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Husky Men's Basketball

The latest news and analysis on Husky men's hoops.

January 12, 2012 at 5:18 PM

Washington midseason analysis

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Photo credit: Getty Images – Nick Laham
The Pac-12 race enters Week 3, but Washington began the second half of its college basketball regular season Tuesday with a 91-83 win over Seattle University.
Seems a little strange. Feels like just yesterday the Huskies were preparing for their big road trip to New York.
And yet here we are, halfway through the season and in many ways Washington is still working to resolve issues with the offense, defense, chemistry and winning on the road.
The Huskies were expected to struggle because they lost four key participants on a team that advanced to the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. Washington also replaced its departing stars with several newcomers.
There’s eight first-year players on the team and coach Lorenzo Romar dropped hints in training camp that this could be a rebuilding year when he said the defense wasn’t being installed as quickly as last year due to the amount of new faces.
Before the season began, the Huskies lost senior co-captain Scott Suggs to a toe injury. He was going to miss at least the first six games and was expected to return when Washington traveled to the Big Apple. However, Suggs decided to redshirt and his absence dealt a big blow to the UW’s depth.
The Huskies are redshirting three players (Andrew Andrews, Jernard Jarreau and Suggs), which is a lot considering three players total had redshirted in the previous nine years under Romar.
Freshman Shawn Kemp Jr., Martin Breunig and Hikeem Stewart have received spot minutes and the thin bench has forced the Huskies to use a seven-man rotation. It’s also odd considering Romar has favored a 9-10 man rotation in the past. He’s always been able to turn to his bench and find several options to fix whatever was going wrong on the court. This season those options are limited to C.J. Wilcox and Darnell Gant.
Two characteristics have defined Washington’s season to this point. The Huskies are pretty good at home and lousy on the road. They also beat the teams they’re supposed to beat and have struggled against quality opponents, including an 0-2 showing against ranked teams.
Washington (10-6, 3-1 Pac-12) is 9-1 at home and 1-5 on the road.
The combined record of the 10 teams UW has beaten is 77-83 and only four are above .500. The combined record of the six teams UW has lost to is 75-22 and all of them are above .500.
It’s been a season in four stages.
ACT 1: The Huskies began with a three-game winning streak at home against cream puffs.
ACT 2: They lose four of the next five games, that includes an embarrassing defeat at Saint Louis and a three-game road losing streak against Nevada, Marquette and Duke.
ACT 3: Washington returns for a five-game home stand. With the exception of a shocking 92-73 loss to South Dakota State that snapped a 31-game home non-conference winning streak, the Huskies rolled to easy wins.
ACT 4: Against what was supposed to be inferior teams, Washington lost by 18 points at Colorado before snapping a five-game road losing streak with a four-point win at Utah. The Huskies were heavy favorites against Seattle U. and managed an eight-point win.
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Romar contends Washington’s identity is predicated on defense and rebounding, but that belief is only party true.
The Huskies have outrebounded 11 of 16 opponents and despite they’re three-guard lineup, they’re a good rebounding team largely because center Aziz N’Diaye, forward Desmond Simmons and guard Terrence Ross.
However, Washington has regressed defensively. Opponents are averaging 73.6 points per game, which is the most since the 2004-05 season. The Huskies surrendered 92 points to South Dakota State while Colorado scored 87 and Duke had 86.
Washington’s defense was supposed to have improved from previous years because the Huskies have their tallest team in the Romar-era. No one in the rotation is shorter than 6 foot 3. And yet the the Huskies have struggled at times against smaller opponents.
To be specific, Washington’s perimeter defense has faltered repeatedly and forced the Huskies to use more zone than ever before. Washington has been torched by opposing point guards. SDSU’s Nate Wolters tallied 34 points and Nevada’s Deonte Burton had 31.
Historically, the Huskies thrived on a defense that created turnovers, which ignited UW’s transition offense. Last week, the Huskies didn’t score a single fast break point against Utah, which is shocking considering the disparity in talent between the teams.
At this point, Washington’s identity is Wilcox’s three-pointers and Tony Wroten Jr.’s dribble drives. And that’s not a bad thing. Without them, the Huskies would be in serious trouble.
While N’Diaye continues to develop and Gant remains on the perimeter, Washington lacks a viable below-the-basket option on the offensive end. It hurts the Huskies when they’re forced to play a slow-tempo game.
Romar said Ross and Wroten are the team’s best low-post options, which can be troubling because Ross sometimes disappears from the offense and Wroten draws a lot of fouls, but shoots 53.8 percent at the line.
Just recently the Huskies accepted the fact that they won’t be able to simply outscore opponents, especially on the road.
Last week against Utah, Romar instructed the UW players to be extremely conscious of making the extra pass and discouraged them from taking quick shots. The result was a 57-53 win. It remains to be seen if the Huskies – a team comprised of three gifted scorers in Wroten, Wilcox and Ross – can continue winning scoring fewer than 60 points.
The chemistry is still a concern, which isn’t to suggest there’s personalities issues. The Huskies appear to be a tight-knit bunch. However, on the court the pieces sometimes don’t fit properly, roles are still being defined and the starting lineup has changed three times in the last three games.
Still there’s plenty of reasons for optimism.
— Wilcox has successfully made the transition from role player to an emerging superstar. He’s the most consistent player on the team, which is high praise for a jump shooter. At times he’ll have a clunker of a game like Utah (2 of 13 shooting), but he gives the same high effort each night. He’s averaging 15.5 points and has scored more than 20 in four games.
— No one can stop or figure out Wroten. Too much is made of what he can’t do. Can’t finish with his right hand. Can’t shoot three-pointers. Can’t shoot free throws. Can’t play conventional defense. And can’t play more than a few minutes without making a turnover. Still he’s second in the Pac-12 in scoring while averaging 17 points and fourth in steals at nearly two per game. Wroten is a force of nature and quite possibly the best player in the Pac-12. And yet, too often it seems as if the Huskies have yet to truly understand and embrace their dynamic freshman guard.
— When junior point guard Abdul Gaddy plays well, Washington likely wins because he gets everyone in the offense involved and his points and rebounds are usually a bonus. Gaddy’s top priorities are running the offense and to provide the first line of defense. If he’s effective at both, the Huskies are difficult to beat.
— Simmons has garnered the respect of teammates who say his all-out personality may become the team’s identity. Like Wroten, Simmons does a little bit of everything. He fills a stat sheet without creating the head-scratching turnovers.
— Despite the sluggish first half, the Huskies are tied for second place in the Pac-12 and they have as good a chance as anyone to win the regular-season title.
First half co-MVPs: Wroten and Wilcox
First half highlight: Dismantling Oregon 76-60 and holding the Ducks to 32.3 percent shooting.
First half lowlight: The first half against Saint Louis and the entire game South Dakota State.
Biggest pleasant surprise: The solid rebounding.
Biggest disappointment: The absence of a leader.

Comments | Topics: Abdul Gaddy, C.J. Wilcox, Scott Suggs

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