It's that time of the ACC Basketball cycle that the Hoos head out to Hawai'i and play in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. This year's field is chocked full of good teams and Virginia draws the class of the Pac-10 in the Washington Huskies. So as our east coast biased media really doesn't give us a good scouting ability, we have asked Kevin Cacabelos with SeaTown Sports (another quality Bloguin blog) to fill us in on the team from the North Pacific. So here is our Q&A with him, and be sure to check out his story over on his blog today for our analysis on the Hoos chances.
1. Washington starts the season ranked 17/15 in the polls. What dynamics led to this team garnering this lofty ranking? is it a product of upperclassmen, talented freshmen, or both?
The Huskies have separated themselves from the rest of the Pac-10, with this said, being the best team in a BCS conference, even if that conference is in a down year, makes you a special team. I'd even argue that the Huskies should be ranked a little higher. However, this is nothing new, the Huskies have had the personnel this past half decade to find themselves consistently in the top 25 rankings. The Huskies return five of six starters from last season, the Huskies only lose Quincy Pondexter--this is why experts around the country are heralding this team as one of the best in the west. That was not a typo, I meant to type six. Venoy Overton is consistently called one of the best on-ball defenders in all of college basketball and plays just as much as the starters on this team, in many ways he is coach Lorenzo Romar's sixth starter.
2. What is the main offensive philosophy of the Huskies? Do they run any 3/4 guard sets or stick with the normal 1-5 look?
The Huskies want to go. They want to run and turn the game into a track meet. The team is built up of athletic players that can all run the court and thrive in transition. When the game is slowed down, you'll see a mix of both guard sets and a 1-5 look, it just depends on who is on the floor. The guards will look to feed the ball into Matthew Bryan-Amaning to get buckets. The other forwards are comfortable shooting mid-range shots, but the focus of this offense is letting the guards penetrate and kick.
3. Who are the main contributors to this team? If it comes down to the last shot, who takes it?
The departure of Quincy Pondexter means the scoring production will be spread out a little more. Isaiah Thomas will take the majority of the shots and will have the ball in his hands most of the time, but Justin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning have consistently put up double figures in the first two games. Neither of them are as big of a threat as Thomas though, consequently, Thomas would have the ball in his hands for the last shot. He probably would have too much defensive pressure, and his height could prevent him from taking the last shot, meaning he'd probably kick it out to the Huskies' plethora of shooters to take the last shot.
4. If there is one thing that Washington can improve on it is _____?
Defense. It's early and I've only seen one official game, but there is enough experience on the roster for defense to become a strength on this team. Don't get me wrong, the Huskies are already a great defensive team, but can they be great defensively on a consistent basis? Can they reach the same defensive prowess of the UCLA final four teams from 2005 to 2007? Defense is what will prevent this team from suffering any disappointing losses and defense is what will take this team past the Sweet 16.
5. How do you see the Huskies making the Final Four? What can they rely on when they face higher caliber teams?
A lot of it has to do with the kind of match ups the Huskies will get in the tournament. Unless things go horribly wrong, the Huskies will make it to the tournament for the third straight season. To make the Final Four, the Huskies will need to get productive minutes from freshman center, Aziz N'Diaye. N'Diaye adds a dimension past Husky teams haven't had, a big post presence on the the glass and on the defensive end. Aziz has adjusted well, but still has a long way to go (see 23.5% free-throw shooting percentage). If N'Diaye plays up to his potential than the Huskies can make a run at the final four this season. But even if N'Diaye does not fully play up to his potential, this team can rely on its trio of guards to take them far. Opposing coaches are having nightmares trying to contain Gaddy, Overton, and Thomas. There are very few teams that can play at a pace like the Huskies, so hopefully this speed will negate the size disadvantage the Huskies will face against other high-caliber teams.