Reeling from two straight losses, the Wolf Pack basketball team travels to Pac-12 foe Washington in search of a win and, perhaps more importantly, some answers to increasingly pressing questions about the direction their season is taking.
On a lighter note, here to answer some questions we’ve posed for him is Ben Knibbe of the Huskies blog UW Dawg Pound. As you’ll see from his terrific responses, however, saying he merely “‘answered” our questions would be selling him short.
1. Both Nevada and Washington are familiar with having to frequently replace players who leave early for the NBA. How have the Huskies handled the departures of Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross up to this point?
Offensively, they have replaced the production by relying on C.J. Wilcox more than they had planned. If Wilcox is having a good shooting game, the offense works, otherwise the offense struggles to score. Abdul Gaddy has scored more, and the addition of Andrew Andrews has also helped to replace the slashing ability of Wroten.
Neither of these guys were super special defensively. Ross and Wroten did get blocks and steals, respectively. Wroten’s steals are missed, but Ross’s blocks are being replicated by Wilcox, who has become the most important player on this Washington team with the absence of Scott Suggs.
Where these two players are most missed is on the glass. Both were extremely strong rebounders for their positions, and at this point the Huskies are being outrebounded by their opponents. That is unheard of for a Lorenzo Romar-coached team.
2. The Huskies have (almost literally) limped through their last few games, with Scott Suggs having been sidelined with plantar fasciitis and Abdul Gaddy leaving their last game with leg cramps. What’s the current status of these two players?
Gaddy should be good to go, but Suggs is questionable. Suggs is expected to practice leading up to the game, but his return is still up in the air.
Another player that Washington is looking to get back soon in Shawn Kemp Jr. Yes, he is the son of the Reign Man. He has a meniscus tear and is back at practice this week, although it is still undetermined whether or not he is going to play.
3. Washington’s inexperience has led coach Lorenzo Romar to experiment with several different schemes on offense and defense. Which of these have been the most — and least — successful so far?
On offense, Lorenzo Romar decided he was going to implement the high post offense as Washington’s full-time offense. They had a few high post sets in their offense before, but now the switch from a dribble-penetration motion offense to the high-post offense was to be permanent.
There has been a definite learning curve. Romar has used his motion sets when defenses are taking away the high post game, by being very physical around the elbow, which in-turn takes away a lot of the passes the high post is expected to make. The motion offense has been the more effective of the two to this point, as Gaddy and Andrews have had definite success in getting the ball into the paint off of the dribble and dumping the ball off to Desmond Simmons or Aziz N’Diaye, or kicking the ball out to Wilcox for a three.
Defensively, the Dawgs have stuck with their man-to-man defense for the most part, but have started to use a little more zone. In their matchup with Cal State-Fullerton, Washington was in a zone off of a make and a man off of a miss. The Huskies are a lot more comfortable in a man, but have had mental lapses on out of bounds plays, so they tend to switch to a 2-3 when the ball is being inbounded from the baseline.
4. Tell us about a newcomer who’s stepped up for the Huskies this year.
Andrew Andrews has been big for the Huskies this season. He has shown an ability to run the offense when Gaddy isn’t on the floor, and also to be a good off-guard with a penchant for attacking the basket. He also has been solid on-ball defender. He harasses the ball-handler, often disrupting offensive sets by making entry passes and even wing-to-wing passes difficult.
5. What will be some of Washington’s keys to winning on Saturday night?
Washington needs to be alert defensively, get Wilcox shooting well, and figure an offensive identity early. The team has to ability t be a great defense, but has frequent mental lapses, oftentimes on the pick and roll.
Shooters are always streaky, and the offense relies on Wilcox having a good night to score. He spaces the floor and racks up buckets.
The offensive identity is the biggest deal in my opinion. If the high post is being defended very well, then it needs to be used less frequently and the motion offense needs to be used. The blending of both offenses could end up being very effective if there is comfort in the high post offense. Right now, the team runs the motion much, much better than the high post, because of familiarity.
6. Going forward, what will the Huskies need to do in order to make themselves a contender in the Pac-12? Also, predict the score of Saturday’s game, if you wish.
To be a contender, the Huskies need to get healthy. Kemp Jr. is their best low-post scorer and a physical presence inside that is lacking whenever N’Diaye needs a blow.
Suggs is a solid defender on the perimeter, and can be another scorer beside Wilcox. Suggs is a strong shooter who also has the ability to get to the basket. Wilcox is also dealing with a bruised tailbone, which can linger. Hopefully these three guys can be healthy.
The talent is not a strong as last year -losing two 1st-round draft picks will do that to a team- but there is a chance for it to mesh together in a way last season’s team never did.
Prediction time huh? I generally don’t do these, but what the heck. Deonte Burton will have a strong game, as the Huskies have had issues guarding small guards, but I see Aziz N’Diaye and Desmond Simmons having very strong games on the glass, leading to a Washington 75-66 victory.