On the eve of cross state rival Gonzaga's probable ascension to the number one ranking in the country, one can only sit back and scratch their head at the current state of the college game.
Blame David Stern, John Calipari, NBA one-and-dones, and the rise of the mid-majors. Hell, blame the Mayans. it doesn't matter. The college basketball season we all know and love has been flipped on its ear this year. Its been happening for a while and just keeps getting weirder. In the wild, wild West where there might not be a top-25 team other than the Zags anything can happen, which is what should make the next couple of weeks so excruciating and entertaining.
Heading into the season, national pundits heralded the return to Pac-12 relevance. Arizona and UCLA had landed the top two recruiting classes in the country while several programs returned talented, veteran rosters. Truth be told, the conference has improved - just not nearly as much as one would have hoped. More specifically, the middle of the conference has gotten considerably better. Unfortunately like last season when Washington won the conference title but missed the NCAA tournament, there isn't a clear-cut leader.
To some extent, the top eight teams have all been interchangeable at one point or another during conference play. Oregon sits atop the conference with a 12-4 record, tied with a surging UCLA team that appears to have finally figured it out. California is streaking with eight consecutive wins and Colorado seems to have shaken the opening weekend of conference play sting. Arizona is sinking like a stone after vaulting to No. 3 in the national polls, while USC, Arizona State, and Washington continue to hover around the .500 mark.
So I suppose it makes sense that, despite the inconsistency of their play we can't yet close the books on this year's Husky basketball team.
Make no bones about it; they've been tough to watch this season. Normally, a Pac-12 team with a .500 record wouldn't be within sniffing distance of a conference tournament title. But as last season proved, in the West anything can happen. As bad as the Dawgs have been, they're still in this thing.
With just two games remaining before heads to Las Vegas for the conference tournament, how does one size up the Huskies? What do they do well?
Statistically speaking, not much. They rank in the bottom half of the conference in scoring, three point shooting, defense, assists, steals and turnovers. But painting them with such a broad statistical brush doesn't tell the whole story either, because on any given night the Huskies can be one of the toughest defensive teams in the conference. They're unselfish, and have great team chemistry even of they don't always play like it. They can get blazing hot from outside behind C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs and they can dominate the paint with Aziz N'diaye and Desmond Simmons in favorable match-ups.
The backcourt, despite falling far short of expectations this season, is improving at the right time. Washington point guard Abdul Gaddy is playing with more confidence and has shot the ball better of late. After a mid season lull, the UW Co-Captain has scored in double digits in 9 of the last 11 games. Suggs, who has been either red hot or ice cold all year long, has scored 16 or more points in three of his last six games including a career-high 23 Sunday versus WSU. Team scoring leader CJ Wilcox has been plagued by foot problems and has struggled with his stroke but has found other ways to contribute when his shot isn't falling. Scoring 23 to match Suggs on Sunday may point to Wilcox shooting his way out of the doldrums too. The same can be said of freshman Andrew Andrews, the team's most energetic defender who provides an adrenaline boost every time he enters the game despite struggling with his jumper.
N'Diaye and Simmons have pretty much met expectations this season, but If there's been anything to get excited about it's been the steady improvement of Shawn Kemp and Jernard Jarreau. Both players have seen their productivity increase significantly during the second half of conference play. Kemp has given the Huskies a viable low post scoring option they've missed since Matthew Bryan-Amaning. Jarreau has yet to dial up the same level of consistency that Kemp has but his mid-range jumper has become a steady part of his offensive arsenal and he's becoming more of a factor in the paint in recent weeks.
Which all adds up to…who knows? Nobody - fans, coaches, media, players and opponents included - have a clue as to what to expect from Washington from one half to the next. After a stellar road win against a solid Arizona State team, Washington trailed at home most of the game versus the cellar dwelling Washington State Cougars before stepping on the gas late in the game and pulling out a win.
Washington is improving…or they're not. Its tough to tell. The conference tournament - the Huskies' NCAA tournament lifeline - will be won by the team that finds some momentum and peaks at the right time. The Huskies aren't sliding in the other direction, which is a positive thing. But are they hungry enough to beat USC and UCLA next week when it matters most? We'll know soon enough.
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