If you missed the first two parts of our player-by-player previews you can find part one on the guards here and part two covering the wings here. Now we finish off with the bigs. And in tribute to them it’s only right that we finish with a thunderous dunk of 3000+ words.
C 6’11 Franck Kepnang (3rd year)- Transfer from Oregon
2021-22 Stats (per game): 4.7 pts, 3.1 reb, 0.1 ast, 1.2 blk, 57.5% FG, 65.1% FT
Washington was one of the first offers for Kepnang coming out of the Northeast just after his freshman year of high school. Over the next 2 years they flooded in from all over including Syracuse, UCLA, Kansas, Auburn, and Oregon commensurate with his top-40 national ranking. Despite the Ducks being one of the last ones to join the hunt, they were able to secure his commitment and get him to reclassify and enroll in time for conference play and 10 days before starter N’Faly Dante tore his ACL.
As a freshman he saw limited time as a backup but shot 68% from the floor, dominating around the rim when he did get the ball. He also posted a phenomenal block rate that would’ve led the league with a larger sample size. As a sophomore Kepnang backed up a recovered Dante and saw his rate stats decline but his absolute numbers go up with more playing time. With Dante and Nate Bittle sticking around plus a projected lottery pick center entering the fray Kepnang decided to transfer and headed up I-5 to Seattle.
It’s sometimes pretty easy to do this section with centers. Kepnang has 0 three-point attempts in his career and that’s not likely to change at Washington. He’s much more of a traditional center who is going to do almost all of his damage at the rim. Kepnang is capable of hitting a midrange jumper as he was 29/59 (49.1%) during his time at Oregon away from the basket and last year saw almost half of his attempts stray away from the rim which lowered his overall field goal percentage.
While we may see the occasional 12-foot jump shot out of Kepnang you can still expect he’s going to be focused on the rim as nearly half of his attempts at the basket were dunks. Put that all together and Kepnang shot 72.3% at the rim per Synergy Sports. That would be a huge upgrade over Nate Roberts who made just 56% of point blank shots for Washington last year.
While Kepnang is effective down low he isn’t a great post-up threat a la Isaiah Stewart and is closer to Roberts in that regard. Franck averaged 0.828 points per possession on post-ups last year which was almost exactly average across college basketball. His efficiency skyrockets if able to catch the ball in a position where he doesn’t have to take a dribble before getting the ball to the rim.
The ability to dunk the ball is nice but Kepnang was primarily brought in for his shot blocking skills. He finished just short of qualifying for the KenPom leaderboard but with about 20 more total minutes played Kepnang would’ve been 3rd in the Pac-12 in block rate behind only Christan Koloko and Efe Abogidi. That 9.0% mark was nearly triple that of Nate Roberts (3.08%) and the last Husky to eclipse 9.0% was Malik Dime back in 2016. If Kepnang ends up playing the majority of the minutes at center then he’ll almost certainly average 2+ blocks per game.
As is often the case for shot blockers the issue is going to be staying on the court due to foul trouble. Kepnang averaged 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes last year which equates to fouling out of a game every 30 minutes of playing time. That number will have to improve and hopefully playing in a zone scheme will limit times he gets stuck guarding a pick and roll and has to reach in to recover.
There are also questions about Kepnang’s rebounding ability. His defensive rebounding rate last year finished below each of Nate Roberts, Langston Wilson, and Jackson Grant. For someone with Kepnang’s size he really should be able to secure more rebounds than he does. For a Husky defense that always struggles with rebounding and did last year despite Nate Roberts being excellent, this has the potential of a major issue.
Expectations for 2022-23
Here’s a fun blind resume test.
Player A: 43% of minutes, 52.6% FG, 62.5% FT, 15.1% OR rate, 17.1% DR rate, 8.8% Blk rate, 6.2 fouls per 40
Player B: 36% of minutes, 57.5% FG, 65.1% FT, 8.6% OR rate, 15.2% DR rate, 9.0% Blk rate, 6.7 fouls per 40
If you were paying attention you probably recognize that Player B is Kepnang at Oregon last year. Player A was Christian Koloko’s sophomore year at Arizona right before he turned into the 33rd pick in the draft. Now I’m not saying that Kepnang is going to morph into an NBA draft pick all of a sudden but it’s not unreasonable to think he could take a step forward in a major way with a new coach and a new role.
The on/off metrics for Kepnang at Oregon were the worst for any of their 8 major rotation players but N’Faly Dante’s were the best. Was that because Dante was excellent in his minutes or because Kepnang struggled in his (or both)? I’m projecting improvement in a number of areas for Franck the Tank and think he will be a net upgrade over the Nate Roberts that UW got for most of his time. I’m going to stop short of saying though that Kepnang vaults into being one of the top couple centers in the conference although it’s possible. He still has a very realistic shot to make the all-defensive team with his rim protection skills.
