UW Pre-Season - Five Questions

SEATTLE - As hard as it is to believe, basketball season is already here. The Huskies lost four of five starters from last season's NCAA Tournament squad, but optimism is running high for a UW program picked fourth in the annual Pac-12 media poll. Here are a few key questions heading into the 2011-2012 season.

1) How will Abdul Gaddy and Tony Wroten sync?

Probably the most commonly asked question heading into this season revolves around how incumbent starter Abdul Gaddy and freshman phenom Tony Wroten, Jr. will gel on the court. Are they comfortable playing off ball, or do they need the ball in their hands to be effective? Are their jumpers sufficient to discourage opponents from sagging on them defensively when they're both playing at the same time? Lorenzo Romar was asked that question during his weekly press conference.

"If you go back over the years, you'll see that we've played with two ball-handling guards a lot - Nate Robinson, Will Conroy, Justin Dentmon, Brandon Roy, Ryan Appleby, Venoy Overton, Isaiah Thomas," Romar said. "So do we see them playing together? I don't see why they wouldn't play together. I think you'll see that combination a lot. When they are playing together, you'd think they had been playing together for years. They play right off of each other. They are ball-handlers, passers, have size, can go into the paint - I think they compliment each other."

How that will translate to game situations is yet to be determined. Gaddy and Wroten are two of the finest pure passers in all of college basketball. Both have extremely high basketball IQ's and possess great feel for the game. They'll be able to break down perimeter defenders by taking them off the dribble, but defenders will probably sag on Wroten and try and coax him into settling for the three-point ball. With those two on the floor, they'll probably face plenty of zone, a defense the Huskies have struggled with in recent years. As with all of the UW guards they're tall and lanky, and if reports of Gaddy shooting upwards of 30,000 jump shots this summer are to be believed, he should be effective playing off-ball. It's an interesting question, and one fans are eager to learn the answer to.
2) How much has Aziz improved?

Obviously, Aziz N'Daiye is going to play a major role for the Huskies this season. He's playing pain free, fully healed from his ACL tear that kept him in a brace all of last season, but still isn't 100 percent healthy. He did sustain a concussion during UW's trip to California this past weekend, and has not been cleared for Friday's exhibition game with Seattle Pacific. That being said, the rest of the aches appear to be all gone.

"He moves so much better," explained Romar. "Because he's fairly injury-free and his legs are so much stronger, he moves better and he knows our system better so there's little hesitancy."

If looks were any indication of what Husky fans can expect this season, N'Diaye is going to be a monster. He has sculpted his body in the weight room to the point where he more closely resembles an Under Armor mannequin than a basketball player. In short? He's totally ripped. His physical improvements are going to be important because the Pac-12 grew considerably during the offseason: Arizona, USC, Oregon, ASU and Utah will all field at least one 7-footer this season. That's not counting UCLA, who doesn't have a 7-footer per se but will still field one of the top front courts in the entire country.

"Certain players you take away from the team and the team isn't as good," said Romar. "You take Aziz out, and that hole is so much bigger. No one else on the team that can do the things Aziz does, that enforcer presence."

N'Diaye struggled with foul trouble last season, but all signs point toward a significant improvement. "We have officials at almost all our practices, and he hasn't been in a situation yet where he's fouled too much," explained the cautiously optimistic head coach. "Last year he would do some things unconsciously to pick up fouls, like using other players to stop himself and pushing someone out of the way for a rebound…he's not doing that stuff nearly as often now."

That's encouraging, because N'Diaye playing at his full potential for as long as possible adds an entirely different dimension to this team.
3) What happens when the threes aren't falling?

It's no secret that the three-point ball is going to be a huge part of the Huskies' offense. Suggs, Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox make up one of the finest trios of shooters in the country, while Gaddy, Darnell Gant and even Desmond Simmons all possess game-changing three-point shots in their offensive arsenal.


