Beach's Bits - MSG Aftermath

When Pac-12 coaches picked the Washington Huskies to finish eighth before the start of the season, UW fans were incredulous. Despite last season's struggles, Dawg fans aren't accustomed to see their team picked so low, even if the pundits didn't think the Huskies had the talent to push into the upper half of the conference.

After devastating injuries to two key players and another piece of unfortunate news to another post player revealed this week, it looks like the pundits were right.

Washington returns home from New York City not a beaten team, but certainly a heavily bruised one. They were soundly trounced by a quality Indiana team and a 1-4 Boston College squad. They are two come-from-behind victories from being winless on the season. It doesn't get much worse than that. As fans grapple with the idea of another season of national irrelevance before the start of December, they are looking for answers.

First the obvious: Losing Jernard Jarreau and Desmond Simmons has already had catastrophic ramifications on the front court rotation. Many around the program believed Jarreau was headed for a breakout season, and his 17-point, 9-rebound performance during their exhibition win over Central Washington did little to diminish that sentiment.

Before being felled by an ACL tear two minutes into the season-opener versus Seattle University, Jarreau took his defender off the dribble with a nasty crossover from beyond the three point arc, and flashed into the paint for an emphatic two-handed dunk. On the ensuring defensive possession, he picked his man and raced down the floor for another dunk before crumpling to the floor in agony. ACL tear, season over - just like that.

Simmons' injury isn't as severe but has had a similar chilling effect on the rotation. Without their best motor, the Huskies have been dominated on the glass by their opponents. That isn't surprising given the fact that Simmons' replacement at power forward, Mike Anderson, barely tops 6-foot-4.

With the reports Tuesday of Shawn Kemp recovering from Graves' Disease and clearly not playing at full strength, as well as sophomore Gilles Dierickx not ready for prime time, the Huskies have suddenly become a one-man show in the front court.

While the Huskies' challenges near the basket are understandable, their defensive issues are not. After a solid showing in their opening win over the Redhawks, Washington has been a disaster on defense ever since. Not only can they not seem to stay in front of anyone, but their lack of communication on defense has resulted in a non-stop barrage of open three point looks and back door cuts from their opponents, who are connecting at a 51 percent clip from the field.

Worse yet, their transition defense has been awful. The Huskies have been consistently beaten down the floor through their first three games, which screams out a lack of focus and motivation. Some of that is probably due to the fact that Washington has had to send the kitchen sink at the offensive glass trying to compensate for their lack of size in the front court, but it's still no excuse.

Have the new defensive rules had a major effect on stopping opponents? No doubt, but those same rules apply to everyone, even if the Huskies' emphasis on pressure may affect them more than some programs.

Here's the thing, though: The Huskies are young - featuring five newcomers in their 7-8 man rotation. Some of their issues could be growing pains and maybe should have been expected. That said, it hasn't necessarily been the newcomers who've been the problem. Surprisingly, both Mike Anderson and Darin Johnson have been serviceable, and at times very good on the defensive end.

It's been senior C.J. Wilcox, sophomore Andrew Andrews and freshman Nigel Williams-Goss who have been the biggest culprits - that, and a diminutive front court that practically screams "attack me" to opportunistic ball-handlers who have nothing to fear from the Dawgs' post defense.

Their matador defense has turned marginally talented guards into All Conference scorers. The Huskies have had a little more success with the 2-3 zone, though it has had a comparatively negative effect on their rebounding efforts, as zones often do – something UW can ill-afford.

So with all that said - is there an easy answer? Not really, at least right now. When Simmons returns mid-December, he'll do wonders for their toughness and rebounding, but he's no more intimidating a post defender than Anderson, who has done an admirable job filling in at power forward.

The reality is that the Huskies just aren't that good - but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of reasons to keep paying attention.

After enduring the pain of last season, most Husky fans can agree that change is welcome, and truth be told, the young back court is exciting and oozing potential.

Williams-Goss has been inconsistent - sometimes excellent - and the fact that his scoring prowess has already begun to transition to the college game so quickly is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Andrews has been plagued by similar inconsistency, but he's shooting the ball far better than he did last season, emerging as one of the teams top scorers at 13 points per game. Anderson has emerged as a Jack-of-all-trades, and his play in the paint has been all anyone could ask for this early in his UW career.

The same story applies for the rapidly maturing Johnson, with his itchy trigger finger and aggressive penetration.

These players will provide the foundation for the program going forward, and their play has been encouraging, even if it's been maddening at times and definitely uneven thus far.

The same can't be said of the front court. Perris Blackwell has performed as advertised - a reliable, space eating post scorer who makes his living below the rim – but struggles against more athletic front courts.

Kemp, on the other hand, has been a total disappointment when he isn't sitting on the sidelines due to foul trouble. It's clear that his illness has taken a toll on him in every aspect, and we can only hope given time he's able to get back to the aggressive scorer he's shown he can be when healthy.

Dieriekx hasn't done much more than fill space.

In the end, Washington's depleted front court is probably going to prevent the Huskies from making any kind of sustained run this season, no matter how much the young back court matures. That isn't to say that when Simmons returns he won't have a significant impact, because he will. Unfortunately much of the damage will have already been done and the Pac-12 has improved too much for them to pick up ground lost during conference play.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that the young talent is promising and next season, the Huskies add 7-foot blue chip center transfer Robert Upshaw to what should be a talented, veteran roster that returns everyone but Wilcox.

It's something, at least, and watching how the young backcourt handles this season's adversity as they prepare for the future is worth paying attention to. Top Stories