Being Optimistic About The Washington Huskies’ Slow Start To The Basketball Season

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SEATTLE – With the end of the year, and thus, the end of non-conference play just around the corner, it’s time to look back on where the Huskies have gone and how they’ve wound up here.

Going into the final two games before kicking off conference play against Washington State, the Huskies are currently sitting at a record of 7-4, a touch below last seasons 8-3. However, as mentioned before the season started, that was to be expected. By design, the competition will be tougher; Washington’s SOS is the 14th in Division I basketball, while last year’s ended up 71st. What’s more, the Huskies stayed on Montlake until conference play last season. With the exception of the teams participation in the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden and the remarkable “neutral site” victory over No. 2 Kansas, the Huskies played all of their games in front of home crowds.

With a tougher strength of schedule comes more opportunity. Unfortunately, the Huskies haven’t exactly been able to capitalize, falling to all three ranked opponents so far: No. 11 Auburn, No. 1 Gonzaga, and No. 13 Virginia Tech as part of the inaugural Boardwalk Classic in Atlantic City, NJ. The fourth loss came at the hands of Minnesota in the final game of the TCL Vancouver Showcase.

Four losses, none of them at home, with three to ranked opponents and the fourth on the final game of a tournament? That’s nothing to be upset about. Let’s look at who made it happen.

SENIORS

First and foremost, the big four are in their final season together. Originally recruited alongside the likes of Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray, the group of David Crisp, Matisse Thybulle, Noah Dickerson and Dominic Green all stayed together at Washington through the changing of head coach, and with that, the changing of the program’s identity.

No one has found more success within the new identity than Thybulle. Last year’s Pac-12 Defensive Player Of The Year has found continued success on both sides of the ball within Coach Mike Hopkins’ system. In a 73-61 loss to Virginia Tech, Thybulle became the newest member of the 1,000-point club at Washington. He has improved on last year’s defensive performance, currently averaging more than two blocks per game.

Noah Dickerson is a force, and sometimes, that force can’t be tamed. The Huskies forward started off the season by missing the team’s exhibition against No. 7 Nevada and has been awfully hit-or-miss ever since. When he’s good, he’s good; in a near-perfect game for him against Minnesota, Dickerson tied his career-high 28 points, going 9-of-11 from the field and adding 10-of-13 from the stripe. Then, a few games later, he scored seven points on 1-of-5 from the floor, adding 5-of-7 free throws.

The obvious issue within Dickerson’s game is foul trouble. He continues to average more than three personal’s per game, but he’s found himself fouled out of all three games against ranked opponents this season. If he can keep himself composed and stop taking silly offensive fouls within 10 feet of the basket, he will find himself back in the conversation for best big man in the conference.

Dominic Green’s time at Washington will likely be remembered as a YouTube clip from February—securing the ball after a Deandre Ayton block, Green drained a three at the buzzer to secure a Huskies victory over No. 9 Arizona.

Everyone loves theatrics, and everyone loves electric moments, but this clip skews what he really means for this team: A truly talented role player who can provide off of the bench.

So far, he’s been able to add two points and a rebound per game to last year’s numbers. Early in the season, Green showed the ability to be a go-to scorer when called upon, scoring a career-high 25 points against Eastern Washington.

David Crisp has found continued success alongside sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell. Crisp and Nowell both boast three-plus assists per game, but Crisp’s experience has left him with the highest assist-to-turnover ratio on the squad.

While not showing up as often on the scoreboard, Crisp is also Matisse Thybulle’s partner at the top of Coach Hopkins 2-3 defense. His consistency and floor vision have helped give Thybulle the opportunities to jump passes, clog passing lanes and become the defensive powerhouse he is today.

JUNIORS

With the exception of Jason Crandell’s three minute appearance in a blowout win over Eastern Washington, forward Sam Timmins is the only junior finding time on the floor for Washington this season. However, he’s finding less and less of it as the season progresses.

As a sophomore, Timmins started every game for Washington, averaging 18 minutes. This season, he’s down to 10.5 minutes and hasn’t started since the end of November.

This isn’t necessarily his fault, per se. As underclassmen have continued to improve, they start to command more and more floor time, leaving Coach Hopkins to make a decision. However, Timmins should be making a better case for himself. With his game ranging from decent to downright liability at both ends of the floor, Timmins will need a huge improvement to earn his spot back in the starting lineup. He’s currently averaging less than 1.5 points per game with 2.5 boards—both career-lows.

SOPHOMORES

Jaylen Nowell is a special player—an unbelievably talented guard capable of doing everything on the basketball court. He’s already picked up two Pac-12 Player Of The Week awards in the early going, and he just keeps getting better as the season progresses.

Compared to last year’s terrific freshman showing, he can’t be slowed down. He’s making almost a full shot per game more than last year while taking almost a full shot less. Nowell leads the team in both field goal percentage with 54 percent and three-point percentage with almost 45 percent.

On top of all of that, he’s also creating plays for others, adding half an assist per game, too. This is really a case of the rich getting richer, and I cannot wait to see what he develops into between now and tournament time.

Hameir Wright has found himself in the starting lineup, taking the opening tips now that Sam Timmins is coming off of the bench. While his numbers don’t jump off of the page at you, it’s easy to see why he’s on the court over Timmins; Wright has higher points and blocks per 40 minutes. Wright also gets to the foul line twice as much and he possesses the ability to shoot the ball outside the post

Nahziah Carter is making a name for himself in Seattle. Unfortunately, Carter is most well-known for being the nephew of Jay-Z, but as someone who has watched him play all year, I can safely say that won’t be for long.

Coming off of the bench and providing offense when the Huskies need it most, Carter is putting up more than seven points a game. He also seems to have at least one, “Oh my goodness, did you see that?” play each night. Add three boards per game and we have ourselves a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.

While the senior class of Crisp, Nowell, Thybulle, and Green may be the heart of this team, this sophomore class is the soul. This is by far the most improved group of players on this squad, and I can’t imagine that will be slowing down any time soon.

FRESHMEN

This is the quietest group of the bunch, but that’s a given. With the level of talent above them, it’s hard to find time to trot out the younger players and give them meaningful minutes when you’re vying for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

The highlights thus far are guard Jamal Bey and center Bryan Penn-Johnson. Bey has found time in rotation, making seven appearances and adding a little bit of scoring while giving Nowell a breather. What may be Penn-Johnson’s biggest moment of the season was a big time dunk that was waved off in the preseason exhibition with Seattle Pacific. It didn’t count, but it was incredible nonetheless.

Unfortunately, BPJ has been seen wearing a walking boot on his right foot, and according to the AP’s Tim Booth, he will be missing the next six weeks with a stress fracture in his lower right leg.

LOOKING FORWARD

The recipe for success here is simple: Be yourselves. Clogging lanes and creating opportunities on the fastbreak are the bread and butter of Huskies basketball. With the starting five of Crisp, Nowell, Dickerson, Wright, and Thybulle leading the charge, as well as the help from Carter, Green, Timmins, and Bey coming off of the bench, the Huskies are armed and ready to open up conference play.

The final two games leading up to that will see Washington facing off with Sacramento State on Friday, December 21st and Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday, Jan 1st. Both games are at home, and both will be shown on the Pac-12 Network.

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Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart is a writer who lives in Seattle and primarily covers the University of Washington Men’s Basketball program. Beyond his coverage of UW Hoops, he also writes about the NHL.

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