The Huskies crumbled when the three ball didn't drop last year. The Oregon road trip was an unmitigated disaster, and much of that had to with the fact that when the threes weren't dropping, the Huskies had no other way to manufacture points. The Dawgs have more ball handlers this season, and that's a good thing. They possess a considerably bigger back court, and between Wroten, Gaddy and Ross - plus improvement from Suggs (when he returns) and Wilcox - the Huskies should have plenty of guys who can attack the basket effectively. They didn't have that last season outside of Thomas and occasionally Justin Holiday.

Odds are at least one of their three-point shooters is going to be connecting consistently on any given night. There's too many quality shooters for them to all draw blanks, but one way to minimize that concern is to play high level defense and reduce their reliance on the long-range shot.
4) How good are they defensively?

Probably the most exciting dynamic of this year's squad is their potential on the defensive end. And by good, I mean potentially stifling. Washington hasn't fielded a truly dominant defensive squad like that since Cameron Dollar left to take over head coaching duties at Seattle University. But this year's team could change all of that.

First and foremost, they're huge. When N'Diaye returns, the Huskies' starting lineup will average nearly 6-foot-7. Their shortest guard is Hikeem Stewart at 6-foot-3, and he isn't expected to factor heavily into the rotation – yet. Stewart is a fabulous defender. Wroten has as much defensive upside as any player who has ever entered the system. There's a myth that freshmen can't play defense, but there are clear exceptions to the rule. Two years ago, Tacoma's Avery Bradley - who played just one season for Texas before declaring for the draft - emerged as an All Big-12 Conference defender. Wroten has that kind of ability. Gant, Suggs, Wilcox and Ross are all above average defenders, and Romar believes Ross could be a "lock down" defender for Washington this year.

So far in practice, the reports are encouraging. In fact, by all accounts they are ahead of where the coaching staff expected them to be at this point, and it isn't just coming from the veterans. Obviously Wroten is the most visible of the frosh, but Stewart entered the UW system already an advanced defender and Jernard Jarreau is raising eyebrows as well.

"He is long, has great length, and as he learns our system he could eventually be a guy like that could cause havoc on the defensive end - the finished product could be a real force on the defensive end," said Romar when asked about the 6-foot-10 Jarreau. "Ultimately when the dust settles, he's going to be quite a player. When that happens, couldn't tell you. Players go through it at different speeds. When it clicks for him, he'll do a lot of damage."

Whether or not he does it this season remains to be seen, but with N'Diaye and Gant patrolling the paint and their oversized back court pressuring opposing guards farther from the basket, all signs point to a major improvement for the Huskies on defense.
5) What can we expect from the freshmen?

That's a question that will take some time to answer, but with Suggs' injury you can expect at least three freshmen to join the rotation during non-conference play. Without Suggs, the Huskies return just five upperclassmen, which means plenty of playing time for all six eligible frosh to earn their shot at joining the rotation. Wroten is a given, and redshirt freshman forward Desmond Simmons appears to be a lock to join the rotation as well. The Huskies still need at least one more player to join the rotation – possibly two. All three freshmen bigs - Jarreau, Shawn Kemp, Jr. and Martin Breunig - bring unique traits to the table. As stated previously, Jarreau can cause chaos with his incredible length, but he's also got some unique offensive skills that make him an intriguing fit for the rotation. He handles the ball like a guard, which makes him perfect for the Huskies' transition game. Breunig is probably the most versatile of the three, and is a scoring threat both inside and out. He moves well with the ball and is a high-level athlete.

Kemp, Jr. may be the traditional post player of the three, but his contribution will be key when N'Diaye lands in foul trouble – which is going to happen. Romar defined Kemp's progress. "He's been fighting three battles: Conditioning, Game Rust, and Learning the System," Romar said of the son of Seattle's 'Reignman'. "He's winning the conditioning battle, he's getting better in shaking off the rust, and learning the system is probably the hardest part for him - but he'll get it."

With Suggs, that makes six upperclassmen that are locks for the rotation. Wroten makes seven, Simmons eight. There's opportunity for one of two additional freshmen to make their mark for the Huskies this season.

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