Counting the reasons for the Huskies' late-season swoon
The Huskies are a team full of questions entering the Pac-10 men's basketball tournament.
Seattle Times staff columnist
In the past five weeks, the struggles of the Washington men's basketball team have gone from abnormal to aggravating to apocalyptic.
Yes, if Matthew Bryan-Amaning misses one more bunny, he might provoke universal destruction.
OK, maybe not universal destruction, but distressed, purple-robed fans might conspire to create a seismic reaction just as powerful as Marshawn Lynch's Beast Quake. This one, of course, would be considerably less inspiring.
January mojo, where have you gone? It seems that the city's turn-of-the-decade hot streak was a mere reprieve from the customary sports disappointment.
All of the joy from late December and January — including Huskies football's Holiday Bowl surprise, the Seahawks' unexpected playoff run and Huskies men's basketball's 7-1 Pac-10 start — has morphed into a conundrum for Lorenzo Romar.
His former top-15 team is now a probable double-digit seed in the NCAA tournament. Not good. Even worse, the Huskies have seemingly fixed their problems twice, only to see their leaks multiply following each solution.
What's wrong? As Romar answered last month when I asked why college kids can be so erratic, "If I had the total answer, I'd quit coaching and be a consultant."
We can make some surface conclusions: Spotty defense and an offense too dependent on perimeter shooting have caught up with this team. But it has to be deeper than that.
The Huskies concluded a peculiar regular season with a 20-10 record, which isn't awful. But consider a few things. They started 12-3 and finished 8-7. They opened Pac-10 play at 7-1 and closed at 4-6. Away from Edmundson Pavilion, they went 6-8, but it's no longer wise to conclude that their problems are limited to the road. They lost two of their final three home games and shot 36.3 percent in those contests.
If there's a pattern — besides gradual regression — to this season, it's that the Huskies have been an illusion of their offensive brilliance. Though the Huskies haven't shown it of late, this is one of Romar's most efficient offensive teams. But his other great offensive squads have come with the complement of great pressure defense. This one has consistently shown shortcomings in that area.
In recent seasons, the Huskies have been the opposite of what they currently are — all toughness, very little perimeter shooting. In their recruiting efforts, perhaps Romar and his staff overcorrected in pursuit of more shooters. This team doesn't have great defensive personnel outside of three or four players.
The Huskies do one thing extremely well on defense. They have a school-record 168 blocked shots, but even that alludes to the fact that they allow too much dribble penetration.
A statistical split that explains the Huskies' defensive woes: Washington is 18-2 when it shoots a higher percentage than its opponent, 2-8 when it doesn't. When the game is ugly, the Huskies don't do enough little things to grind out wins.
However, the problems have to be deeper than that. The January sexual assault allegation involving an unnamed player must've had an unquantifiable effect. The Huskies were 12-3 when that news broke. That said, the police investigation didn't lead to any felony charges, and the team has had plenty of time to refocus.
So, we have to look at how this team is built. There are some obvious issues. The Huskies are too small. They have one true center, 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye, but he's a project still recovering from knee surgery. Bryan-Amaning has shown great improvement (16 points, 8.3 rebounds), but he is a finesse player. Darnell Gant isn't a low-post guy. And that's it. The Huskies have just three post players. They miss Tyreese Breshers (retired because of an undisclosed medical problem), Clarence Trent (transferred to Seattle University) and even Terrence Jones, the indecisive recruit who verbally committed, immediately changed his mind and signed with Kentucky.
This Washington roster lacks a great wing scorer like Quincy Pondexter or Brandon Roy. And Romar's program has been great at developing players over a four-year period, but even though Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday have shown incredible growth, Romar admits this current group hasn't progressed as much as he would like. Surely, the coach expected Venoy Overton to have a better senior season. The hope was that N'Diaye would be further along by now. Freshman Terrence Ross seemed ready to explode at midseason, but he is struggling presently.
The Huskies are built to be a deep team, but that requires eight or nine players to perform well in concert. It hasn't happened enough, which hurts this team's versatility. And every injury, especially the loss of sophomore point guard Abdul Gaddy, has altered this team. In their current state, the Huskies are too reliant on Isaiah Thomas, and when he struggles to score and create for others, this is an average team.
Like last season, a good postseason run could change the tone of the year. However, last year's team was making its push at this time. These Huskies enter the Pac-10 tournament with six losses in 11 games and confusion at every turn.
For certain, they're still dangerous. But more and more, they've become a bigger threat to themselves than the opponent.
firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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