2022-23 Projected Stats: 7.0 pts, 5.2 reb, 0.1 ast, 2.1 blk, 58.7% FG, 57.1% FT
C 7’1 Braxton Meah (3rd year)- Transfer from Fresno State
2021-22 Stats (per game): 2.2 pts, 2.2 reb, 0.1 ast, 0.4 blk, 78.4% FG, 44.8% FT
Washington decided to double dip this offseason on sophomore centers that were backups for star-caliber players . Meah was a 3-star recruit coming out of high school at San Joaquin Memorial (Q-Pon’s alma mater) that reported having 5 power conference offers, including Washington, but ended up at local Fresno State.
Meah stepped in right away as the backup center for star Orlando Robinson and did what you generally expect a 7’1 freshman to do: get offensive rebounds, block shots, dunk, and commit fouls. Year two didn’t see much of a difference and he actually played a little less with Robinson finishing 10th in Kenpom’s national player of the year standings (19.4 pts, 8.4 reb, 2.9 ast, 1.2 blk). Despite Robinson moving on and the starting center job seemingly opening up, Meah decided to enter the transfer portal and ended up at Washington.
Just like Kepnang, we shouldn’t be expecting Meah to stretch the floor in any way except vertically. At least Kepnang showed off a short jumper and the ability to make a hook shot from just outside the circle. Meah is a dunker first and foremost. Over 60% of his shot attempts were dunks and he made all 23 of them last year per BartTorvik.
Dunks may be Meah’s specialty but in order to actually shoot the ball he first has to have control of it facing the basket. Unfortunately dumping the ball off to Meah and asking him to post-up his man is not the best way to have him in that position. On 16 post-up attempts last year Meah turned it over just as often as he actually made a basket although a few and-1’s helped his overall efficiency. That 0.727 points per possession mark per Synergy is worse than Kepnang although it was still better than Nate Roberts last year.
If instead Meah got the ball cutting to the basket, rolling in the pick and roll, or on an offensive putback then he shot 24/27 (89%) and averaged nearly 1.4 points per possession. Those numbers are remarkably similar to what Riley Sorn did with the Huskies when he was in the game and you can expect a similar offensive impact from Meah even if he’s a few inches shorter (the difference between 99th percentile height and 100th percentile). Just only pass the ball to Meah when he can catch the ball with his momentum going towards the basket without needing to dribble and things will be great. In all other situations expect a turnover.
The offensive rebounding numbers for Meah are solid but slightly underwhelming for a player of his size. They’re once again similar to the totals for Riley Sorn although Meah’s sample size is larger. The other clear weakness on offense for Meah is his free throw shooting which is horrendous. He’s a career 47% shooter from the line which translates to a field goal percentage almost 25% over his free throw percentage. You absolutely can’t have Meah on the floor in a close game down the stretch or the other team will just go to a hack-a-Meah strategy and likely find success.
While I used the Riley Sorn comp for Meah several times above on offense I think he’s a better player on defense. Fresno State almost never played zone so we’ll see how Meah makes that adjustment but he’s certainly more fluid than Sorn was. The block rate of 6.7% last season was double that of Nate Roberts but still a little underwhelming for a 7’1 center. Still, there’s no question that the duo of Kepnang and Meah down low will give UW its best shot blocking lineup since the Isaiah Stewart season.
There’s still a lot of unknowns when it comes to Meah’s defensive rebounding. His rates the last two years were 14.5% and 25.0% which is a huge gap. If he can consistently split the difference and be in the ~20% range it would help shore up the rebounding from that spot.
Expectations for 2022-23
Once again I expect Meah to be the backup center and only see the court when the starter leaves the game. However as much as Kepnang has substantial upside I don’t think he’s going to come close to being what Orlando Robinson was at Fresno. That means playing time should be a little easier to find depending on how much Mike Hopkins wants to use the next two players in this breakdown at the center spot. When Meah isn’t turning the ball over he’s going to be a fan favorite dunking the ball and is a perfectly adequate backup center but lacking the skill to be much more than that.
2022-23 Projected Stats: 2.4 pts, 2.4 reb, 0.1 ast, 0.7 blk, 60.4% FG, 51.5% FT
PF/C 6’9 Langston Wilson (3rd year)
2021-22 Stats (per game): 2.6 pts, 2.6 reb, 0.1 ast, 0.4 blk, 41.7% FG, 37.5% 3pt, 59.3% FT
Wilson has one of the more fascinating backgrounds of any Husky player. He was diagnosed with a genetic heart disorder in high school and forbidden from playing organized sports despite having passion for basketball (his dad played in college at Villanova). He eventually received a clean bill of health after his condition hadn’t gotten any worse once fully grown and played at Georgia Highlands Community College. His ridiculous athleticism got him on major college radars and he committed to Alabama as one of the top JUCO prospects in the nation. However the Tide ran out of spots and Wilson decommitted then eventually joined the Huskies.
