Beach's Bits - UConn

Are the Washington Huskies are good enough to contend for a conference title this season? No. This isn't an NCAA Tournament team either. There are too many good Pac-12 teams and Washington's rotation is too flawed for that. While their effort at times against UConn was admirable, Washington competed with them from the opening tip. The game was there to be won.

Like Washington, Connecticut was guard-oriented. Tenth-ranked or not, Sunday's game at Alaska Airlines Arena was a winnable game. It was the hometown five's last chance to dramatically alter the course of their season. It was also a preview of what we can expect from Washington during conference play.

Unfortunately with the loss, it's time for Washington fans to face facts; 2013-14 is nothing more than a rebuilding season. But unlike last season when fans were forced to watch a roster full of upperclassmen stumble their way from one uninspired performance to the next, it's worth paying attention to the current team.

Washington's struggles early during non-conference play have been well documented, and the resulting fan apathy has many following the team justifiably concerned. Truth is, they're not bad…but they're just not good either. They play hard, but like a newborn pup they lose focus constantly. They have their moments, but they don't have enough of them. They make an athletic play from time to time, but they don't have enough athletes to sustain themselves for 40 minutes.

The culprit? Injuries have obviously played a significant role in those struggles, as have the new rules governing defenders. But perhaps the most overlooked aspect of this team is their youth and inexperience.

With Jernard Jarreau out for the season and Desmond Simmons and Shaun Kemp, Jr. recovering from injury and illness, the Huskies were left with a six man rotation at the start of the season. Only C.J. Wilcox and Andrew Andrews came into the year having ever played together.

The rest - a handful of freshmen and transfers - were thrust onto the court, predictably struggling as they adjusted to their new roles. That's college basketball for you: The margin for error is so slim most of the time, a couple of bad breaks and you're sunk. But that's the hand the program has been dealt and they've got to make the best of it.

"Right now we are not mature enough to handle the runs from the other team, it appears," said Lorenzo Romar after the loss to UConn. "We're not mature enough right now to handle the adversity that comes along throughout your season. Conference season starts pretty quickly, and we're on the road four out of the first six games, so we better grow up really quickly."

If "maturing" means improving on the defensive end, then yeah; they've got a lot of growing up to do.

After a promising win over Seattle University, Washington's defensive efforts have been terrible ever since. That is certainly a trait of young teams, and not entirely unexpected. The new hand-checking rules have worked against them as well, but the good news is that the Huskies are slowly improving in that regard. Washington sprinted to a 14-point lead against the tenth-ranked team in the country - holding them to under 25 percent shooting from the field - before succumbing to an all-too-familiar lull in defensive focus that allowed Connecticut to roar back in the span of minutes.

Good teams don't let that happen. Then again, Washington isn't a very good team at the moment.

"This is crazy - we've gotten better. But we're just not good for 40 minutes," Romar said in defense of his team's effort. "You go back and watch the film I challenge you…you go back and watch the first 12 minutes of that game and see how we were defensively. It's the same at San Diego State. For long periods we were pretty good defensively but we haven't been able to sustain it. If you ask me what do we have to do to sustain defense I'd tell you we have to grow up and understand the importance of every possession and value of every possession. Right now we don't seem to understand that. You can't take a play off here and there because it can lead to a run for the other team.

"We really have to understand that if we're up 8, we're up 12, the score is tied - the next time I decide to take a play off and then my buddy decides to take a play off, that's a 6-0 run right there potentially. We just have to understand that."

Fortunately it's not all bad news.

The long-term potential of Nigel Williams-Goss, Darin Johnson and Mike Anderson is obvious to anyone who has watched them. They're energetic, confident and skilled, but they also play like the inexperienced players they are. Those three players, along with Andrews will form the nucleus of a promising Washington backcourt next season.

As sad as it is to already be looking ahead to 2014, that's the reality of the current roster situation. The team's success this season will be measured not by wins and losses, but by how they mature over the next three months. Can they earn an upset or two, or make Arizona or Oregon sweat a little? Can they beat a quality but flawed team like UCLA or Colorado, or win a game in the last two minutes? Can they steal a victory on the road, or keep Jahii Carson or Chasson Randle in check?

Those will be the questions UW fans need to ask and those are the metrics the team will use to monitor its improvement, because the win-loss column is likely to tell a one–sided story.

Nigel Williams-Goss, for all of his prep accolades, clearly has a long way to go in his development. Is he a significant upgrade over Abdul Gaddy? Maybe in the long run, but he's too inconsistent right now.

Things would have been much worse for the team were it not for Mike Anderson's versatility in the front court, but his ultimate role is unclear. Because of the injury to Jarreau, the illness to Kemp and the ineffectiveness of Gilles Dierickx, Anderson is having to play at the power forward position, not his normal spot.

Freshman Darin Johnson is clearly individually talented, possessing all of the hallmarks of a future successful Husky wing. The only thing he needs is to continue to find his niche on the team and continue to put into practice the concepts Romar and the UW staff are teaching him.

Simmons' return Sunday afternoon against UConn was a positive development heading into conference play. This team needs his toughness and rebounding in the worst way. Kemp and Perris Blackwell managed just four rebounds between them Sunday against a long but unimposing UConn front court.

Simmons won't dramatically alter Washington's trajectory. Up front, they're simply too small and lack the athleticism to consistently compete against a conference bristling with quality big men. It's the team's fatal flaw.

This isn't a team that can afford to look ahead to marquee games. Every game is a must win. Not because they're trying to impress the selection committee, but because they want to win next year. Their progress will be measured daily in practice as well as on game day.

If you haven't already adjusted your expectations, it's time to do it now. There are still plenty of reasons to enjoy Husky basketball this season, but you're going to have to dig deep and take pleasure in the maturation of the backcourt with an eye for the future, rather than paying attention to the Pac-12 standings. Top Stories