Washington closed out its roster for the 2022-23 season on Monday when they announced the signing of Kentucky transfer forward Keion Brooks Jr. It brings an end to a hectic offseason in which the Huskies lost 7 scholarship players including 4 starters and replaced them with 3 true freshmen and 4 transfers.
All of the transfers look like they will have a major role on this team. Brooks is likely to be the one to one replacement for Emmitt Matthews Jr, headed back to West Virginia, at the SF/PF/(maybe sometimes center in short bursts) spot. Matthews played about 7 minutes per game more than Brooks last year so he has the edge on most counting stats but Brooks had slightly better rate stats almost across the board except in 3-pt FG%. Give Brooks an extra 30% playing time like Matthews had and it would be 14 pts, 6 reb per game without taking into account a heavier offensive load. When I do my preseason stat projections it will probably be with Brooks in that 14 and 6 range but it also wouldn’t shock me if with a higher usage rate we end up seeing a less efficient but gaudier 17 and 8 type stat line from him.
Nate Roberts and Riley Sorn are being replaced with Oregon transfer Franck Kepnang and Fresno State transfer Braxton Meah at the center position. Roberts (great rebounder, meh shot blocker) and Kepnang (meh rebounder, great shot blocker) aren’t the same type of player defensively but I think at worst it should be a roughly equivalent switch. Meah may be 4 inches shorter than Sorn but he has put up similar rate stat numbers in more minutes with better athleticism. (Also 7’1 is still really tall.)
Then we come to the guard spots. I think you could argue that Washington State transfer Noah Williams is a net upgrade over Daejon Davis. Their rate stats last year were quite similar when both players regressed over prior offensive performance. If Noah excels at the top of the zone like I expect him to while looking more like the offensive player he was as a sophomore then he’ll definitely provide more value than Davis did.
So the final one-to-one comparison is Pac-12 Player of the Year runner-up do-everything guard Terrell Brown Jr. and... and... true freshman Koren Johnson I guess? I think the Husky coaching staff is hoping that an unleashed with a change of scenery Noah Williams is closer to Brown than Davis, Fuller moves into the Davis role, and you’re only asking one of the freshman guard duo of Johnson and Keyon Menifeld to be a 3rd guard off the bench. In terms of minutes that’s how it will likely play out but it seems clear that Brown’s production will have to be made up more by 5 players increasing their scoring by 2-3 points per game than another guard coming in and instantly competing for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
In addition to the newcomers there are still another 5 contributors from last year coming back plus a 6th who just barely got his feet wet. Jamal Bey is returning for a 5th season despite a career worst offensive rating as a senior. I still expect him to see a lot of minutes as the lone returning starter but if he struggles again with his confidence when shooting then there are options at the wing to replace him. PJ Fuller was the 6th man last season and I’m expecting will move into the starting lineup alongside Williams this year. He played essentially all his minutes last year next to one of Brown or Davis so it will be interesting to see how much Hop trusts him to be the primary ball handler when Noah sits. Through 3 seasons he hasn’t shown much evidence he can be a lead distributor.
If Hopkins decides he would prefer to have Fuller come off the bench again for energy purposes then the last starting spot likely comes down to Cole Bajema or Langston Wilson depending on the staff’s priorities. Those who weren’t paying attention may be surprised to know that pair finished 1st and 2nd on the team in 3-pt% although that isn’t saying much. Wilson has NBA-level hops on a lanky 6’9 frame and if he learns how to avoid fouling at an absurd rate then he could be a major piece of the puzzle. Bajema just hasn’t quite been able to put it all together on offense despite a smooth looking stroke but a breakout year is certainly possible.
That leaves Jackson Grant and Samuel Ariyibi who weren’t really able to crack the rotation as true freshmen. Grant was a highly touted recruit but looked a step slow from the outset and according to Hop had a particularly bad bout with COVID that saw him lose a lot of weight to doom any chances of a late surge. He mostly played center last year but if he rediscovers the shooting stroke he had in high school could get some minutes at power forward. Ariyibi had about 3 flashes in just a handful of minutes as an athletic wing before an ankle injury ended his season. A quick mention that true freshman Tyler Linhardt is the 13th member of the roster but given the depth at the forward spot I think he’s the least likely player on the team to crack the rotation.
That brings me to my projection model (for those unfamiliar, it takes into account recruiting ranking, experience, past college performance, and coaching). For the purposes of the model I input 5 starters each playing 70% of the minutes and 5 reserves each playing 30% to try to account for a team’s depth. Right now I’m listing UW’s starters as Williams, Fuller, Bey, Brooks, and Kepnang with the reserves as Johnson, Bajema, Wilson, Grant, and Meah.
I only have the model for college basketball’s power 6 plus Gonzaga which means there are 77 teams. If you just compare roster to roster without factoring in coaching or scheme I have the Huskies 27th. There are non-P6 schools who will almost certainly finish better than that so that’s probably more like an overall ranking in the late 30’s but on its own that would be squarely in the running for an NCAA tournament berth.
