The calendar has flipped to December, the college football regular season is over and maybe you’ve finally cleared up some bandwidth to delve into college basketball.
Here’s a quick primer on the hometown Huskies.
No. 23 Washington is off to a promising 5-1 start that includes an unexpected road victory in Anchorage over then-No. 16 Baylor and a deflating defeat against Tennessee in Toronto.
The Huskies finished the first month of the season with three blowout victories and following an eight-day layoff, UW returns to the court 7:30 p.m. Monday against South Dakota (6-2), which brings the nation’s top three-point shooting team into Alaska Airlines Arena.
Washington is midway through a seven-game homestand that’s highlighted by the showdown next Sunday against No. 8 Gonzaga.
In short, the Huskies are good with an asterisk. The asterisk represents the inconsistencies that have plagued a young team with four new starters.
Scoring proved to be an issue in the first three games when Washington averaged just 61.7 points. However, the Huskies kicked the offense into overdrive in the past three contests while averaging 77.7 points.
Washington displayed a glimpse of its offensive potential in its last outing, an 88-69 victory over San Diego in which its three mainstays — Isaiah Stewart, Nahziah Carter and Jaden McDaniels — each played a starring role.
And yet, the Huskies are far from a finished product.
“We have a lot to get better at,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “We’ve gotten better, but I’ve said it multiple times, baby steps.
“This team might take two steps forward and take a step back here and there. Hopefully they don’t, but that’s what usually happens with inexperience and youth.”
It’s still early, but two traits appear to be true regarding Washington’s offense: Stewart (17.3 points per game and 6.7 rebounds) is a load for teams inside and Carter (15.3 ppg. and 6.3 rpg.) is wildly entertaining as a high-flying gymnast in sneakers.
Everything else has been a bit of mystery.
In many ways, the Huskies’ fate hinges on the development of the other three starters — McDaniels, newcomer Quade Green and veteran big man Hameir Wright.
Let’s start with McDaniels.
The 6-foot-9, do-everything freshman forward averages 13.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals. However, he leads the Pac-12 with 4.0 turnovers and is shooting 38.9% from the field and just 28.6% (6 of 21) on three-pointers.
The Huskies are working with McDaniels to recognize a good shot and to become more efficient as a ball-handler.
“He’s going through a whole learning curve,” Hopkins said. “But boy is he good.”
Then there’s Green.
The 6-foot point guard has thrived as a floor general averaging 5.0 assists, but the Kentucky transfer who shot 40% on three-pointers during his two seasons with the Wildcats is shooting 27.3% behind the arc this season.
Hopkins wouldn’t mind if Green, who averages 7.2 points while taking just six shots a game, becomes a little more selfish offensively.
“As the season progresses, I think you’re going to see him take more of a step up,” said Hopkins, who partly attributed Green’s slow start to adjusting to a new team. “He’s a guy that has the ability to not only get 10 assists, but he also has the ability to get 20 (points). We haven’t seen that yet, but he has the ability and that’s always a good sign.”
And finally, there’s Wright.
The 6-foot-9 junior forward, who is the lone returning starter, is arguably the X-factor on a front line that includes two former McDonald’s All-Americans and projected first-round choices in the NBA draft next year.
With the exception of shoddy three-point shooting performances against Tennessee (0 for 3) and Montana (0 for 4), Wright has canned at least two threes in every game. He’s shooting 35% from downtown.
Considering his 20 three-point attempts are second on the team, the Huskies are banking on Wright to develop into a primary offensive weapon on the perimeter.
“If they double-team (Stewart), which a lot of teams do, then you’re going to have to make some open shots,” Hopkins said. “But Hameir is not just an open shooter. Hamier is a really good offensive rebounder and he’s a high-level defensive player.
“His three has improved and he has the ability to make it. … You make a couple of threes here and there and it just changes the whole dynamic of the game. Him making shots and anybody making shots is big for us.”
That’s easier said than done for a Washington team that ranks 11th in the Pac-12 and 304th among 350 Division I teams while shooting 28.7% on three-pointers.
“It goes back to quality shots,” Hopkins said. “When we get good wide-open ones, we shoot a completely different percentage. That goes back to I might have a good shot, but the guy right next to me might have a great shot. That’s the good to great.
“And when guys are hot, make sure we find those guys. Like I said many times, they’re learning to dance with each other. I can see them being more comfortable.”