In his first year in Seattle Wilson became a fan favorite with his combination of athleticism and hustle. That got him into trouble at times as seemingly every game in the non-conference he fell hard to the floor which kept him banged up. He saw more playing time during a 6-game stretch in Pac-12 play where he averaged 4.5 points and 3 rebounds per game on 53%/66%/58% shooting splits.
Wilson has a jaw-dropping vertical leap but despite his acrobatics in the warm-up line he’s definitely more than just a dunker on offense. It was certainly an upset victory but Wilson led last year’s team in 3-pt percentage at 37.5% even though it was on only 16 total attempts. Given Wilson’s height it’s going to be a big thing for floor spacing if he can keep anywhere close to that 35% mark. It’s what Washington always wanted from Hameir Wright but could never quite get except for one hot stretch during conference play in a single season.
The big issue for Wilson’s offense is what happens if he can’t get all the way to the rim for a dunk and doesn’t take a catch and shoot 3-pointer. He finished just 2/17 (12%) from the floor when taking a 2-pointer that wasn’t at the rim and in the 9th percentile on layup attempts. Wilson’s arms are so long that he can get off a finger roll that might get blocked by someone else but he doesn’t have the touch yet to actually get those in the basket. Figuring out how to make it that extra step closer when in traffic will be a key to unleashing Wilson’s game.
The rebounding has been a plus for Wilson on both ends but especially on the offensive glass. Wilson didn’t play enough minutes to qualify on the leaderboard but had he done so Wilson would’ve tied for 4th in the Pac-12 in offensive rebounding rate. Given his leaping ability, many of those rebounds turn in to put back dunks. Of course offensive rebounding opportunities go down the more you play on the perimeter.
Given Wilson’s bounciness it isn’t a surprise that he was an above average shot blocker. His 4.2% block rate finished higher than anyone that played more minutes. Just like the rest of the bigs above though the real problem was fouling. Wilson committed a team-high 7.7 fouls per 40 minutes. That included fouling out in just 4 minutes of play at Oregon. It’s essentially impossible to get regular playing time when you’re fouling that frequently and it’s the number one thing Wilson needs to clean up if he wants an expanded role.
The good news in his favor is that Wilson provides versatility. Kepnang and Meah are true centers but Wilson has the shooting to be able to play in the power forward spot. It wouldn’t surprise me if we occasionally saw big lineups with Brooks, Wilson, and one of Kepnang or Meah as the forwards and center which provides a ton of length and reasonable floor spacing.
Expectations for 2022-23
I really wanted to project a major breakout season for Langston Wilson. When Emmitt Matthews Jr. entered the transfer portal it seemed like Wilson would be the biggest beneficiary. The addition of Keion Brooks though likely took a big chunk of those minutes and so Wilson and Grant are likely fighting for about 5 minutes at center and 20 minutes at power forward unless Meah doesn’t live up to expectations as the backup center.
Because of that I’m projecting Wilson’s efficiency to increase but the combination of depth at the 4/5 spots and foul trouble will limit his minutes and his counting stats. If you told me though that Wilson was playing 20 minutes per game at season’s end either due to injury or a down season from someone else it wouldn’t shock me.
2022-23 Projected Stats: 3.2 pts, 2.6 reb, 0.1 ast, 0.5 blk, 43.8% FG, 36.0% 3pt, 66.7% FT
PF/C 6’10 Jackson Grant (2nd Year)
2021-22 Stats (per game): 1.1 pts, 1.5 reb, 0.1 ast, 0.3 blk, 37.5% FG, 0.0% 3pt, 56.3% FT
Grant was a consensus 4-star recruit coming out of Olympia HS and provided a serious lift to recruiting during the darkest days (we hope) of Hopkins’ tenure. The potential skillset was intriguing as Grant was advertised as a stretch 5 who could potentially both protect the rim and step outside to shoot 3’s at a high clip. Grant received a surprising nod on the McDonald’s All-American team but the game wasn’t played due to the pandemic.
Last season it became clear from the get go that Grant wasn’t going to be a plug and play option. The game looked a little too fast for him and you could see the pressure getting to him on his outside shot. Defenses left him 100% wide open on the perimeter and he seemed to psyche himself out before each attempt and ultimately missed all of them.
A Covid outbreak in December cost the team several games but Hopkins later said that Grant in particular had a rough time and lost a significant amount of weight. That contributed to him falling out of the rotation as he played just 42 minutes in UW’s final 18 games.
Expectations for 2022-23
There’s still the potential that Grant has a breakout season this year. This team is badly in need of shooting and if Grant could actually demonstrate that skill during games then there is room for some playing time at the 4/5 spot. I just have a hard time believing after what we saw from each last year that Grant is going to overtake Langston Wilson and they appear to have very similar potential skillsets as stretch bigs. In the end I think only one sees substantial time by the time we get to conference play and my money is on Wilson right now.
2022-23 Projected Stats: 1.2 pts, 1.5 reb, 0.1 ast, 0.3 blk, 44.4% FG, 28.6% 3pt, 68.8% FT