The problem is that I do factor in coaching in my final projections. Mike Hopkins through 5 years has yet to coach a team that overachieved my model’s projections. That’s what has led him to have the worst coaching score in my system of any current coach since other coaches that end up in this range tend to get fired before they hit year #6. Taking that into account sinks the Huskies down to 59th since there’s fairly tight banding among the teams in that range.
Overall my model projects Washington with a +11.2 adjusted efficiency margin (aEM) as found at kenpom.com. Since I started collecting data in 2012 there have been 19 teams to finish with an aEM between +11.0 and +11.5. Unfortunately 4 of those seasons happened in 2020 when there wasn’t an NCAA tournament so there are 15 teams that were eligible for the postseason. Only 2 of them made the tourney. Colorado went in 2014 when the Buffs received a #8 seed then promptly lost by 29 in the 1st round to knock down their aEM several notches. Similarly Seton Hall in 2019 was a #10 seed and lost by 16 in the 1st round. 4 teams made the NIT in that group including Washington in 2016 when they had Andrew Andrews, Dejounte Murray, and Marquese Chriss.
If you check those percentages it’s approximately a 13% chance of making the NCAA tournament, 27% chance of making the NIT, and a 60% chance of missing both. For a season where Mike Hopkins is very much on the hot seat and needs at least an NIT berth if not an NCAA one to stay employed I don’t think he’d love a 40% chance.
What if though this was the year where a Mike Hopkins-led team didn’t underachieve? We’re not even talking about what if they overachieve but what if they just live up to what the model thinks as if you gave them a brand new coach with no history? That would give them a projected aEM of 14.78. So let’s instead look at P6 teams that finished between 14.5 and 15.0. This time we get a sample of 27 teams only one of which came in 2020 so 26 total. Only 3 of those teams missed all postseason play while another 7 made the NIT. That means 16 earned NCAA tournament berths with 3 trips to the Elite 8 including Miami this past year. A 61.5% chance of making the NCAA tourney and only a 12% chance of missing the postseason altogether sounds much better. But again that requires this to be the best coached/assembled roster of Hop’s tenure which is...unlikely.
REST OF THE PAC-12
Where does that put the Huskies though in the context of the rest of the conference? A +11.2 aEM would slot in Washington as 7th right now in my Pac-12 projections. My top tier at the moment includes teams for which missing the NCAA tournament would be a disaster and something along the lines of a #4-5 seed seems most reasonable at the moment. Tier 2 is variable with Arizona but again these are teams that should be striving towards an NCAA berth although the NIT wouldn’t be a shock. In tier 3 are teams for which an NCAA berth is an uphill struggle but NIT is a reasonable goal. The tier 4 teams would be happy just making it to 0.500.
Unfortunately Oregon leads the way as they’re adding a top-10 center and a pair of quality transfer guards (Colorado’s Keeshawn Barthelemy and South Carolina’s Jermaine Cousinard) to a core of Will Richardson, Quincy Guerrier and N’Faly Dante. Throw in 4-star freshman Dior Johnson and JUCO transfer Tyrone Williams and there’s 5 guys 6’5 or under who probably feel like they should get major playing time. We’ll see if Altman can navigate those waters or if chemistry is an issue again like it was last year.
Right behind them is a UCLA team that ended up losing Johnny Juzang, Jules Bernard, and Myles Johnson but kept Jaime Jaquez, Tyger Campbell, Jaylen Clark and Cody Riley. There’s a chance that they don’t feel the losses too acutely adding in a pair of top-15 freshmen including #2 overall CG Amari Bailey. UCLA is the only team in the conference that doesn’t have a transfer on their roster so it’s kind of incredible that Mick Cronin has been able to build up a national contender in this era with a development plus high end freshmen strategy.
Once again my projected #3 team in the conference is Washington State who vaulted up after C Mouhamed Gueye decided to withdraw from the portal and they got a commitment from Tennessee transfer PG Justin Powell. From a practical point of view guard depth will be an issue since all 3 primary ball handlers from last year either graduated or transferred and even they struggled to get WSU’s bigs the ball. But the Cougs will probably play 4 guys 6’5 or taller at all times and have menace potential on defense. Wazzu is at this point primarily though because Kyle Smith has the 2nd highest coaching grade of any Pac-12 coach since they finished 44th nationally in aEM despite not qualifying for the NCAA tournament.
There’s a decent sized gap before getting to Arizona but the Wildcats should be viewed as an incomplete. I mentioned I use 10 players to come up with the minutes distribution and Arizona only has 9 scholarships players right now. They’re still in the hunt for the top guys left in the portal such as Texas’ Courtney Ramey or Illinois’ Jacob Grandison. Any transfer commitment will have them shooting up the rankings since it’s not a substitution for an existing bench player but a pure addition. For instance if they land Ramey it moves them up from an aEM of +13.4 to +18.6 just behind UCLA. That’s helped by Tommy Lloyd’s Pac-12 highest coaching grade after a phenomenal debut last year. I don’t give him the full weight of that overachievement after year 1 in case it was a bit of a fluke but if this roster is contending for a top-3 seed then Lloyd will have proven he’s among the best in the sport with former fellow eastern Washington coaches Tony Bennett and Mark Few.
