With two regular-season games remaining, the Huskies are staggering to the finish of a season that few would have expected.
Certainly, Washington’s 13-16 overall record and its fall to last place in the Pac-12 at 3-13 is one of the biggest disappointments in the history of the program.
In our latest edition of UW Huskies hoops mailbag, we try to make sense of a season that promised way more than it delivered.
Well, that’s one way to get things started. Anyone else?
God bless your optimism, but it’s looking like the NCAA tournament or bust for Washington at this point. But since you asked, let’s explore a scenario in which the Huskies land one of the NIT’s 32 berths.
They would have to snap their seven-game road losing streak and win at Arizona State and Arizona this week. That would give them the No. 11 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament where they would need to win at least three games to finish over .500. (If UW wins four games in Las Vegas it wins the Pac-12 tournament and captures an automatic NCAA tournament berth.) Conceivably, Washington would be an NIT bubble team with an 18-17 record and a 5-1 record in the final six games, considering those five wins would be against quality teams that would certainly boost the Huskies’ No. 70 NET ranking.
Mike Hopkins, who turned 50 last August, spent most of his adult life at Syracuse as a player and assistant learning the 2-3 zone under legendary coach Jim Boeheim. Hopkins has seen nearly every iteration of the zone imaginable with Syracuse teams that routinely won 20 games and almost always advanced to the NCAA tournament. So Hopkins simply doesn’t believe the zone’s success is contingent on one player – even if that player was as dominant as Matisse Thybulle was last season. One way or the other, Hopkins will make the zone work once again at Washington. He’ll either tweak to make the better or he’ll find players better suited to run it at peak efficiency.
That’s real talk. Washington has a multi-faceted scoring problem that’s at the root of its troubles. The Huskies are second in the Pac-12 in three-point attempts despite ranking 10th in the league at 31.8 shooting behind the arc. UW is 11th in the conference while shooting 68.5 percent on free throws. The Huskies have difficulty getting the ball to their best player, Isaiah Stewart, who has been relatively quiet in the past eight games. In Pac-12 games, Washington is last in the league with 15.3 turnovers per game, 10th in assists (11.1) and ninth in scoring (66.4).
Skipping a year of recruiting doesn’t seem like a sound strategy, but ostensibly that’s what Washington is doing after landing a nationally ranked top-10 class in 2019. Currently, the Huskies have no 2020 recruits signed or considering UW at this point. And this isn’t meant to suggest Hopkins just blew off 2020. Not at all. According to 247sports, the Huskies pursued a number of 2020 prospects who went other places such as No. 1 overall recruit Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State), five-star center Evan Mobley (USC), Las Vegas point guard Daishen Nix (UCLA), Las Vegas shooting guard Noah Taitz (Stanford), Garfield High’s Kendall Munson (Pepperdine) and Ingraham High’s Mitchell Saxen (Saint Mary’s). This hasn’t been a bumper crop of recruits in the state of Washington this year, considering none of the top five prospects are going to a Power Five conference team. The state’s top recruit, MarJon Beauchamp, who is considered the No. 4 small forward prospect in the 2020 class, is foregoing college to train at a private facility before declaring for the NBA draft in 2021. One last thing, Washington adds sophomore forward J’Raan Brooks, who sat out this season after transferring from USC. And the Huskies could explore bringing in a junior-college or graduate transfer during the offseason.
Romar lost his way, which led to his downfall. Pursuing top talent, especially those that are in your backyard, is always prudent. Hopkins shouldn’t avoid potential one-and-done recruits. For instance, are you ghosting O’Dea High star Paolo Banchero? From all accounts, he’s a sensational person on and off the court. He’s a double-legacy kid, whose mother Rhonda Smith was the all-time leading scorer at UW when she left school. He’s being recruited by everybody, including Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee. He’s ranked No. 4 nationally. And yes, he’ll probably play just one year in college, considering he’s projected as a lottery pick in the 2021 NBA draft. As noted earlier, this state doesn’t regularly produce high-end talent like Banchero, making it imperative to keep him home. The Dawgfather Don James provided the blueprint decades ago when he put a proverbial fence up around the state and kept the best kids at UW.
At this point I would say Washington’s 2020-21 lineup would be guards Quade Green, Nahziah Carter and Jamal Bey; forwards Hameir Wright and Nate Roberts. And the three top reserves: Marcus Tsohonis, RaeQuan Battle and Brooks. In terms of adding late recruits, that’s a distinct possibility considering UW will likely have three scholarships available. When redshirt freshman Riley Sorn walked on two years ago, there was talk of him receiving a scholarship at some point, and if the Huskies did that, they’d still have a couple to offer.
Allowing Quade Green to become academically ineligible is a major gaffe for everyone involved, because there’s too many resources and an abundance of support staff to avert what’s become the defining incident of the season. When Hopkins made the announcement about Green, he intimated that UW’s staff was not caught off guard and gave the impression that decision could have gone either way. It’s unfortunately bad because we’ll never know what this team could have been if everyone had been available. The Huskies were 11-4 with Green and 2-12 without him.
Good question. Disappointment is often gauged on expectations. The Washington football team was projected to finish second in the North Division and finished fourth. Still, the Huskies finished 8-5 with a resounding 38-7 win over Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. And UW crushed Washington State 31-13 to extend its winning streak to seven in a row over its cross-state rival. Barring a remarkable turnaround, the Washington men’s basketball team will miss the postseason and finish with a sub .500 record. Plus, the Huskies lost twice to the Cougars in games that weren’t really that close.
Commissioner Larry Scott had to do something to help bolster the resumes of Pac-12 teams. Even though the league has fallen behind the other major conferences recently, replacing Mount St. Mary’s and Maine with two Pac-12 games (at Utah and against Oregon) will increase the degree of difficulty on the Huskies’ schedule. Given the changes, Washington isn’t playing in a traditional holiday tournament next season. The Huskies are slated to play Tulane in China, Oklahoma in Las Vegas, at Gonzaga and hosting Auburn. That’s a fairly rigorous nonconference schedule for a team that won’t be expected to challenge for a Pac-12 title.