Note: This piece on the Washington Huskies was written before their loss to the Tennessee Volunteers. The college basketball season is young, so the sentiment remains. This Pac-12 column first appeared on Forbes, but has been republished under the original author’s name at CBBToday thanks to the publisher-contributor agreement.
As most schools began their seasons playing against possibly fictional programs like the North Florida Ospreys, Northern Arizona Lumberjacks and DePaul Blue Demons, the Washington Huskies put a nation on notice.
Also, apologies for the DePaul-ing Blue Demons joke.
Somehow, though magic one can surmise, a talented Washington Huskies team entered the 2019-20 college basketball season under a few radars. That’s despite coming off a 27-win season, making the NCAA Tournament, then adding a few five-star caliber players to the mix.
To open the season, the Huskies upset the Baylor Bears; though calling it an upset will seem silly when hindsight is fully available to the public.
It’s small sample size theater to use only a single game to discuss how good a team is. Nevertheless, thanks to offseason projections simply not giving Washington its due, giving the Huskies some love early isn’t the worst idea.
Mind you, this version of the Washington Huskies, the one that just defeated a ranked opponent, is the worst sort of it will witness as the season progresses. Given how the team’s best players are all freshmen or new to the fold, it’s safe to assume everyone will become better with experience gained.
Obviously, it’s worth mentioning the Huskies lost four key players from last season’s team, including defensive specialist Matisse Thybulle. To help offset the loss of talent who helped Washington to allow only 64.8 points per game (30th in the country) and amass a defensive rating of 95.8 (45th), Mike Hopkins brought in the 11th ranked recruiting class in the country to join the wickedly talented Nahziah Carter.
Oddly enough, despite the hoopla surrounding the freshmen, it was Carter who led the way to the supposed upset over the Baylor Bears, scoring 23 points while shooting 67% from beyond the arc.
To be Camp Crystal Lake clear: One game isn’t anywhere close to a large enough sample to declare Carter a massively improved offensive player, but he’s developed nicely in his previous two seasons with Washington. There’s no reason to expect his third to lack some form of upward growth.
Then again, what can potentially make the Huskies special won’t rest solely in the hands of Carter. Carter’s play will be coupled with his insanely gifted underclassmen, Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart, as well as one of the best snags on the transfer market.
Both freshmen are 6-foot-9, former five-star recruits, who project to land somewhere in the 2020 NBA Draft lottery. The stars once attached to their names no longer apply, as meaningful data on the two will be acquired as they traverse the college basketball landscape.
Through one game, on a grand stage against a ranked opponent, neither disappointed.
McDaniels went for 18-7 against Baylor, shooting 50% from both the floor and beyond the arc. Stewart, a walking highlight reel, went for 15-7, adding three blocks to his box-score while shooting 54 percent from the field.
But wait, there’s more! There’s always more.
Quade Green, a guard transfer from Kentucky, didn’t even play well in his Huskies debut. A former five-star himself in 2017, the Philadelphia product spent two seasons with the Wildcats receiving irregular playing time, but shining when he did.
In his final season representing Big Blue Nation, Green’s counting-stats were nothing to marvel at, but he did shoot 43% from deep – more than hinting at the idea he will eventually help the Huskies space the floor as teams begin to heavily focus on McDaniels and Stewart.
Against Baylor, Green had what might end up being his worst game of the season, playing 32 minutes but only hitting one of his seven attempts from the floor. He did, however, have nine assists to three turnovers.
Point being: The worst version of Green, with the least experienced brand of the Huskies we’ll see the season, still defeated the (then) No. 16 ranked Baylor Bears.
The Washington Huskies are fun. They’re going to end up being one of the most entertaining teams in the country to consume from a fan’s point of view. And yet, that’s not all they are. The Huskies are going to be more.
Hopkins will undoubtedly brainwash Washington to play consistent stingy defense as the season grows longer in the tooth. Green will never again have such an inefficient performance. Stewart and McDaniels, simply by playing games, will never be as inexperienced.
If you’re a contending team in the Pac-12 and the Huskies don’t yet scare you, even if their dominance rests more in the theoretical realm than in practice, you’re not paying enough attention.
Nevertheless, no matter how dark it becomes, the Pac-12 will be worth staying up for this season.
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