The Washington Huskies are coming to Corvallis for a showdown with Oregon St., when the Beavers will be looking to turn the tables after losing 95-80 in Seattle back during Christmas Break. The game is pushed out until Sunday in order to get a national television audience, so we have an extra day for this long standing northwest rivalry to stew a little.
We got together with the guys up at UWDawgPound.com to get caught up on where things stand as the Pac-12 race starts down the home stretch.
Welcome to the SB Nation community Ben!
Back in December, as the non-conference season was winding up and conference play was about to start, there was quite a bit of hand wringing and frustrated conversation around Husky Nation about how the 'Dawgs were playing, who should be the team leader, and the general nature of Coach Romar's coaching. Yet here we are, starting the stretch run, and Washington is at the front of the pack. Did Romar make any major changes, or was it just a matter of a freshman guard in Tony Wroten and a player in Abdul Gaddy coming back off a major injury and the rest of the team needing some time and reps to get settled in with each other?
Husky Nation has a whole was concerned about the way their team was playing to start their season. There was little cohesiveness on the court and the team would always come out lethargic and seemingly not ready to play. This tends to happen to the Huskies most every year. They start out slow and always struggle against teams whom should not even be able to play within fifteen points of the Huskies on a good night.
Then later in the season, the Dawgs always seem to put it together and become one of those "teams you don't want to play come tournament time." As for the reasoning for the turnaround this year, I would have to say that the development of Tony Wroten has been one of the major reasons. He has cut down on his boneheaded mistakes and has thus steadily lowered his assist (turnovers) numbers while his scoring is maintaining a high averages.
Another reason is the physicality of the team. Aziz N'Diaye has developed from a strong interior defender to a near-elite inside presence. The change in his mindset can be symbolized in the fact that he will attempt a dunk in traffic. Last season and early this season he would get extremely close to the rim then drop it in. He has developed an attitude, and is now very willing to throw down a jam with men around him. He often gets fouled but the change in his mindset has been huge for the offensive and defensive sides of the ball for his team.
There is also the development of Darnell Gant as a Senior leader. He has really seemed to take sharge of the team when he has been on the floor. He comes off of the bench but he and C.J Wilcox are bench players in name only. C.J. was a starter mostly until injured.
One big thing that did change was Austin Seferian-Jenkins coming onto the team. He usually doesn't play that many minutes, and doesn't score much (though that seems to be coming around too), but he rebounds, brings major physicality to the team, and seems to really inject energy into everyone else. Will he be able to continue to make a contribution down the stretch, and into the post-season?
Austin Seferian-Jenkins was another reason this team began to turn it around. He helped to change the mindset of Aziz N'Diaye with his physicality and hustle. Now we see N'Diaye diving on the floor which is atypical among seven-footers. Once Seferian-Jenkins started playing he actually played a significant amount of minutes, providing energy, rebounding and hustle.
His minutes have been reduced however, and replaced with Shawn Kemp Jr. When Seferian-Jenkins is on the floor however, the transition defense is phenominal. He is one of the fastest players on the court, and he hustles like JaVale McGee to get back on defense. If you haven't seen it, McGee ran back on defense when his team grabbed an offensive rebound.
Another effect that the addition of Seferian-Jenkins had was on the aformentioned Kemp Jr. What seems to be the general consensus throughout Husky Nation is that Kemp was motivated by the addition of Seferian-Jenkins and the reduction of his own minutes. This has led to him winning minutes back and the minutes he has played have been more effective. I'm not positive, but I think Romar is playing the hot hand with Kemp and ASJ. I agree that the combination of Wroten calming down a little and the toughness that ASJ has brought has made a difference.
C.J. Wilcox is back in the lineup, and he played a lot of minutes against UCLA, but then not so many against USC, though against the Trojans, Washington didn't really need him. Is he fully available to play as much as necessary, or will coach Romar have to manage his minutes pretty carefully?
C.J. Wilcox is well on his way to healing from the stress fracture in his femur. Everything that I have heard is that he is available to play quite a few minutes if necessary. If the game does not demand that he play a significant amount of minutes then he will sit on the bench for longer, and possibly play ten or fewer minutes.
If the game is a blowout in either direction then it is likely he will sit and rest, but if the game is in the balance you can bet that he will be out on the court. The team really needs his ability to find open cutting lanes and especially his shooting ability. He is arguably the best three-point shooter in the conference. It should be noted that CJ is not practicing yet.
