clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Initial 2024 MBB Projections- Washington

Looking at what my computer says about the Huskies’ outlook next season

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Withdrawal Deadline has now passed which means rosters in college basketball are pretty close to finalized. There are still some impact names left in the transfer portal for sure. There will be Class of 2024 prospects that reclassify up a year and new international players you’ve never heard of that crack rotations next fall. But for the majority of teams, what you see now is what you’ll get.

That means it’s a good time for me to look at the initial results from my model’s projections for the 2023-24 season. We’ll start with Washington today then return with the Pac-12 as a whole in Part 2 before finishing with the rest of the conferences in Part 3. I only look at teams in Power 6 leagues + Gonzaga (the same 5 as football plus the Big East) which this year means some new additions. Say hello to Houston, BYU, Cincinnati, and Central Florida who I went back in over the last few months to retroactively add their data from the last decade.

My model looks at a player’s years of college experience, high school recruiting ranking, and on-court performance with help from Synergy Sports possession data. Lower level transfers do get a bit of a penalty due to the data showing that on average their performance dips the bigger the jump they make.

For each team’s roster I look at the top-ten players either who are on scholarship or, if applicable, walk-ons that saw the court outside of garbage time. This is to try to reward team depth and the ability to withstand an injury or two during the season. There are 5 teams right now that either have 8 or 9 scholarship players which means that any late portal additions will rocket them up the standings as their impact will be purely additive rather than checking to see if they’re better than the current 10th guy on the roster.


With the current roster, my model has Washington projected for an Adjusted Efficiency Margin (aEM) of +12.71. This is the number that is used at to rank teams and it’s better to use as a goalpost than something like just team wins which is heavily influenced by schedule. But I’m guessing the average reader probably doesn’t have a lot of context for what that number means.

Last year Washington finished 107th nationally with an aEM of +5.92 so this would represent a pretty sizable jump. A team with an aEM of +12.71 would’ve ranked 64th overall and slotted in between Texas Tech and Utah Valley. That would’ve included just edging out Washington State and Colorado for 6th place in the Pac-12 and a top-half of the conference standing. Teams in that range were in the thick of things for the N.I.T but were out of the running for a bubble spot to the Tournament.

That total is using the following projected lineup:

Starters- Sahvir Wheeler, Anthony Holland, Moses Wood, Keion Brooks, Braxton Meah

Reserves- Koren Johnson, Wesley Yates, Samuel Ariyibi, Christian King, Franck Kepnang

You could pretty easily talk me into either Koren or Yates starting in place of Holland at some point during the season (maybe from day one) and doing so wouldn’t dramatically change the projection. If the Huskies don’t make any further additions to the roster then it’s likely that without injuries we see things narrowed down to just 8 guys pretty quickly with Ariyibi and King the likely ones out. Adding in just about any more proven player from the portal to replace Ariyibi or King would help since each was an unrated recruit in the composite who didn’t play last season (King was in HS, Ariyibi was injured).

For instance, Washington got an official visit from Lamar transfer Nate Calmese last week. If you replaced King (unrated true freshman) with Calmese (unrated true sophomore who averaged 17+ points per game for a bad team) it bumps Washington up to an aEM of +14.84 which is legitimate shot at an at-large bid territory. USC was a #10 seed last year finishing with an aEM of +14.85. But let’s talk about the roster as it currently stands right this second.

Here’s some of how and why the Huskies are projected here to improve to their 2nd best ever finish under Mike Hopkins. The biggest reason is that Keion Brooks Jr. is the 4th ranked player in the country in my model behind only Duke’s Kyle Filipowski, Purdue’s Zach Edey, and Kansas’ Hunter Dickinson.

I know what you’re thinking. And I too think it’s kind of absurd. Since 2012 there have been only 50 seasons by a former top-25 recruit on a power conference team that was in at least their 4th year of college. That’s about 5 per season (this year there are projected to be 7). That includes Brooks last year. The average player in that group ended up with +203 adjusted points created (the performance metric I use based on Synergy data). That’s equivalent to what you’d expect for someone who is honorable mention all-conference in the Pac-12. It’s a pretty high floor. Brooks last year finished at +287 which was 7th in the Pac-12.

