It’s an exciting time to be a Husky fan. The football team has an absolutely enormous game with Oregon on Saturday that may prove whether or not this team is legitimately a contender or simply a good football team. But as football season starts to enter its mid-season climax, basketball season kicks off. Husky basketball tips off for the first time this season on Friday November 4th at 7PM against SPU, who just beat Arizona, in an exhibition game. So let’s preview UW Basketball as only Seattle S&O can.
Last season was one of ups and considerable downs for the Hardwood Dawgs. They ended the year with a 23-10 record after losing to North Carolina in a heartbreaker in the third round of the NCAA tournament. The Dawgs got to the Big Dance after winning their second straight Pac-10 Tournament, and of course, this.
The season overall was somewhat of a disappointment for the Dawgs though, as the team at times played like title contenders such as at home against Arizona and for stretches against North Carolina in the tournament. But the team succumbed to too many mistakes late in games such as against Kentucky and Michigan State in the Maui Invitational and again against UNC in March. Back to back losses at Oregon and Oregon State were devastating in the middle of the season and prevented UW from achieving a higher seed in the NCAA tournament to avoid playing a team like UNC in the third round. But all that is last year’s news. This year’s team loses the two top scorers from last year in Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, as well as Thomas’ 6.0 assists a game and MBA’s 8.1 rebounds a game.
Coach Lorenzo Romar returns for his tenth season as head coach of UW Men’s Basketball and has in this year’s squad the tallest team he has ever coached. With the shortest player being 6’2″ freshman Hikeem Stewart, Romar will be able to constantly have lineups on the floor that create size mismatches with the opposition. This team is also full of deadly three point shooters and talented guards, but lacks proven big men that can score. The Dawgs figure to be very dynamic and high flying once again.
The point guard position was a bit of an enigma last season for UW as Abdul Gaddy started out the season playing a true point and Isaiah Thomas playing off the ball as more of a two-guard, with Venoy “Trick Daddy” Overton backing up behind them. That all had to change once Abdul Gaddy went down with a season-ending knee injury right at the start of conference play. Romar had to insert arguably his best scorer in Thomas into more of a distributor spot to fill in for Gaddy, who led the conference with a 3.1 Assist to Turnover ratio before his injury. Thomas filled in marvelously, leading UW to some tremendous showings. I saw the best game I have ever seen a UW point guard play when UW played at Cal last season, as Thomas put up 27 points and 13 assists, working the pick and roll to perfection. Enough raving about IT though and I wish him luck if and when the NBA starts back up again, but this year’s team has a whole new element to the PG position.
Insert Tony Wroten Jr., a long touted star at local Garfield High School and the prize gem of UW’s six-man recruiting class. Wroten committed to UW back in February and since then has elicited excitement from UW fans who have seen him play in person. Count me as one of those people, as I have seen Wroten play in a serious high school environment, watching Garfield smash Skyline in the Kingco tournament last year, as well as much of his summer league play. The kid is an unbelievable passer and at-times unstoppable scorer when he keeps his game at the rim. And at 6’4″ and jumping ability to burn, he is a matchup nightmare on both sides of the ball. With his ability in the fastbreak, look for some Sportscenter Top-10 plays that all start with the ball in Tone Tone’s hands. He flies with the fishes ladies and gentlemen. Along with a fully recovered Gaddy, who has a much more reserved game and pure PG skills, this will undoubtedly be one of UW’s strengths this year. Gaddy and Wroten will probably be on the court together a lot, which should be fun to see.
Shooting Guards/Small Forwards:
These are largely loose terms in Romar’s offense as there is very rarely any set positions other than PG in a largely fastbreak offense. And with this year’s team being so long, the term wing is really more analogous to how UW plays. UW offers two of the best returning scorers in the Pac-12 at this position in CJ Wilcox and Terrence “Nylon Don” Ross. Ask me later if you need help on TRoss’ nickname. Wilcox shot .401 from long range last year and hit a team-high 63 three’s last season. Ross adds a whole different dimension to UW’s offense as he is a legit 6’7″ with extraordinary leaping ability, ballhanding skills, and range for days. Calling it right now, Ross averages more than 20 ppg this season. He will be asked to post up and rebound a lot in addition to what he can do as a guard. And having seen him and Wroten play together in summer league, watch out. Not to be forgotten at this crucial position for the Dawgs is Scott Suggs, who enters his senior season injured and probably out for two months into the season. Suggs hit a ridiculous .450 from three last year and will be needed once he comes back to add depth to the UW backcourt and hit timely shots. More videos? Ah yeeah.
