The Husky men’s basketball team is back in the United States safe and sound following their exhibition tour of Italy. That’s given me some time to go back and re-watch several of the games and keep track of the full box scores which were unavailable through the team. As most of the Husky sports fanbase turns their attention to football beginning this week I thought I’d go through my final conclusions following the Italy trip and what they mean for the basketball season which begins in about 10 weeks.
Before looking at the stats we have to take into account the competition level. Washington played two games against the “Peak Warriors” to start off their trip. The average score of those games were 95-38. Per Kenpom, the worst D1 team in the country last year was Maryland Eastern Shore who lost 85-40 to #13 Virginia Tech and 95-49 to #41 North Carolina State. We can quibble about where exactly the Huskies fall between those two teams but I think it’s reasonable to say that the Peak Warriors fall somewhere in the range of the worst D1 college team in the country and maybe even below that.
2019 Italian Exhibition Tour Per Game Averages
The Big Men
My biggest question coming into the tour was how the big man rotation was going to shake out with Nate Roberts, Bryan Penn-Johnson, and Isaiah Stewart all getting their first significant minutes in a Husky uniform. Some of those questions are still yet to be answered given that Sam Timmins and Jaden McDaniels were not able to participate.
However, there are several conclusions that I feel comfortable saying. Isaiah Stewart is exactly as advertised. He just has a knack and a feel for the game that’s unlike any former Dawg big man that I’ve ever seen. Within 15 feet he has seemingly perfect touch and he can get off shots at just about any angle that you’re stunned when they don’t go in. And on those rare occasions he’s aware of the miss before anyone else and half the time has beaten everyone else on the court for position to tip it back in. He’ll play closer to 32 minutes per game than the 25 he played this trip but I’d expect the season long numbers to look reasonably close to the 19.5 points and 11 rebounds per game he averaged despite the step up in competition.
One of the two biggest revelations coming out of the trip for me was the play of Nate Roberts. Hop said before they left that Roberts has a similar physique to Dwight Howard and was the best rebounder on the team. That only seems like slight hyperbole now. The rebounding part is likely true as Roberts averaged 25% more rebounds per minute than Stewart while generally playing further from the rim. You can tell that he’s someone who got a late growth spurt based on his agility and ball handling which are way above your average 6’10 player with a 7’6 wingspan. The most impressive play of the trip for me was Roberts earning a tough rebound then going coast to coast for an and-1 layup through traffic.
Bryan Penn-Johnson looked better than I expected as well but he is clearly a step below Roberts in my mind. BPJ showed off a nice baby jump hook move that he sunk at probably something close to 80%. However, when he probably never tried it against someone taller than 6’5 or 6’6 so I don’t know how well it translates to Pac-12 play. At this point it’s likely a legitimate playing time battle between Timmins and BPJ for 10-15 minutes at center off the bench. Meanwhile, Roberts has all but carved out a role in my mind at the PF spot and should start out with 10+ minutes per game that could grow to 20+ by the end of the year if he continues to look this good.
It was obviously quite disappointing that Jaden McDaniels was unable to make the trip for personal reasons mostly because the rotation is less settled because of it. However, there was still plenty to be learned. I talked about Stewart above and as expected he’ll be an all-conference player rotating between center and PF depending upon who else is in the game.
The other big shock of the trip was the play of Marcus Tsohonis who had a much better week than RaeQuan Battle. One thing to be mentioned is that the combination of jet lag, a new ball, and small gyms probably was most noticeable in the shooting. The team shot just 27.7% from 3-pt range and 46.6% from the FT line despite all the blowout wins. There’s no way that they end up shooting that poorly the rest of the season.
Battle, as a long-range sniper, was particularly hurt by those factors and he finished averaging just 5.3 points per game on 22.7% 3-pt shooting while averaging the fewest minutes of any scholarship player. The shot often looked good leaving his hand and he showed off plus athleticism but he has to knock down a higher percentage to see playing time this year. It’s also clear he has no hesitation letting the ball fly from deep and that can either be a plus on a team that needs shooting or, if they aren’t falling, a great hindrance that gets him glued to the bench. Hop had one time where Battle came in for Bey, took an off balance 3 early in the shot clock on the 1st possession, and then Bey immediately came back in for Battle.
Tsohonis was the least heralded member of the class but showed at times that he’s capable of doing just about everything on the court. He made several contested 3’s, showed off a nifty floater in traffic, finished through contact, and was an effective lead guard at times. However, he was rarely all of those things at once. The consistency will need to improve but rather than being a throw-in to this class he looks like someone that will be ready to take on serious minutes as early as next year. He also led the team in steals and used his large frame to wreak havoc on many of the smaller Italian guards.
I fully expect Jaden McDaniels to play what amounts to the small forward position when he is re-integrated with the team. In his absence it gave returners Naz Carter, Jamal Bey, and Hameir Wright the chance to each play at least two of the following three positions: SG, SF, and PF.
Naz Carter looks like he has taken his game up another level this summer. His 3-point shot is a little more compact and he’s shaved off some of the time from his long wind-up. That will allow him to get off the shot with less of a cushion and might occasionally be comfortable pulling up off the dribble as well. He was the only Husky to shoot well from deep and knocked down 10 of 21 3-pt shots. I expect him to put up scoring numbers somewhere in between what he did last year and what Nowell did while coming close to the team lead in steals.
Jamal Bey was hit or miss throughout the games and was particularly effective running the floor in transition for easy dunks or layups. His shooting never really got on track at 21.4% from deep and 0/3 from the FT line but he seems ready to put up numbers similar to what Carter did last season with maybe a few more assists but on lower efficiency. I expect him to get edged out in the starting lineup but still play 25 minutes per game along the lines of what we saw from Dominic Green much of last year.
Hameir Wright’s offense is still going to be a serious limitation this season. He led the team in turnovers and while he often had the right idea he definitely attempted some passes he’s not really capable of making. But with Matisse Thybulle gone he will probably be UW’s best defender this season. In crunch time, the lack of free throw shooting may get him pulled from the game but Hameir will definitely see heavy play this season and if his offense could ever just get to average he’d be a stud.
There has yet to be any official word on whether Quade Green’s waiver has been approved or rejected. As long as he’s out I expect Elijah Hardy and Marcus Tsohonis to split point guard duties. The two were fairly neck and neck although they clearly have different strengths. Hardy is the better passer and put up more than double the number of assists in fewer minutes while also averaging fewer turnovers. But Hardy struggled to create shots for himself with just 3 baskets in 16 total shot attempts. Both were extremely effective on defense and finished 1st and 2nd on the team in steals.
There were times when Tsohonis/Hardy were both out and Jamal Bey was the de facto point guard and we could very easily see a few minutes of that look early in the year. Especially, if the coaching staff has faith in Jaden McDaniels to play a bit of point forward. With Naz Carter and Isaiah Stewart as 2 other excellent isolation players there are times where the point guard will only be needed to give them the ball and get out of the way.
Once Green returns the expectation is that he’ll be the starter and Hardy/Tsohonis will have to battle it out for the remaining minutes. My guess is that the distribution between them may vary based on what is needed in a given game since they have very different styles.
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