The problem of course is that Brooks finished as high as he did at least in part because there just weren’t a lot of offensive options and subsequently he was a high volume, inefficient player. If I could manually tweak elements of the model I would manually downgrade Brooks but the whole point of a model based entirely on the data is that it’s going to be right more often than I am when taken across the entirety of power conference basketball. But color me skeptical on that component right off the bat.

Incoming Portland transfer Moses Wood is the next highest ranked player on the roster at 20th in the Pac-12 which is 2 spots higher than the departed Cole Bajema who is now at Utah. Wood looks to be almost a 1 to 1 replacement for Bajema. Cole never quite lived up to the hype as the shooting wing for the Huskies. Was that because of a flaw in Bajema’s game or a result of UW’s ineffective offensive scheme? It’ll be interesting to track and compare each this year to find the answer.

Braxton Meah is also an above average starter for the Dawgs at 25th overall after his breakout season. That seems reasonable given that Meah was borderline unstoppable in a few matchups but also was incapable of creating his own offense and could be shut down completely if properly game planned for by the opponent.

It my be surprising for some to see that Sahvir Wheeler ranks 45th of 60 projected Pac-12 starters in my model despite the hype surrounding his transfer. That’s largely because both Wheeler missed 1/3rd of the season due to injury and the offensive points per possession metric I use doesn’t capture efficiency off of passes which is the biggest strength of Wheeler’s game. Another analytically-based approach ( has Wheeler as the 20th best transfer in the country using largely on-court/off-court totals that do a better job capturing a player’s impact on plays when they don’t shoot the ball.

Finally, the bench for Washington is hit or miss as I mentioned towards the beginning of this section. Koren/Kepnang/Yates is a pretty good bench trio as long as Yates lives up to his recruiting ranking and Kepnang comes back close to 100% from his ACL tear (those are definitely real ifs to be worried about). Both Ariyibi and King though are among the bottom 7 out of the 60 bench players in the conference which brings everything down. Another injury season like last one for Washington would bring their expected aEM to come crumbling down given their current lack of depth.


NCAA Basketball: Washington at UCLA Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

So far everything has been about the players but there’s also the coaching aspect to discuss. There are a lot of reasons why a team might underachieve. Maybe the pieces didn’t fit. Maybe they ran a bad scheme. Maybe the chemistry was underwhelming. In the end though all of that comes back to the coach who in college basketball also serves as the general manager and is responsible for the roster construction as well as performance. If a team consistently fails to live up to my model’s expectations then the blame goes at the feet of the coach. And the longer they’ve been around, the less likely it’s due to bad luck.

Among current P6 coaches Mike Hopkins has the 4th lowest coach adjustment in my system. Almost everyone else around him though has either only 1 or 2 years of coaching experience at the P6 level. The only 3 worse at the moment are Hubert Davis (UNC), Kenny Payne (Lousville), and Matt McMahon (LSU) who all had historic faceplants last year, the latter two in their first season. I only hold a portion of that underachievement against them this early in their careers but they were bad enough that it still puts them below Hopkins. That leaves Hop with the lowest grade among any active coach who has been around at least 3 seasons.

Still, Hopkins has a coaching adjustment of -3.06. That means that if you took this exact same Washington roster and put them with a truly average coach then I’d project them to finish with an aEM of +15.77. That would’ve been good for 38th last year and put them in good position for an NCAA tournament berth. But the reality is that I only attribute half of the over/underperformance to a coach until they hit 10 seasons so if you were to assume a typical Hopkins season then the total for UW is really +9.65 (84th last year just ahead of Stanford).

If you asked me to pick which outcome is more likely between +15.7, +12.7, or +9.7 then I’d probably go with the low end scenario. Unless Washington is able to add at least one more legitimate piece then I just don’t think there’s enough there to overcome the coaching deficiencies we’ve seen throughout his tenure.


Later this week we’ll run through the rest of the Pac-12 conference.