(For the above video, at least look at 2:04, 3:20, 3:28, 4:40, 5:20, and especially 7:30)
The play of UW’s big men this season is going to be what separates UW from a good team who will be in the Pac-12 title race from a great team capable of making a run at the Final Four. The group is thin, young, and experienced all at the same time. The veteran and breadwinner of the group is RS Senior Darnell “Birdman” Gant, who has been a contributor on the team for what seems like 35 years. Although standing in at 6’8″ Gant has never really been a traditional low post scorer, with most of his career baskets coming off of jump shots. Gant will have to be a consistent contributor on the glass and able to roam the paint along with frontcourt mate Aziz N’diaye. N’diaye is the definiton of raw; incredible size and strength in his 7’0″ frame but not very well versed in post moves or scoring ability. His effectiveness is undeniably going to be when he is doing what he does best, cleaning up rebounds, and pounding dunks shortly thereafter. Per 40 minutes, Aziz averaged more than 2.5 blocks a game and more than 13 rebounds a game. Me likey. But asking the big fella to go for 40 minutes is impossible. So let’s say with an improved understanding of defense Aziz averages 2 blocks a game to go along with 10 boards. Me still likey. What might be just as key is if he and Birdman combine for more than 18 points a game. This team will go a long way if that happens. Joining these two down low will be a lot of young guys ready to prove themselves. RS Freshman Desmond Simmons looks to be a solid contributor when he is in. He reminds me of a stronger, better offensive gamed Justin Holiday when he arrived at UW. True freshmen Martin Breunig and Shawn Kemp Jr. will probably both see time this year, although Breunig is more likely to see the court. The German import can play inside and out and has very deceptive athleticism. Kemp Jr. is more the true post player of the two but has been removed from basketball too long to contribute immediately. Look for the 6’10” freshman from New Orleans, Jernard Jarreau to redshirt.
This team can go as far as it wants to. One underlooked aspect of this year’s team is the fact that they are, well, underlooked. UW began the last two seasons ranked in the Top 25 and had to deal with the expectations and targets that come with that and often struggled. The year before those two seasons UW began unranked and rode Jon Brockman and crew to a #4 seed in the NCAA tournament. UW’s schedule is tough but there is no reason to come out of non-conference play with anything more than 2 losses. The key non-conference games to watch come when UW goes to Madison Square Garden to play #21 Marquette and #6 Duke in a five day stretch. Getting one win from those two will be huge in order to end up with the all-important non-conference wins once big fat stupid Joe Lunardi starts showing his face around February and into March.
I promise you I will post an article sometime this year as to why anyone with a brain could do Lunardi’s job. But that’s neither here nor there, and the UW conference schedule is a little different than normal thanks to the new format of the Pac-12. Pac-10 basketball fans enjoyed a cozy round robin format that was truly perfect for college basketball. That died. Now it is an uneven schedule with UW having to go to Colorado and Utah without playing them at home. The only positive on that is that UW does not have to go to the Bay Area this year, which means getting #24 Cal and what should be a much improved Stanford team at home. The true tests will be at Arizona for College Gameday on Jan. 28th and then playing UCLA at home the following Thursday. Arizona and UCLA are really the only teams I see giving UW serious problems throughout the year, especially UCLA with their size. Arizona has as many if not more frontcourt woes as UW does this year. And anytime you lose a guy who can do this, you have problems.
Look for UW to be a team that will dominate at times and struggle at others. A leader needs to emerge at some point without Isaiah Thomas there, as will some semblance of a low post scorer. If those two things happen, it could be Romar’s year to crack the Sweet-16 curse. Being a member of the Dawg Pack this year I should be able to come up with a lot more material than usual so be on the lookout. Go Dawgs.