Again this year, Washington has struggled quite a bit on the road, and the schedule mostly on the road the rest of the way, starting with this weekend. What does coach Romar have in mind to address the Huskies' road woes?
Obviously I cannot ask Romar what his strategy is to attempt to counteract the road woes this team has faced. If I were the one running the team, I would try to attempt to infuse energy into the team by way of Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He seems to bring quite a bit of energy whenever he is on the floor that affects the entire team.
Another reason it may help to increase his minutes on the road is the effect he has on the offense when he is on the floor. He is not a great offensive player in his own right, but for some reason the offense seems to flow better when he is on the floor. Our offensive sets run more smoothly and the ball-handlers seem to be a bit more unselfish. Seferian-Jenkins is willing to lay the lumber with a hard screen as well. His screens have been important.
Husky fans seemed frustrated at times early in the season with Terrance Ross, expecting him to take more of a leadership role as well as score more consistently. He seems to be doing fine now, though, and is a close second in both scoring and rebounding for the season. Was this primarily his doing, or did Romar make some adjustments to put him in position to be more likely to be successful?
Terrence Ross is an enigma. He can never seem to get himself on track scoring-wise during the first half but seems to light the defense up in the second half. Usually it is during the last seven to eight minutes of the half. Howver his rebounding has come as a bit of a surprise to me personally. He has the hops to be an amazing rebounding guard, and he has shown that ability this season. He is lethal on offensive tips along with Darnell Gant.
If Ross showed more consistency half-to-half, he could very well be the Pac-12 Player of the Year. One thing with him is to remember that he is still only a Sophomore. Some guys just don't mature right away and need time. I believe he is one of those.
Back to the original question, I believe that this is more of Ross's own doing, as he still tends to disappear within the offense for extremely long stretches of time. He now tends to be more assertive during the second half of games, and his shots fall more often during the second half as well. I believe that the team has struggled so much with their half court offense that they have struggled to get Ross open shots. Adjustments are made and he is taking better looks in the second half.
The first time the Beavers and the Huskies met, Washington jumped out fast to a big lead, but switched to an effective zone defense down the stretch, which slowed Oregon St.'s rally down quite a bit. Is this pattern one Beaver fans are likely to see the Huskies employ again? Or will the 'Dawgs go primarily man?
The Huskies traditionally play man-to-man defense. I do not expect the gameplan to deviate much from that, as it takes away from the natural athletic ability of the Huskies. The zone is introduced for several possesions per game, but not typically as a frequent defense. When the zone is used it is almost exclusively a two-three zone.
One thing I have noticed is that the majority of the time the Huskies use zone it is when our center is Shawn Kemp Jr. I would expect the case to be that the Dawgs use it when the length of N'Diaye is able to deter penetration and rebound better, but that does not seem to be the case. Beaver fans can expect to see mostly man with some two-three sprinkled in.
Washington hasn't shot well from 3 point range at times this year, and Oregon St. has been using more zone, both 2-3 and 1-3-1, of late. How will the Huskies handle a healthy dose of zone defense?
One of the ways the Dawgs have counteracted the zone defenses they have faced is by using Tony Wroten in the post. He is able to use his slashing ability to flash and cut throughout the paint and receive the ball. From the post he uses his ability to finish through contact to get an easy (for him) bucket or his superior vision to find a shooter on the perimeter or cutter through the lane.
When that strategy is not being employed, another common thing Romar has done is run C.J Wilcox through a multitude of screens until he finds a cutting lane or curls off a screen for a decent look. The constant cutting of Wilcox and Wroten (and sometimes Desmond Simmons or Terrence Ross) tends to free up outside shooters if the defender sleeps for too long.
Finally, on a football note, has Husky Nation come back down to earth after a the high of so many strong hires on the coaching staff, and then signing a strong recruiting class? Or will half the fan base suit up for spring practice along with the team because they are so pumped up for football?
I think the fan base is super pumped. Probably moreso, than when we won the Holiday bowl. I think Husky fans finally believe they have the formula to get back to national prominence.
Even after the holiday bowl win, there were still a lot people on the blogs that were taking a wait and see approach. There is not near as much of that now, in my opinion.
Thanks Ben! (And CO!)
Looking forward to Sunday afternoon!