The midpoint of this college basketball season that’s been marked by game postponements and empty arenas is a good time to pause and reflect on just how far the Huskies have fallen.
At this time two years ago, the Washington men’s basketball team was in the middle of a 12-game winning streak, which was one of the many highlights that included a Pac-12 regular-season championship, a trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament and a slew of postseason individual awards.
Leading scorer Jaylen Nowell became just the third UW player to win the Pac-12 Most Valuable Player of the Year award. Record-setting steals artist Matisse Thybulle snagged the Naismith defensive player of the year award and Mike Hopkins took home Pac-12 coach of the year honors for the second straight year.
Back then, Hopkins described his Montlake arrival as a “takeover” and declared that 2018-19 team, which finished 27-9, “set the standard that we’re going to measure ourselves against in the future.”
Considering that, then Washington, which is 1-11, 0-7 in the Pac-12 and in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, has not only remarkably regressed, but the Huskies have bottomed out to near historic futility.
“There’s no way anyone could have predicted UW would fall off a cliff like they have,” Pac-12 college basketball analyst Casey Jacobsen said. “That’s what they did. They went from first to worst last season, which is one thing and probably unprecedented.
“But then somehow, they’re even worse than they were last year when they were last in the conference. … It’s really strange how that happened.”
The Huskies have been competitive in just four of their defeats while losing seven games by 14 points or more.
Washington ranks last in the Pac-12 in scoring (64.8 points per game), field-goal percentage (40.3%), three-point field-goal percentage (29.3), assists (10), points allowed (76.9), rebounding (32) and rebounding differential (minus-9.7).
Surprisingly, the Huskies are 248th among 347 schools in the NET rankings heading into Wednesday’s 6 p.m. game against Colorado (11-3, 5-2) at Alaska Airlines Arena.
We asked a handful of college analysts to weigh in on the most pertinent questions plaguing Washington.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE HUSKIES?
UW radio analyst Jason Hamilton: “What’s wrong is the inability to have consistent scoring. That’s one side, but the real culprit right now is the defense aside from the last game. They’re a team that wants to give up 70 points at the most. It starts and stops with the defense. … It’s a horrible combination of an inability to have consistent scoring and not being able to stop people with your marquee defense, the zone.”
Pac-12 Networks analyst Eldridge Recasner: “Honestly, I don’t know. I really don’t know. They’ve had guys play well in different stretches. Erik Stevenson is one of them. The other night he had 27. I remember Marcus Tsohonis had 24. But they just can’t seem to get everybody to play well at the same time. The biggest for me is the interior. They’re thin on the interior and their big guys just aren’t playing well.”
Jacobsen: “You have only one real proven player in Quade (Green). … If you play a basketball game and you only have an advantage at one position, that is difficult to win a game. If you only have an advantage at point guard and at every other position you have to play above your level, it’s almost impossible to be a high-level Pac-12 team. That’s what Washington faces on a nightly basis. That’s really hard. The technical issues would be defensively, they don’t rebound the ball well. They are a step slow on rotations. Scouting report stuff, they don’t do that well enough to consistently to be a good defensive team.”
HOW DID THINGS GET SO BAD?
Pac-12 analyst P.J. Carlesimo: “My convoluted logic is this year was probably due to happen, but it wouldn’t have looked so bad if last year had turned out the way it was supposed to. Does that make sense? That should have been a 20-win team last year if not for the Quade thing and the Jaden (McDaniels) experiment not going so well. … The recruiting has not worked out because of the transfers, but I think they might have gotten another guy if they were better last year. I just think the whole circumstances would have changed. Quade would be even better after a complete season last year. … They’re a few players short and it’s exasperated by Nahziah Carter (being suspended). He’s their second-best player by a significant margin. It was crazy circumstances that caused this year to be what it is.”
Recasner: “That’s a great question. I have no idea. I know they were picked ninth in the media poll, but I didn’t see them being 1-11. I don’t think anybody saw that. Honest to God, I can’t answer how it went so bad so fast. Quade Green is playing great. You saw some good things from Riley Sorn early on. How they got here? I don’t know. I know they knew Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels was probably going to go pro so it wasn’t like that was a surprise.”
Hamilton: “The early defections. But that’s sorta what you want. You want to have highly skilled players that come to the university and help you win games and hopefully they have a chance to move on and go to the NBA. We’ve seen that. We’ve seen the two guys they had last year that are now in the league. You don’t back it up with additional classes of recruits that are going to fill those roles, so you have a little bit of a gap in there. The obvious other thing is no Naz Carter. Naz Carter on this team changes their makeup. They’re better defensively. They have another scoring option. That’s a big unexpected blow that isn’t really talked much about, but is a real factor.”
Jacobsen: “It’s not just one thing certainly. First you have to start with the roster. … I’m a big believer in not just experience in college basketball, but continuity. Transfers like Erik Stevenson is in his third year of basketball and he has experience, but he does not have continuity with his current teammates or Mike Hopkins’ system. … Talent, experience and continuity, teams who know each other and have been with each other and won and lost games together matters. … You can’t win without talent, but you can make up for a lack of talent in college basketball if you have experience and continuity. Those first two years with Hopkins was by far the best mix of talent, experience and continuity. This season, they have very little of any of those three things.”
HOW CAN THEY FIX IT?
Jacobsen: “If I knew that, I’d probably be coaching. You don’t solve some of the roster problems that they have this year. You just can’t. You don’t solve a lack of length midseason. … But here’s what they can do, control what you can control and they have to clean up those issues. It’s defensive communication. Where is our leadership? Are we ready to play? Do we understand the scouting report? Are we making the extra pass? Those things require zero length and zero athleticism. They just require a team with good chemistry and a team that believes in each other. Now you’re still going to lose some games, but Washington right now is not controlling a lot of things they can control and that’s unfortunate.”
Recasner: “They just have to keep working. I was encouraged by what I saw against UCLA. They got to keep fighting and hopefully they turn the corner. UCLA beat Washington State by 30 on Thursday. So if you would have told me UW was going to take them down to the wire I would have said you’re probably crazy. But they got to keep showing that kind of passion and that kind of competitiveness if they want to get out of this hole. That’s the only way to do it. You got to work your way out because nobody is going to feel sorry for you.”
Hamilton: “They can be better defensively that goes with more drilling the scheme and what they’re trying to do. People have to be more consistent. They have to show up every single game. You need more people to have the nights like UCLA. That gives you a chance to win. They have to play like that every single game to have a chance to win.”
Carlesimo: “They have to have an outstanding recruiting year. They need to get four-year players or a one-and-done or two or they got to get lucky with a couple of transfers. A graduate transfer or somebody who can come in and immediately be an impact player in the league. One of the things that they can sell is opportunity to play.”