again, Thybulle’s play has been that notion distilled into one player.
Andrew Berg - Jaylen Nowell has been outstanding all year. He continues to be UW’s lead offensive creator with the team’s highest Usage Rate and Assist Rate by a solid margin. His three-point shooting seems to only get better- up to a remarkable 46.5% on high volume in conference play. He even ranks 10th in the conference in Steal Percentage. Aside from the stats, Nowell has a knack for raising his game when the team needs it. Game after game, whenever the score tightens or the offense misses a few shots, Nowell takes his time, creates a good shot, and usually puts the ball through the hoop.
With all that said, I’m still voting for Thybulle. Nowell would be an excellent choice for Pac-12 Player of the Year, but his teammate is putting together the type of insane season that it’s hard to deny him. According to KenPom, UW has the 13th best defense in the entire county. Among the regular rotation, Dickerson, Crisp, Timmins and Green are all limited defensively due to size or athleticism. Carter and Wright are talented, but make the sort of mistakes expected from young players. Nowell is a strong defender, but Thybulle is so good that he has turned a group of mostly average defenders into one of the best units in the country.
Kirk DeGrasse - I’m a huge Jaylen Nowell fan, but Matisse Thybulle is the MVP of this team. Washington has developed a decent offensive attack, but this team is where it is because of their defense, and Thybulle is by far the biggest reason why the defense has been so effective. He is so incredibly disruptive on that end and makes it so hard for opponents to run a good offensive set. His length and anticipation are unreal, and the weak spot of the zone - the high post - is mitigated by Thybulle’s ability to deny passes there, get steals when they try to force it, and get blocks on the rare occasions the opponent does get it in to someone at the top of the key. Obviously it would be great if he showed more aggressiveness on the offensive end, but even with his ~10 ppg he does so much on the defensive end that I think he’s the most important and impactful player on the roster (and likely the league as a whole).
3. What has surprised you most about UW this season?
Ryan Priest - I’ve been most surprised (pleasantly so, thankfully) by the way that different players have stepped up on the offensive side of the ball as the season has progressed. As Tony Castricone recently pointed out, the Dawgs had different leading scorers in each of the five games between Feb. 7 and Feb. 23: David Crisp at Arizona, Noah Dickerson at Arizona State, Jaylen Nowell at Wazzu, Naz Carter at Utah, and Matisse Thybulle at Colorado. With so many weapons available, opposing defenses end up playing an unwinnable game of whack-a-mole: focus on shutting down Nowell, and the Dawgs in turn feed the ball to Crisp and Carter. That’s a level of versatility that we all hoped for when the season began, but I’d be hard-pressed to say that any of us actually expected it to come to fruition.
Brad Johnson - Even with the conference being down, I would’ve had a hard time seeing the Huskies in a position anything close to the one they’re in without a bigger season from Noah Dickerson. There’s nothing wrong with his efforts by any stretch, but the fact that his scoring is down three points a game from last year for a first-place team, well, I certainly wouldn’t have predicted that, especially without some huge jump in overall offensive efficiency (better, but not THAT much better). Thybulle’s points have dropped as well. As Ryan said, though, it’s due to the versatility of this team, and it’s a good thing.
Andrew Berg - Ryan and Brad both make good points- both the offensive balance and the ability to overcome sub-optimal Dickerson performances have surprised me. The thing that has most pleasantly surprised me, though, is the rapid development of Naz Carter. One of the reasons the offense has been balanced is that Carter has emerged as a secondary creator. He has found a comfort level attacking the defense off the dribble and either getting to the rim or popping a midrange jumper where his elite vertical gets him a clean look. The overall numbers don’t jump off the page, but the fact that he has been able to score efficiently off the bench without turning the ball over has been very useful.
Kirk DeGrasse - Like others, if you’d told me before the season that Noah Dickerson’s numbers would be down, I would have assumed that would be bad news. But that decline has been more than made up for by a good run in conference play from David Crisp and the maturation of Naz Carter. Crisp has been a lightning rod for criticism in his time as a Husky - and not entirely unwarranted - but it must be said that he’s really matured this season and makes more good plays than bad. And Carter sure has shown a ton of promise. There’s a lot of production that will have to be replaced after this season, and Naz has shown he might be able to pick quite a bit of it next year. It’s going to be exciting to see if he can make another step forward next season; if he does, he could play himself into the draft.