Beach's Bits - The Good and Bad

With the start of conference play just hours away, Husky fans are about to find out whether a disappointing non-conference performance was merely the growing pains of a young team rather than a preview of a long winter of lousy basketball. They'll learn quickly too, as Oregon State won't be coming to Alaska Airlines Arena content to just play well. They'll be gunning for the win.

First the good news: The PAC-12 is terrible. Not just bad - terrible. Teams like California, Stanford and OSU would seem to be the favorites heading into conference play based on how they've done to date, but none have done anything really convincing.  

Cal lost every meaningful game they've played, including getting flattened by UNLV last Friday. Johnny Dawkins' young Stanford team has yet to win a big game and though Oregon State did pull out an overtime win against Texas, let's be real - they are still Oregon State.

Arizona is talented but young and, like Washington, flawed in the post. UCLA remains in turmoil despite winning 5 straight against a bunch of mid major also-rans.

Washington can win the PAC-12 and earn an NCAA Tournament berth, but in order to do so they're going to have to grow up quick - which leads us to the bad news, and there's plenty of it.

Several glaring flaws stood out during the non-conference slate, but none was more painful to watch than the Huskies inability to consistently play with energy.  In the losses to Saint Louis and South Dakota State, the Dawgs were run off the floor during the first half, due in large part to an apparent lack of interest in playing those games.  

Even now, it remains a bit of a mystery why they even bothered to show up at all.  Maybe the television audience was too small or there weren't enough NBA scouts in the building worth impressing. They were afflicted by a similar malady during a mid-season three-game losing stretch against WSU, Oregon and Oregon State last year but still managed to win the conference tournament title.

Whatever the reason, the most disappointing aspect of the team during non-conference play was the fact that they didn't seem to notice when they were being run out of the building.

We knew post offense was going to be a major challenge long before the season started. However I don't think anyone imagined it would be this bad. Washington literally generates next to nothing inside. Terrence Ross is their best post scorer, but he's no Quincy Pondexter. Senior Darnell Gant and redshirt freshman Desmond Simmons are both more comfortable scoring on the wing, and while Aziz N'Daiye is many things, a polished post scorer he is not. The Husky coaching staff recruited three quality post prospects in Martin Breunig, Shawn Kemp Jr. and Jernard Jarreau, who should all pay dividends eventually but they're not going to help much this season.

The Huskies really lack leadership.  Any time a team loses a leadership personality the caliber of Isaiah Thomas, they're bound to struggle re-defining their identity.  That's definitely been the case this season.  The Huskies' most consistent player thus far has been freshmen Tony Wroten.  While he may end up the best freshman in the conference by a country mile, he's no leader on the floor - not in any way shape or form.  At least not yet, and it's not his fault - he is a freshman after all and he has taken an unfair amount of criticism for the team's woes.

The fact is, if Ross, C.J. Wilcox and Abdul Gaddy were playing more consistently, Wroten wouldn't be such a lightning rod for criticism. The real killer was losing Scott Suggs to a toe injury for the season.  He was very quietly the team's top three-point shooter last year and a steady offensive contributor who was poised for a big senior season.

Finally, and most importantly - there's the struggles on defense. Lorenzo Romar's giant-sized back court is an intriguing theory; the idea being that their exceptional athleticism and length should cause havoc in passing lanes, increase deflections and blocked shots, and allow Washington to extend their perimeter defense.  It hasn't really made nearly as much of an impact as it should - not because the philosophy is flawed, but mainly because Washington's guards have had a hard time staying in front of their opponents.  That goes back to a lack of energy and focus.  

Before the season, coach Romar spoke about Terrence Ross developing into a lock-down defender.  That hasn't happened yet, and while we've seen flashes of potential from Ross, as well as Wroten and Wilcox, none of them do it consistently enough to warrant the "lock-down defender" label.  The Huskies never really harnessed their defensive potential last season.  It's been a similar story so far this year, and for UW to play to their maximum ability, it all starts first on the defensive end. If they don't do it there, they'll never know how good they can be.

As much as the Huskies have struggled this season, there's still a lot to like about this team, both this season as well as down the road. Washington is loaded with quality young talent in the midst of defining their roles. The rotation is pretty well set, and guys like Ross, Wroten and Wilcox are superb players beginning to harness their immense potential.

With consecutive Pac-10 tournament titles under their belt, the Huskies are no strangers to pressure with their backs against the wall -  which is a good thing because winning the conference tourney is probably their best chance at making the NCAA Tournament in 2012.

In a nutshell, the season isn't over yet but it's hanging by a thin string. The Huskies' effort against Oregon State should be pretty telling. They are as tough a match-up as any in the conference athletically, and Craig Robinson's Princeton offense will pick Washington apart if they aren't focused defensively for 40 minutes. Top Stories