Beach's Bits – Who Will Step Up?

The Huskies flushed their 2012 NCAA tournament chances down the toilet today after one of their most embarrassing performances during the Lorenzo Romar era. The national powerhouse that is the South Dakota State Jackrabbits dominated the Huskies from start to finish.

Everything about the game screamed nonchalance from Washington. The sieve-like nature of their defense reached a new season low during the first half after generously offering wide open looks to the SDSU shooters. The Jackrabbits eagerly accepted.

Before the start of the season we knew the lack of a post scorer was going to be a problem. We knew the team would be over-reliant on young players and the veterans would need time to establish new roles. What observers never suspected was how badly this team would struggle finding any chemistry on the floor.

To put it simply - these guys don't play well together. Much of Washington's struggles are due to the fact that they can't buy a bucket in the paint unless its via a put-back or dribble penetration. There's no inside-out play here. Without any post offense, the Husky guards wheel the ball around the perimeter, until one of the guards lofts up a contested shot attempt or tries to drive into a packed paint. Then the cycle repeats itself.

Say what you want about the Huskies last season, but there was no denying that they were committed to playing team basketball. It's a different story this season, and I've found a convenient scapegoat: Blame Isaiah Thomas. He was a galvanizing floor general that elevated his teammates every second he was on the court, whether delivering pin-point interior passes, sinking clutch baskets or making momentum-shifting plays on the defensive end.

The Huskies don't have Thomas this season, and it's become painfully obviously they miss him terribly. What we're watching so far is a loosely assembled bunch of athletic individuals who have no clue out how to play together. They lack the heart of a player like Thomas, or Jon Brockman or Quincy Pondexter, let alone Nate Robinson, Will Conroy or Brandon Roy.

Washington needs a leader in the worst way.

Many expected that player to be Abdul Gaddy, but he disappears far too often to be that guy. Despite gaudy statistics, Terrence Ross has yet to demonstrate the killer instinct to accompany his amazing physical gifts. It doesn't help that he's silent as a church mouse. After blasting out of the gates and earning World Vision Tournament MVP honors during opening weekend, C.J. Wilcox has slid back into a more familiar three-point specialist role. He doesn't lead by emotion either. Darnell Gant has great leadership traits, but he's always been a role player. Same story with Aziz N'Diaye, who can have fiery moments, but is just not a go-to player at this point in time.

Meanwhile, for all of his talents and ability to fill a stat sheet, Tony Wroten still hasn't learned how to be a leader. He's demonstrative and vocal, changes the game with his physicality and size and effectively gets to the free throw line. Really, he's as close to an Isaiah Thomas-type leader as this team has.

What Wroten doesn't do is involve his teammates – unless it involves a flashy, unnecessary pass with a limited chance of success. He works his tail off, but that isn't the same thing as leadership. It's not going to take long for Pac-12 coaches to figure out that if they take away the left side of the lane as he penetrates the paint, they can bottle him up. His journey is just beginning and he's got plenty of adjustments ahead of him, but the upside is they used to always say the same thing about the lefty Thomas too.

For Husky fans hoping to find something other an an early lump of coal in your stocking, you can thank your lucky stars the Pac-12 is as bad as it is this year. As lousy as the Huskies have looked at times, count yourselves lucky you're not a UCLA or Arizona fan. At least players aren't quitting, skipping practice, or throwing chairs at teammates.

Under Romar, Washington tends to save their best basketball for the end of the season, and they're coming off consecutive Pac-12 tournament titles so there's that. If you want comfort at this point though, that's about all I've got for you. A third of the way through the season and the Washington Huskies just aren't that good.

Merry Christmas.


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