Washington coach Lorenzo Romar has had to almost completely rebuild the Huskies this year. The team is a lot different than the one Beaver fans remember. (AP photo by Elaine Thompson)
We are getting ready to embark on the first ever Pac-12 hoops season, which starts Thursday evening with a matchup of long time northwest rivals Oregon St. and Washington. It could be as important as any weekend of the conference season for both teams. And the conflict with the Alamo Bowl, which will be played at the same time, and has the attention of a lot of the Dawg Pound, throws another twist into the mix.
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar has had to almost completely rebuild the Huskies this year, after a combination of graduations, injuries, and early departures. There are eight freshmen on the roster, led by local boy Tony Wroten, who is from Seattle.
If Oregon St. fans think the Beavers are a whole different team this year, they haven't seen nothing yet.
We got together with Kevin Cacabelos, who covers the Huskies for SB Nation Seattle, for some answers to questions we both had about where the teams stand after the non-conference portion of the season, in order to get up to speed after all the overhaul.
Here's a link to his questions, and our answers.
This is one of the weirdest conference opening schedules in a long time, with a Husky basketball game against a northwest rival in conflict with the Huskies' bowl game. How are Husky fans handling this? What kind of atmosphere should Beaver fans expect a Hec Ed/Alaska Airlines Arena?
Given how media savvy the Pac-12 has become under Larry Scott, I was really surprised the conference set this game for when they did, given the Huskies being in the Alamo Bowl. Did the Huskies try to get this game moved to Wednesday or Friday to avoid this conflict?
Most Husky fans in Seattle will be in the comfort of their own homes, watching the Alamo Bowl. I'll be switching channels during commercial breaks to see what's happening in the basketball game. I don't expect it to be a largely attended game, but Hec Ed won't be empty. The fanbase has grown disappointed with the team's performance so far, but the Dawg Pack will be in full force for the team's Pac-12 opener.
UW tried to get the game moved, but factors including contractural obligations to ROOT Sports and having to agree with a new start time with Oregon State. complicated things. There will be live look-ins of the Alamo bowl during timeouts and halftime on the big screen. Fans are also invited to stay at Hec Ed to watch the rest of the bowl game once the basketball game is over.
Getting onto the court, how is Aziz N'Diaye's health? Are the Huskies ready to get back to more of a post game?
N'Diaye looked solid in his last game against Cal-State Northridge; he grabbed seven rebounds and scored 11 points. It's unclear whether he'll start or not on Thursday, but he'll see a lot of action as the team no longer needs to monitor his minutes. The Huskies aren't really a post-scoring team, they'll dump it into N'Diaye, but it's not their main focus on offense like it was with Matthew Bryan-Amaning last season.
Washington has become an uncharacteristicly guard dominated (compared to Coach Lorenzo Romar's recent squads) team, which moves away from what has worked in recent years, both in the Pac-12, and especially against the Beavers, whom Washington has dominated in recent years, mostly due to their inside game. What happened recruiting wise that took the Huskies from having a deep front line to where they are today? Is this expected to be temporary, or did Romar decide to change style?
Nothing much has changed recruiting wise; the coaching staff is still aiming towards getting players who are long, athletic and have the ability to run the court. The Huskies have three forwards on the bench, Martin Breunig at 6'8", Shawn Kemp Jr. at 6'9" and an undersized Desmond Simmons at 6'7" -Jernard Jarreau at 6'10" is also redshirting. Breunig and Kemp Jr. are both freshman while Simmons redshirted last year.
Once these guys get their feet wet and start picking up concepts on both ends of the court the frontline depth won't seem like a glaring weakness anymore. It'll take time for them to develop, but the style and recruiting approach is still the same for Romar and his staff.
There's been a lot of talk during the Huskies' struggling start about the lack of a real team leader, and as an aside, the challenges with leaning on an inexperienced Tony Wroten as much as Washington has as a result. This comes as a bit of a surprise to basketball fans from the state of Oregon, who saw Terrence Ross play in high school, and expected him to have taken more of a lead this year. What's happening with Ross, and what do you expect from him going forward?
Ross isn't significantly worse than he was last year, he may be even a little better this season, but he hasn't lived up to fan's expectations yet. He hasn't taken enough initiative to take matters into his own hands and drive to the basket. He is shooting 84% from the free-throw line, but is sixth on the team in free-throw attempts.
Though Wroten is taking the lead on offense, the coaches and most fans would rather see Ross get more shots and touches with Wroten distributing the basketball. Ross is too great of an offensive player talent to only average 15 points per game. If Wroten starts sharing the ball more often on offense and Ross becomes more assertive, Ross will be a Pac-12 player of the year candidate.
Should Washington have scaled back the strength of their non-conference schedule a little?
Absolutely not. Though the team lost to Duke and Marquette, neither game was a blow out - winning these games would've easily allowed for some cushion for the team to lose some games in Pac-12 play.
If Washington can bounce back from a disappointing start to the season, a good conference run or a good tournament can still put them in good shape for the tournament. What is the most important thing they need to do in order to make that happen?
They need to find an identity on both ends of the court. This team is great when its guards are penetrating and kicking to their shooters. This team is at its best when it is has an urgency to defend and is forcing turnovers. If the team can do these two things, wins will come a lot easier.
Right now, the talent is available, but on-the-court chemistry is lacking. It may be the coaching, it may be the rough schedule or it may just be bad luck. However, this team will be a Pac-12 contender if it can find its identity.
There seems to be some buzz in the Seattle area about the Beavs this season. Are you getting any of that, with how well the Beavs have played so far? And if so, what is your general sense of the buzz?
I think some are aware of how good the Beavers are playing, but are way more concerned and zoned in on the Huskies right now. The overtime win over Texas is a great win for the conference and the Beavers, but other than that, who has this team really beat? The Jared Cunnigham dunks have been ridiculous though. There's no denying that.
Overall, where would you place this weekend's OR versus WA series of games in the grand scheme of the Pac-12? Will these games be a harbinger of possible title implications? Or is it too early to tell much?
It's hard to tell, but if Washington loses one or both of these games at home it could be a sign that this season won't end happily for the Huskies. For Oregon St., I think they need to come out of this roadtrip with at least one win. I don't have a gauge on how good they are because of their soft schedule, but winning one here would be a good start to their Pac-12 regular season campaign.
It's going to be an interesting evening on a lot of levels when the Beavers and Huskies tip off!