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UW Hoops Preview: Returning Production

Keion Brooks and Braxton Meah are among several proven contributors suiting up for the Huskies this season

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 26 Washington at Stanford Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It has been some time since the Washington Huskies can say they brought back a leading scorer from the previous season.

In fact, in each of the last 4 seasons the Washington Huskies have had to replace their top scorer in Jaylen Nowell (16.2 ppg), Isaiah Stewart (17.0 ppg), Quade Green (15.4 ppg), and Terrell Brown (21.7 ppg). Before that it was Markelle Fultz, Andrew Andrews, and Nigel Williams-Goss. The Washington Huskies have made the NCAA Tournament only 2 times in the last 13 seasons and have only had a leading scorer return the following season 3 times (Isaiah Thomas, CJ Wilcox and Jaylen Nowell) in that span. That may not be a coincidence.

Part of that is the natural turnover of College Basketball and the emergence of the Transfer Portal but you can easily find many examples of teams returning leading scorers across College basketball every year. If you look at the most recent 247 top 25 rankings, the majority of the teams have a leading scorer returning or brought in a proven high-level scorer via the Transfer Portal.

Welcome Back Keion Brooks (17.7 PPG)

Keion Brooks will be the first leading scorer to return to UW since Jaylen Nowell in 2019 and before that, it was CJ Wilcox in 2014. Brooks will also look to bring leadership and more efficiency as the top Dawg this upcoming season but Brooks will most likely have more help to carry the load for Washington. However, Brooks will be counted on to be a top scorer and should challenge to be 1st Team All-Pac-12 by seasons end.

Not only have the Huskies had to replace their top scorer the past 4 seasons, they have also had to replace over 60% of the returning production each year. For all of reasons behind Washington’s recent struggles, the lack of continuity certainly has not helped the Huskies’ cause both recently and over the past 13 seasons.

Now for the first time since the 2018-2019 Tournament season, the Huskies will be returning over 60% of their returning production, if you count injured Center Franck Kepnang who only played 8 games (48.5% without Kepnang’s stats).

Overall Returning Production (Transfers Included)

Going even beyond that, the Huskies have had to replace productive players with new personnel that had little to no playing experience and having to play in roles bigger than they probably should have been in.

Going into the 2022-2023 season, this was the Incoming Scoring of the top rotational players in their previous season:

Even before the injuries to PG Noah Williams and C Franck Kepnang, there was not a lot of on-court experience and returning production going into the 2022-2023 season. Only Keion Brooks went in as a double-digit scorer and that was as the 4th option at Kentucky. Noah Williams and Jamal Bey both saw up and down seasons leading into last year and not a single player on the roster averaged over 5 rebounds or 3 assists per game before the 2022-2023 season.

Noah Williams was injured in Game 1 last year and missed half the season but was never fully healthy, while Franck Kepnang was out for the season after only 8 games. As a result, the Huskies had to rely heavily on scoring guard PJ Fuller and the true freshmen duo of Keyon Menifield and Koren Johnson to handle the PG position.

The Huskies also had to rely on an undersized and inexperienced Jackson Grant and Langston Wilson at the backup Center position once Kepnang went down, which also forced Braxton Meah to work overtime. Jackson Grant, as well as Koren Johnson were both planning to redshirt last season but were forced into playing time. Those 5 players combined for a total of 11.1 PPG going into last season and PJ Fuller accounted for 7.4 of those points, which led to some up and down performances.

Looking at the incoming scoring for the 2023-2024 season:

* Nate Calmese shot over 48.1% from field and 36.7% from 3 at Lamar University.

** Sahvir Wheeler averaged 14.0 ppg and 7.4 APG at Georgia in 2020-21’ and 10.1 ppg and 6.9 APG in 2021-22’ Season.

*** Anthony Holland averaged 9.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG and shot 43.7% from 3 in the 2021-22’ Season.

On paper, it looks like the Huskies will have a lot more returning production going into the 2023-2024 season, including 3 players that averaged over 15 PPG last season. Granted, Nate Calmese averaged 15.3 PPG on a poor Lamar team and won’t get near as many minutes or shot attempts at UW this season most likely. However, Calmese was a pretty efficient player at Lamar and will offer scoring experience off the bench if needed.

It is also notable that the Huskies return 4 players that averaged over 6 rebounds per game plus Anthony Holland who averaged over 6 RPG in his junior season at Fresno State. Night and day difference from last season if you are looking at proven experience.

The Huskies will also be rolling out 3 players with over 1,000 career points (Keion Brooks 1,191, Moses Wood 1,214, and Sahvir Wheeler 1,107), as well as Paul Mulcahy (818 points) and Anthony Holland (748 points) who are close to the 1,000 point club. The extra Covid-year is a big factor in that but again goes back to the point that Washington will have proven players on the floor.

If we were to compare seasons, the 2022-2023 season returned 53.1 PPG going into last season while this upcoming season will be returning 101.6 PPG. Now of course, the Huskies will not average anywhere near 100 PPG but Washington will have a lot more experience to turn to instead of relying on players with little to no experience like this past season.

This also doesn’t include 4-star freshman Wesley Yates, who may end up being one of the more productive players on the team this season and could potentially see Yates playing into a Jaylen Nowell-like role as a freshman. The Huskies will be looking for a consistent 2nd and 3rd scorer behind Keion Brooks and players such as Wesley Yates, Moses Wood, Sahvir Wheeler, Koren Johnson and Paul Mulcahy will be challenging for those roles.

How does this compare to the 2018-2019 Tournament season?

The last time the Huskies had anywhere close to this production returning was the 2018-2019 NCAA Tournament season, led by Jaylen Nowell, Matisse Thybulle, Noah Dickerson and David Crisp.

Most would probably prefer the continuity that saw UW return their top 8 scorers from the year before like the 2018-19 season and have the All-World defensive talent of Matisse Thybulle at their disposal so this is not an apples for apples comparison but it is worth pointing out that even that team did not return as much proven production as this years team will suit up this season. Also, the 2018-19 team did not have as much proven depth beyond the top 4 players going into that season, and mostly used a 7-man rotation throughout the year.

What can we expect this season?

The 2023-24 Huskies at the very least will have players that have proven they can play at this level and won’t be relying so heavily on younger, inexperienced players. In the world of College Basketball, getting older has been a common variable for successful teams and has as well for past Huskies teams that have made the NCAA Tournament. The early Romar years were filled with experienced Veterans that made the tournament, while struggling towards the end with younger rosters that faced similar consistency issues.

This experienced group is flying under the radar so far and breaking in a new team does have challenges early on but there is room for some optimism based on the roster. It will also be fascinating to see what the rotation will look like each game with 10-11 players capable of cracking the rotation.

With Coach Mike Hopkins on the proverbial (scorching) Hot Seat, Hopkins will be leaning heavily on seven Seniors to get the Huskies back to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies should roll out one of the most experienced teams in the country across the entire roster and barring injuries, will not be relying on many inexperienced players, as there just aren’t that many in the projected rotation.

Will this collection of talent and experience be enough to get the Huskies back into the NCAA Tournament?

We’ll find out soon enough. The season opener is just around the corner on November 6th vs. the Bellarmine Knights.