Before the Huskies travel to New York this week to take Providence and Virginia Tech, we take a look at the past two games and examine what went right and what needs to improve.
The Washington men’s basketball team is 2-0, but few would have been surprised if UW would have started 0-2 because there was plenty of uncertainty about new coach Mike Hopkins.
After wins over Belmont (86-82), Eastern Washington (79-69) and a 91-87 including an exhibition victory against Division II Saint Martin’s, we’re going to learn a lot more about the Huskies this week when they play Providence and potentially Virginia Tech – both teams advanced to the NCAA tournament last season – at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden in the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Wounded Warrior Project.
Here are a few thoughts on Washington
1.) The 2-3 zone is looking better.
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Ideally, the Huskies would like to hold teams under 40 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent on three-pointers. They didn’t come close to those benchmarks in the exhibition when Saint Martin’s shot 45.9 percent from the field and 52.9 percent (18 of 34) behind the arc. Against Belmont, UW held the Bruins to 32.2 percent shooting on three-pointers but allowed them to shoot 49.2 percent from the floor. At times Washington’s 2-3 zone was suffocating against Eastern Washington, which went scoreless for about four minutes in the second half. The Eagles shot 40 percent from the field and 33.3 percent on 3s. Said Matisse Thybulle: “Every game we get under our belt, we get a little more comfortable. And we get better making the reads. And we get faster on our close outs and all of that stuff. So 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 wreck on the other team.”
Hopkins noted the next step for UW’s defense is to face teams intent on scoring inside. Belmont and Eastern Washington are three-point shooting teams without much of a post presence offensively. Providence (1-0) returns 6-8 senior forward Rodney Bullock, who led the Friars 15.7 points and 6.4 rebounds last season. And Virginia Tech (2-0), which faces Saint Louis on Thursday, is led by 6-10 junior forward Kerry Blackshear who is averaging 22.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. Said Hopkins: “The teams that we’re about to play, some real physical teams and that’s going to be really cool because they’ve only played against what so far? 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 what? Now more collective, more shrinking the floor. Now more physical, now putting more bodies on. The fun think about the zone for me is the teaching part of it, is getting them to believe and understand when it works, look what it looks like. It can be stifling.”
2.) The offense is finding an identity.
Wrote a lot about Dickerson’s role with the Huskies after his 28-point, 22-rebound performance against Eastern Washington. It’s common to make outlandish assertions after such a dominant display, but I believe Dickerson is UW’s most important player because of the team’s dearth of low-post scorers. Sophomore forward Sam Timmins has a nice baby hook shot, but he’s still developing an offensive repertoire. Aside from Dickerson, 6-4 guard Carlos Johnson may be UW’s most efficient option in the paint. As such, it’s essential the Huskies establish Dickerson in the post early in games and play off of him. Washington can live with his 3.5 turnovers per game if he continues to shoot a high percentage. Last year he shot 54.7 percent from the field and this year he’s at 60.0.
Without a true point guard – no one has more than four assists – the Huskies rely on their four guards to make run the offense. Thybulle is a bit of play maker and his activity allows him scoring opportunities that aren’t necessarily scripted. The Huskies rely on David Crisp and Dominic Green for three-point shooting. Eleven of Crisp’s 17 field goal attempts hae been three-pointers. And all 5 of his field goals are behind the arc. Green is 2 of 3 on three-pointers and 1 of 4 on 2-point field goal attempts. Crisp’s ability to draw fouls has been an added bonus. He’s averaging 7.5 free throw attempts per game, which is nearly five more than last season.
And Jaylen Nowell appears to be UW’s closer. When the Huskies need a basket or the game is on the line, expect them to clear out and put the ball in the hands of the freshman guard who is the best on the team at creating his own shot on dribble drives. Nowell rescued Washington with a 32-point debut against Belmont – including 27 in the second half. He also sank clutch baskets in the final minutes of Sunday’s win Eastern Washington.
Johnson will score around the rim because he’s relentless, but hasn’t shown he’s much of a threat on the perimeter. And freshmen guards Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright and Michael Carter III are still finding their way in the offense.
3.) Deep rotation gives UW options
Hopkins is using a 9-10 man rotation, which is providing support for the veterans and allowing the younger players to find their roles. Eight players average at least 10 minutes, including freshmen Nowell and Nahziah Carter. Michael Carter III gets quality – albeit – limited minutes right now as a backup point guard in relief of Crisp. The bench is also developing a bit of an edge thanks in large part to Johnson and Michael Carter III, who collected a technical foul Sunday after getting into a spat with a EWU player.