It was another bad week for Husky basketball. They had a chance at a signature win against Arizona, and it looked like they might pull it out for big stretches of the second half. Isaiah Stewart and Zeke Nnaji played each other to a standstill by holding one another to nine points each on poor shooting. The maligned Hameir Wright and Nazhiah Carter played bigger roles for the Dawgs with 12 and 13 points respectively. Unfortunately, more hot three point shooting down the stretch by the other team did the Huskies in. Jemarl Baker made a contested three from somewhere close to Kenmore in the closing minute to seal a 75-72 win for the Cats.
If it counts as any consolation, the ASU game didn’t even offer the same false hope. The Dawgs fell behind early with a lower level of defensive intensity than we have normally seen under Mike Hopkins. The Huskies made a couple runs in the second half to keep it close, but ASU always had an answer. Alonzo Vergre Jr. has been a great offensive option off the bench and Remy Martin has embraced the role of top offensive option. The Sun Devils are a respectable team and might have an outside shot at the tournament if they keep up their recent run of improved play.
Rather than wallowing in the dumps, I want to point out one small, positive development for UW. Hameir Wright has been an offensive dumpster fire for most of his career and has relied on exceptional defense to stay on the court. In 10 conference games this year, his shooting stroke has shown signs of life. He’s up to 44% on threes on almost four attempts per game after shooting 16% and 23% from distance in conference the last two years. He has also shown a hint of play-making with 1.9 assists per game. He still bizarrely misses easy looks at the rim and turns the ball over too much, but if he can continue to stretch the floor to go with his defensive chops, he’s an asset going forward.
The Huskies will travel to Pullman this weekend to face an improved WSU team. At 4-6 in Pac-12 play, the Cougars have already matched their conference win total from Ernie Kent’s last season at the helm. Wins over Oregon and Arizona State have shown that they have the ability to compete with more talented rosters, due in part to their defensive improvement. Last year, the Cougars gave up 110.2 points per 100 possessions. This year, they have cut that number to 97.8. That’s an improvement from 284th in the country to 87th. A big part of the change has been an improvement in three point defense. Last year, they gave up lots of three-point attempts and let opponents shoot a high percentage. They have reversed course in both categories and are strong in both this season. They have also averaged a +5 turnover margin per 100 possessions, which could be a big problem for the Dawgs. As good as Seattleite CJ Elleby has been in leading the Cougar offense, the defensive improvement is the thing that has pulled them up from the dregs of the conference, and coach Kyle Smith deserves credit for that rapid turn-around.
Elsewhere in the conference, virtually no team was able to build any momentum last week. Stanford dropped a disappointing game to Oregon State, then came back to beat a superior Oregon team. Likewise, Colorado lost a bad game to UCLA and bounced back with a dominant win over a better USC team. In fact, the only squads to go 2-0 for the week were Arizona and UCLA. After an abysmal start to the year, the Bruins are now 5-4 and squarely in the middle of the conference standings. Could Mick Cronin be making a difference already?
When you hear the name Kansas in 2020, the first thing that comes to mind is likely the ugly brawl with Kansas State when a Wildcat player stole the ball while the Jayhawks tried to run out the clock and a WWE-style brawl spilled over into the stands. Silvio de Sousa was at the center of the incident and was suspended afterward. To the Jayhawks’ benefit, their core players remained eligible and they haven’t lost since the brawl.
Kansas only has three losses on the season and they’re all to heavyweights- Duke, Villanova, Baylor. They are rated #1 in the KenPom rankings, and high quality wins over Dayton, West Virginia, Colorado, and Texas Tech buoy their underlying stats. Devon Dotson has been the star of the team and one of the best players in the country. He hasn’t been an elite three-point shooter, but he can get himself into good places off the dribble and shoots a very high percentage when he gets closer to the rim. He makes plays for others and initiating the offense. He partners with 7’ senior Udoka Azubuike, who leads the nation in efficient FG% and grabs almost 10 rebounds per game. As a team, they rank in the top 10 in offensive and defensive rating. The offense is driven by getting to the rim and making the easy shots Dotson helps create. The defense does everything well- they hold opponents to a low shooting percentage all over the floor due to their length and they generate deflections without fouling. Their early losses put them behind Baylor in the conference standings and national rankings, but Kansas has to be included in the inner-circle of national title favorites.
Looking ahead to this weekend, Gonzaga will finally get a real challenge. The Zags travel to St. Mary’s, who is rated as the #27 team in the KenPom rankings. It will be one of the toughest tests Gonzaga faces until the tournament after a tougher non-conference schedule. Even further ahead, Florida State travels to Cameron Indoor on Monday for a fun ACC showdown.
Will Gonzaga Win Out in the WCC?
This poll is closed
Yes, through the conference tournament
Yes, but they will lose in the conference tournament
No, they will lose a WCC regular season game