It’s a sad time for CGB basketball writers. For years and years (15, to be precise) Lorenzo Romar led the Washington Huskies to plenty of success. But for the past 5 years, when degenerates like us were blogging about Pac-12 hoops, watching Romar’s Huskies waste lottery pick after lottery pick was a source of constant amusement.
True, Mr. Romar isn’t gone yet - he’s been brought in to try to paint a veneer of compliance over Sean Miller’s recruiting operation in Arizona. But he’s no longer in charge of game prep, which is the true loss from our perspective.
And, unfairly or not, Cal fans will perhaps look towards the Washington program as a comparison for the type of rebuilding the Bears are currently going through.
Former Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins is in charge now. While he didn’t inherit a situation quite as rough as Wyking Jones, he’s got Washington playing reasonably solid basketball. The Huskies are 12-4, with no bad losses and two impressive wins over Kansas at home and USC on the road. It’s a borderline NCAA-worthy resume that nobody particularly saw coming.
How have Hopkins and the Huskies achieved this level of success? Well, to be frank, they’ve been a bit lucky. Three of Washington’s four losses were blowout defeats, while eight of their wins have been by single digits. Kenpom has them as the 2nd ‘luckiest’ team in the country by virtue of winning all of those close games.
But they’re doing things well on their own. Hopkins has of course brought the Syracuse zone to Seattle, and UW has used it to force a ton of turnovers. Meanwhile, UW has found decent success on offense by surrounding the efficient interior scoring of Noah Dickerson and the slashing skills of freshman guard Jaylen Nowell with a number of other solid secondary options.
PG David Crisp - Junior is struggling with his shot but is a reasonably disruptive defender
G Jaylen Nowell - 4 star freshman guard has a strong dribble drive game without being a black hole with the ball. Plays point in rare situations where Crisp sits.
G Matisse Thybulle - One of the most disruptive ball hawks in the country, oddly can’t get his jumper to fall
F Noah Dickerson - Stats and impact are remarkably similar to Marcus Lee’s, except Dickerson draws a few more fouls with fewer turnovers.
C Sam Timmins - Your typical Pac-12 level center, a 6’11’’ shot blocker/rebounder/interior scorer.
G Nahziah Carter - Low usage, turnover prone freshman wing appears to be a solid 3 point threat in a small sample size.
G Carlos Johnson - Low minute wing that plays bigger than his 6’4’’ frame
G Dominic Green - Low usage wing is pretty much just a 3 point shooter.
F Hameir Wright - Back up big doesn’t have nearly the same offensive rebounding and foul drawing skills as Timmins and Dickerson
Washington basically has two looks - they’ll typically start games with Timmins and Dickerson, but will play long stretches with one or the other on the bench and play a variety of low usage backup wings. Crisp and Thybulle will play close to 40 minutes and everybody who mixes it up down low will try to absorb any foul trouble collectively.
Regardless of the exact personnel, you’re going to be facing 40 minutes of the Syracuse zone, and an offense that is intent on getting the ball into the paint, whether on dribble drives, post entries, or offensive rebounding.
In many ways, Cal and UW are similar. Both teams want to play versions of the Syracuse zone. Both teams feature a primary interior scorer and don’t want to take a ton of 3s. Both teams rely on drawing fouls and 2nd chances on offense. Washington just executes all of that a bit better across the board, which is why UW is somewhere around the 100th best team in the country and Cal is more like the 200th best.
Keys to the game
1. Can Cal get off shots?
We’ve discussed this before. Cal struggles with turnovers, and their opponent this week forces lots of them. That’s typically been a recipe for disaster this season. However, if Cal actually manages to get shots off . . . well, Washington’s field goal defense isn’t amazing, and there’s reason to think that the Bears can make plenty of noise on the offensive glass.
2. The big foul battle
Both offenses draw plenty of fouls, and both teams rely on the offense produced by their veteran big man. We’ve all seen the impact of constant Marcus Lee foul trouble this season. Would be nice to have a game where the opposing big (Dickerson) spends more time stapled to the bench than our big guy.
3. Which team can penetrate the other’s zone
Yes, I’m assuming that Cal will come out in the zone that they have primarily used in Pac-12 play. Neither of these teams are big on the 3 point shot, and both want to get guys (Coleman/Nowell) going to the basket and creating chaos for their bigs to exploit. Which team is going to do a better job getting the ball into the middle?
Our Computer Overlords Predict
Washington 81, Cal 72, 20% chance of a Cal win
Our computer overlords care not that Cal is undefeated on the road, and I’ll leave it to you to decide if that means something or is a random coincidence. Washington is certainly the better team, but not so much better that you can dismiss Cal’s chances at pulling the upset.