So it's one of those years, huh? The Washington men's basketball team is struggling, and the likelihood of a remarkable turnaround is iffy...
So it’s one of those years, huh?
The Washington men’s basketball team is struggling, and the likelihood of a remarkable turnaround is iffy, at best. The Huskies have neither the depth nor the top-shelf talent to expect an NCAA tournament appearance. They’re just good enough to frustrate you, really. And after a 4-4 start, including an uncharacteristic trio of home losses to Albany, Nevada and Colorado State, they have agitated at the highest level.
Throw in the Huskies not qualifying for the Big Dance last season despite having two first-round NBA draft picks in Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten Jr., and the less sophisticated observer is about ready to scream and declare that the program has peaked under coach Lorenzo Romar. Spare your brain cells the trauma and respond to the overreaction with a foolproof counter.
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The Huskies are amid a down year. But it doesn’t foretell a downfall.
It’s fair to grouse about the current team’s shortcomings and the reasons for that. But don’t get carried away with the criticism. The Huskies’ present state doesn’t indicate much about their future. This is a transition year in the truest form, and if the Huskies can finish what they’ve started in recruiting this year, this dip will be short-lived.
Even before the season began, I figured this would be a year in which Romar would reset the program. If a coach is leading his program properly, he must do this every four or five years, to stay fresh and to apply lessons learned. The elite programs in college basketball can do this without a noticeable drop-off, but the Huskies are still climbing that tree. They have good players this season, but they don’t have stellar talent, and when you combine that with a coach making some philosophical tweaks, it adds up to what you’re seeing right now.
But it says here that the Huskies will wind up better for the suffering they are experiencing this year.
Romar’s decision to go back to his coaching roots and implement the UCLA high-post offense will pay off over time. It’s an intricate, time-tested offense with counters to just about every defensive strategy. It’s an offense versatile enough to work with a variety of player prototypes, which is key for the Huskies, who will always need to adjust to the talent they can recruit because they can’t cherry pick. And the offense will make the Huskies much better at half-court execution.
Romar is evolving. He’s establishing some new wrinkles that could help the Huskies when they make their next run.
And there will be a next run.
The current period of Husky basketball is eerily similar to Romar’s seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08. If you recall, the Huskies came a few games shy of making the NCAA tournament in 2006-07, which was Spencer Hawes’ only season at Washington. It compares to last season, when the Huskies narrowly missed the dance in Wroten’s only season. And 2007-08, in which the Huskies finished with a 16-17 record, is like this season.
The differences? In ’07-08, the Huskies were mostly a young team. The current squad starts three seniors and a fourth-year junior in C.J. Wilcox. The ’07-08 team had a certain future NBA player in Jon Brockman, as well as Quincy Pondexter, a sophomore at the time who developed into an NBA player. On the current squad, Wilcox should be in the NBA, but he might be the only one.
The ’07-08 team was hurt by early NBA departure (Hawes) and required maturation and better guard play (which Isaiah Thomas brought the next year). The current squad was hurt by early NBA departure (Ross, Wroten) and requires some maturation, but more than anything, it needs an athletic wing and a low-post scorer.
The two periods are different, but the situations are nearly identical in this way: Both occurred after stretches of three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
As you know, the Huskies followed that stretch of two non-NCAA tournament years with a three-year run. There’s no reason to believe the same won’t happen again.
Romar remains the antidote for angst.
He has concerns; what coach of a struggling team wouldn’t? He’s making his points stronger than he normally does in December, and he knows the urgency needed to avoid falling permanently into a hole this season. But if you’re looking for sweat or strain, for panic or profanity, you’ve approached the wrong man.
“I really feel like something’s going to happen to make it click with this team,” Romar said.
But when asked about this team’s ceiling, Romar seemed to acknowledge limitations: “I think we can pretty much be competitive with anyone we play in our conference. It doesn’t mean we’ll win every one. But I know we can be competitive. I know what I’ve seen out on that floor at times, and you can’t manufacture it if it wasn’t there.”
The Huskies will improve. Romar’s teams always do. But they might not ever improve to good. It’s probably one of those years. But it’s a temporary rut.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.