Things are relatively clumped together for spots 5-10 and the order I currently have is: Stanford, Arizona State, Washington, Colorado, USC, and Utah. The Cardinal return Harrison Ingram who was a surprise withdrawal from the NBA Draft plus 76% of their total minutes from last year while adding on Davidson transfer Michael Jones (40.5% career 3-pt%). That is good enough for 5th despite Haase’s very negative coaching score. Arizona State once again revamped their entire roster with transfers but my model doesn’t trust Bobby Hurley to get them to live up to expectations so they are stuck in the middle at 6th. Unfortunately it’s a similar story for UW and Mike Hopkins at 7th as I touched on at length above.
My model likes Tad Boyle which is helping to keep Colorado afloat despite losing arguably their best 2 players in Jabari Walker (NBA) and Keeshawn Barthelemy (Oregon transfer). He brought in a pair of Ivy league grad transfers to help surround some young talented pieces that are primed to bust out. Maybe the biggest surprise is USC at 9th despite getting back Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson plus adding a 5-star center. But Andy Enfield has a terrible coaching score based on years of underperformance before the last 2 seasons and spots 5-10 on the roster are completely unproven. If either Ellis or Peterson went down with an injury then things could get out of hand quickly. Utah is just about right where they were last year.
Bringing up the rear as they did last season in Cal and Oregon State. Cal brought in Kentucky/Texas transfer Devin Askew but after 2 meh seasons in 2 stops it’s hard to think he’ll suddenly become the next Johnny Juzang. Otherwise this roster is just devoid of talent and it would take a miracle by Mark Fox to make something happen with it. The Beavers have a few intriguing offensive pieces but they were one of the worst defensive teams in the country last year (not just among P6 teams) so it would take them becoming at least mediocre again to have any hope escaping the bottom 2.
REST OF THE COUNTRY
As we enter the summer here is my model’s current top-10 among Power-6 teams:
- Gonzaga (+30.74 aEM)
- Texas (+28.8)
- Duke (+26.3)
- Virginia (+24.0)
- Texas A&M (+21.5)
- Creighton (+21.5)
- North Carolina (+20.9)
- Kentucky (+20.4)
- Connecticut (+20.4)
- Tennessee (+20.0)
The Zags returning Drew Timme and Julian Strawther with Mark Few’s track record finishing 1st in aEM the last several seasons is enough for them to enter #1 again this year. Texas is the big question mark. One of the great existential questions for my model is whether a coach’s score should carry over from job to job. It feels like it should and I think that’s the correct decision but Chris Beard was a phenomenal overachiever every season at Texas Tech and then instantly underachieved at Texas. If the Longhorns struggle again this year I may need to make some tweaks to Beard’s score so he is no longer given quite the benefit of the doubt in the model.
Next is a pair of ACC teams with very different roster construction. Jon Scheyer is taking over for Coach K at Duke which means he starts off without a coaching adjustment. He has undoubtedly the most talented roster in the country with 3 of the top-4 recruits in the country. If they all play like average top-5 freshmen then Duke will be scary good. Then there’s a bit of a drop before Tony Bennett looks to return to prominence with Virginia. The Cavs return 95% of their minutes from last year’s NIT squad. This is basically what if that 2017-18 Washington team were coached by Bennett instead of Hopkins. It will be fascinating to see how it plays out.
Texas A&M won the NIT after getting snubbed from the NCAA tournament and brings in several transfers although I’m waiting to figure out who will actually be playing since they have 16 scholarship players on their roster right now... Creighton added star South Dakota State transfer Baylor Scheierman to an NCAA team returning most of its roster. North Carolina are the reigning runner-ups and return most of their roster although 7 is lower than you’ll find in most places despite them entering the tournament last year as a #8 seed.
Kentucky saw some roster turnover but still have a lot of talent including last season’s consensus national player of the year in C Oscar Tshiebwe. Connecticut is a sleeper team bringing back 4 starters from a #5 seed including C Adama Sanogo (15 pts, 9 reb, 2 blk). The final spot is occupied by Tennessee who brings back 5 rotation pieces alongside an incoming 5-star and a 17 ppg transfer scorer from Indiana State. Although you won’t see me pick them to make Sweet 16 come tournament time with the Rick Barnes curse. Oregon was the #11 team so the Pac-12 and Big 10 are the only P6 conferences not represented at the top. I have Indiana as the top team in the Big 10 for now but Michigan could pass them with another portal addition after they lost 2 players unexpectedly to the draft last week.