Everyone is Sleeping on Washington

SEATTLE - Everyone is sleeping on Washington. If the national pundits are to believed, last season's Pac-12 Champions are in for a steep decline this coming season. Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten have departed for the NBA, leaving the Huskies with gaping holes in their lineup next season. Or so that's what they say at any rate…

I'm here to tell you Husky fans, that's poppycock.

Some of the bolder prognostications for the Pac-12 next season are good for the conference. There's no denying the importance of UCLA's return to national relevance. Plain and simple, the Pac-12 needs the Bruins' national brand, and this season there's plenty of reason for optimism in Westwood. West Coast hoop fans should rejoice in the fact Ben Howland landed the country's most talented, entertaining incoming freshman in Shabazz Muhammud. The 6-foot-5 small forward's talents were on full display last month in front of 15,000 fans at the Nike Hoops Summit at the Rose Garden in Portland. Team USA was flattened by a superior World Team and while the loss was an indictment on the poor 2012 recruiting class, Muhammad was dominating and spectacular.

UCLA's top-rated recruiting class, which also includes uniquely talented point forward Ryan Anderson and beefy center Tony Parker, gives a badly needed shot in the arm to the conference's most visible program. Toss in a deep, veteran front court that includes the Wear twins, Josh Smith and Anthony Stover and a solid cast of supporting characters in the back court, and you've got a recipe for a Top-10 team if Howland can make all the pieces fit. A strong UCLA is good for the Pac-12.

Meanwhile, top five recruiting classes are nothing new to Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats. Miller's most recent recruiting class, which Scout ranks third in the country, is front loaded with stellar talent in the post. Joining talented sophomore Angelo Chol are three top-10 recruits in 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski and forwards Brandon Ashley and Grant Jarrett, as well as burly junior college forward Matt Korcheck. Solomon Hill is back as are guards Nick Johnson and Kevin Parrom. That's a lot of talent assembled on one roster, and if all the chips fall their way Arizona could be very good.

But for every ounce of optimism, there's a giant red flag waving overhead. The ‘Cats have been a toxic mess for several years now, as Miller has consistently misfired on top rated recruits. Tucson has become the Grand Central Station of West Coast recruiting, with a revolving door of blue chip transfers, including touted point guards Momo Jones, Josiah Turner and talented forward Sidiki Johnson, among others. That trend isn't likely to change anytime soon, especially with three top-10 post recruits battling with Chol and Korsheck for playing time in the post. Inevitably, two of them are going to end up spending considerable time riding the pine - which is not what top-10 players come to college to do. That point guard situation is even dicier. Jordin Mayes underperformed last season so Miller went out and grabbed high scoring Xavier guard Mark Lyons. As talented as Lyons is, he was also practically run out of Xavier for a myriad of on and off-court problems. For a program that has battled severe chemistry problems in the locker-room, taking Lyons is a huge gamble.

The bottom line; there's Sweet Sixteen or better talent in Tucson - however the odds of the program imploding are every but as high as their potential for success - hence the reason prognosticators have been reluctant to promote Arizona as a potential conference title contender.

UCLA and Arizona's top rated recruiting classes means the rest of the conference is getting overlooked, and that's folly in my opinion. Stanford, with a mature roster of Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, and Dwight Powell, among others, should be very competitive. Same goes for Oregon State, who returns nearly everyone outside of Jared Cunningham, and have a deep, talented veteran roster returning. To a lesser extent, so does Colorado and California. All four should be highly competitive, and compete for NCAA Tournament berths. Even Washington State behind Brock Motum, Reggie Moore, Michael Ladd and DeVonte Lacy should be improved. USC should be competitive again, and Oregon's Dana Altman has proven to be a master at assembling a patchwork of talent into something more than that. The conference, while still nowhere near as strong as it was five years ago, is improved.

Which brings us to Washington.

The Huskies have the oldest, most experienced roster in the Pac-12. Pundits are fixated on the departures of Ross and Wroten but aren't paying nearly enough attention to what remains: A four year starter and former McDonalds All American at point guard in Abdul Gaddy; a Conference Player of the Year candidate in C.J. Wilcox, who, despite being limited much of last season with a stress fracture of his hip, still managed to earn All Conference honors; two other starters in hulking 7-foot center Aziz N'diaye and forward Desmond Simmons, who started most of the season; Scott Suggs, the team's top shooter two season ago, sat out last season with a toe injury and is now fully healed and will pair with Wilcox to give the Huskies two of the top long range shooters in the country.

Then there's last season's freshmen; there were seven of them now with a year of college seasoning under their belts. Andrew Andrews redshirted last year and the unheralded former Portland player should be one of the top freshman in the West. Jernard Jarreau, the 6-foot-10 Louisiana forward, also redshirted.

The Huskies only have one newcomer hitting the hardwood, but he too is special. Mark McLaughlin is a former top 100 recruit out of Inglemoor High School in Bothell who took an unconventional route to Montlake. The 6-foot-6 wing joins the Huskies after leading the country in scoring at over 28 points a game at Tacoma Community College. Athletic forwards Jerreau, Martin Breunig and Shawn Kemp have long term potential and all three have a shot at cracking the rotation this season.

The lineup will be huge, with Gaddy and Andrews the smallest players in the rotation at 6-foot-3. They're experienced and incredibly deep on the perimeter - easily the top guard rotation in the conference, and possibly one of the best in the country. They're extremely athletic, which is par for the course at Washington, but should be dramatically improved defensively now that Wroten is gone and Suggs is back. And to top it off, they've got a pre-season trip to Europe and Africa which should allow Lorenzo Romar to evaluate and settle their rotation before the season tips.

The Dawgs are more athletic than UCLA, more functional and experienced than Arizona and a physical mismatch versus the rest of the conference. While the media may be all about UCLA and Arizona, both of those program are well aware that the road to the Pac-12 title still runs through Seattle. The Huskies are a combined 13-8 over the last five years versus the Pac-12's two most nationally recognizable programs.

So forget what the National Media is saying (or not saying) about Washington. As usual, they don't have the slightest idea how much talent Romar has stockpiled in the program. This group has the potential to be the most disciplined, team-oriented Husky squad since 2005 and is certainly a conference title contender, even if the rest of the country hasn't realized it yet.


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