Washington plays in the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden on Thursday (6:30 p.m., ESPN2).
New Washington men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins, a dive-on-the-floor overachiever in his college playing days, has intricate knowledge about Providence, the Huskies’ opponent Thursday in the second round of the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting the Wounded Project.
During his four-year Syracuse playing career and 22-year tenure as an Orange assistant, he routinely ran into the Friars in the Big East before Syracuse left to join the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013.
“I’m obviously very familiar with Providence,” Hopkins said. “They’ve built a top-25 program. Their strength is their toughness, the Big East.”
UW men vs. Providence
Time: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Madison Square Garden.
TV/Radio: ESPN2/KOMO 1000 & FM 97.7
Records: UW (2-0): Providence (1-1).
Scouting report: Following an 84-55 win over Houston Baptist on Nov. 10 in its season opener, Providence lost 86-74 to Minnesota on Monday. ... The Friars average 79 points, which is 2.5 fewer than UW (82.5 per game). The Friars are a poor free-throw shooting team (65.3 percent), 239th nationally. ... Providence return its starting lineup and top seven players from last season’s team that finished 20-13 and lost to USC in Dayton in the NCAA tournament’s First Four. ... The senior duo of forward Rodney Bullock and guard Kyron Cartwright lead the Friars. Last season, Bullock averaged a team-leading 15.7 points and 6.4 rebounds. Cartwright averaged 11.4 points and a league-leading 6.7 assists. ... Senior forward Emmitt Holt, who was second on the team in scoring (12.5 points) last season, is out indefinitely due to an abdominal injury. ... UW and Providence met once before, a 60-51 Huskies win on December 19, 1980.
Hopkins used the words “tough” and “physical” six times when asked what he expects from the Friars and coach Ed Cooley, who has taken them to the past four NCAA tournaments.
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“They’re going to pressure us,” Hopkins said. “You have to be able to handle the ball (and) not turn it over. We’ve done a decent job for the most part in the first couple of games and the exhibitions.
“You have to be tough about rebounding. They’re going to throw guys on (the glass). They’re going to be really, really physical.”
Washington returns to the 2K Sports Classic following a disappointing 1-3 showing in 2013 that included a pair of lopsided losses in New York.
Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. game that’s televised on ESPN2 at Madison Square Garden is also a homecoming of sorts for Hopkins, a Southern California native who spent most of the past three decades in the state of New York as a player and coach.
He left a comfortable situation in which he was designated the coach in-waiting at his alma mater to rebuild a UW program that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2011.
Hopkins inherited a 13-game losing streak, which UW snapped with an 86-82 upset win over Belmont in the season opener.
Considering their 9-22 record last season and the uncertainty about Hopkins, it’s not surprising that the Huskies are a 2-point underdog. Few would have been surprised if Washington had started 0-2, but the Huskies and Hopkins are 2-0 following a convincing 79-69 win over Eastern Washington.
Now the quality of competition increases considerably against Providence (1-1) and a potential pairing Friday with Virginia Tech — two teams that advanced to the NCAA tournament last season. Virginia Tech (2-0) plays Saint Louis (2-0) at 4 p.m. Thursday.
“The teams that we’re about to play are some real physical teams, and that’s going to be really cool because (we’ve) only played against, what so far?” Hopkins said. “Physical, but four out. Five shooters on the court. It’s been spaced.
“Now there’s going to be certain teams that you’re going to play where it becomes … more collective. More shrinking the floor. Now more physical.”
Against the Huskies, Eastern Washington attempted 24 three-pointers and Belmont 31, which is nearly double the amount of shots that Providence (16.0) averages behind the arc.
Led by 6-foot-8 senior forward Rodney Bullock and 5-11 senior guard Kyron Cartwright, the Friars are intent on attacking inside while averaging 79 points and shooting 48.7 percent from the field.
If Washington gets past Providence and Virginia Tech defeats Saint Louis, then the Huskies would face a Hokies team that features 6-10 junior forward Kerry Blackshear, averaging 22.5 points and 10.5 rebounds.
Washington’s newly implemented 2-3 zone allowed Division II Saint Martin’s to shoot 45.9 percent from the field and 52.9 percent (18 of 34) on three-pointers in a 91-87 exhibition victory.
However, the Huskies were at times suffocating on Sunday while holding Eastern Washington to 40 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent on threes.
“Every game we get under our belt, we get a little more comfortable,” junior guard Matisse Thybulle said. “The more we play, the more comfortable we get with each other, the more comfortable we get in the zone and the more havoc we wreak on the other team.”