#25 – Washington Huskies College Basketball Preview & Predictions

Isaiah Thomas leads the Washington Huskies
Which club will be the best team in the Pac-10? It may just be the Washington Huskies (26-10, 11-7 Pac-10), who welcome back a whole group of seniors and juniors with a lot of experience. Last season, the Huskies finished third in the Pac-10. The team went to the Pac-10 Tournament, beating Oregon State 59-52, Stanford 79-64 and California 79-75 and winning the title. At the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies made it to the Sweet 16. On the way, they were victorious over Marquette 80-78 and New Mexico 82-64. It all came to an end when West Virginia beat them 69-56. 

It was quite a run for the third place Huskies and a solid season for a team that just a few years before sat out the tournament season and then went to the CBI another year. For the 2010-2011 season, the Huskies see just about every major contributor return. Their only major loss is swingman Quincy Pondexter. Pondexter averaged 19.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG and 1.3 SPG. He was also the team’s go-to guy. But the frontcourt is still tough, big and experienced and the backcourt looks solid and deep. 

Power forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning (6-9, 240 lbs., SR, #11, 8.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 0.4 apg, 22.8 mpg, .540 FG, .000 3PT, .556 FT) brings a total of 29 starts to the floor. Last season in the second half, the forward started to really reach his potential. Perhaps most impressive was his shot blocking as Bryan-Amaning was ranked 119th in block percentage, earning a mark of 6.4%. He also proved to be a solid rebounder on both ends of the court. This summer he garnered more quality experience by playing for England’s U23 team. He’s expected to start strong in 2010-2011. 

Justin Holiday (6-6, 180 lbs., SR, #22, 5.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.8 apg, 22.2 mpg, .422 FG, .333 3PT, .800 FT), another starter, really came on big once he was made a starter partway through the season. His field goal and foul shooting were both on target. Improving from downtown will make him a lethal weapon. He’s also a fine defensive stopper. 

There’s major question is who will be in the third starting spot in the frontcourt? It could be senior Darnell Gant (6-8, 225 lbs., SR, #44, 2.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.4 apg, 11.7 mpg, .407 FG, .000 3PT, .731 FT). Gant started 11 games last year and has 45 career starts with the Huskies. However, he lost the starting job partway through last season. He’s got great energy and will be an important contributor whether or not he starts. 

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The heart, soul and major man on this club is guard Isaiah Thomas (5-8, 185 lbs., JR, #2, 16.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.2 apg, 31.1 mpg, .415 FG, .327 3PT, .732 FT). He’s a creative, energetic scorer who can drive to the basket and finish, hit from the perimeter or dish it off to the open man. Thomas is back as the leader in minutes played, the top scorer and the most assists. In two seasons, he’s scored 1,134 points and could certainly set a school record for scoring by the end of his career. The next step for Thomas may be to take over the leadership role now that Pondexter is gone. He seems to be ready to do just that. For this team to be successful, he has to be able to run the backcourt effectively.  

Venoy Overton (5-11, 185 lbs., SR, #1, 8.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 23.1 mpg, .442 FG, .288 3PT, .789 FT) will man the other guard position. A defensive player first, he has a good shot but should hold off on throwing up bombs from downtown. Overton’s steal percentage of 3.2% made him 180th in the nation in that category. He’s a feisty, driven player. 

The frontcourt will benefit from the defensive skills of 7-0, 260-pound center Aziz N’Diaye. The sophomore transfer, who will come off the bench, won’t score many points but he will block shots and grab rebbies. Freshman forward Desmond Simmons brings energy to the front but at 6-7, 215 pounds, he needs more meat on his bones to battle in the paint. 

Guard Terrence Ross, a first year player, is the most talented of the Washington recruits. He possesses fine offensive skills and can hit readily from outside. Ross looks to see major minutes. There are a bunch of other guys who are capable from the three-point arc, including Scott Suggs (6-6, 185 lbs., SR, #15, 4.7 ppg, 1,2 rpg, 0.7 apg, 13.8 mpg, .383 FG, .374 3PT, .774 FT) and redshirted freshman C.J. Wilcox. These are role players who will be used this season. 

Last season, the Washington Huskies were ranked 36th in offensive efficiency, earning a grade of 112.3. Overall, the team was solid on ball handling and getting their shots in the air. They were especially effective from the charity stripe, hitting 72.0% (69th) from the line. The team was rated 104th in two-pointers, hitting 49.5%. That was certainly decent but not spectacular. From downtown, they were weak, earning a national ranking of 197th and seventh in the Pac-10. They connected on just 33.6% of their long balls. 

This was an excellent defensive club as they managed a 91.3 mark, which garnered a ranking of 31st. Opponents hit 32.1% (70th) from beyond the arc and 45.9% (93rd) from the floor. Overall, this was a sound defense. On blocks they were ranked 119th and steals 144th

Head coach Lorenzo Romar (264-179 in 14 years, 171-91 in eight years with Washington) has proven to be a fine recruiter and mentor. When he arrived at Washington, the Huskies were an inconsistent program and struggling to make the NCAA Tournament. Now he’s made a tourney appearance an almost regular event. But what’s the result? Fans are unhappy and want more because the team can’t get past the Sweet 16. Will it be this year? According to the coach himself the answer is probably not. But in another two years, the Huskies could be going deep into March Madness. 

The Washington Huskies are looking for a go-to guy now that Pondexter is gone. It could be Thomas or it may be Bryan-Amaning. One of those vets will have to take control of the court and the game when everything is on the line. The Huskies have a good offensive and defensive team. As they start the upcoming season, the club is ranked 25th nationally. What do they have going for them? There are a lot of good things, including depth, size and talent. No other team in the Pac-10 can touch them in any of those areas. 

The Pac-10 title, both regular season and tournament, are both achievable. The NCAA Tournament will be a whole other type of challenge. How the Huskies do will depend on how well their senior players perform, how big an asset freshman Ross becomes and if the frontcourt can bang with the best. Additionally, an ability to hit threes at a higher rate would be a huge help. Everything says that this is a two and out team. Then again, they did get to the Sweet 16 last year. It can happen again. 

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