Beach's Bits: A Look Ahead, Part 2

The Pac-12 is going to be hammered by graduation and NBA defection in the coming months; especially in the paint. The list of probable departures draws parallels to the great Pac-10 defection of 2008 when the conference watched six early entrants taken in the first 15 picks of the draft. This time around, the youngsters aren't quite as noteworthy, but the losses could be just as devastating.

The conference will have several key graduates including nine all conference players: Jordan Bachynski, T.J. McConnell, Dwight Powell, Mike Moser, David and Travis Wear, Justin Cobbs, Richard Solomon, C.J. Wilcox, Perris Blackwell, Devon Collier, Angus Brandt, Roberto Nelson, Jermaine Marshall and Omar Oraby.

The early draft entrant list is just as potent, and includes six more all conference standouts: Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jahii Carson, Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Zach LaVine, Joseph Young, and Delon Wright have all been mentioned as players expected to jump to the next level.

What that means is that the conference is likely to take a big step backwards next season, especially in the paint, where many of the biggest hits will be absorbed. A Washington front court of Robert Upshaw and Jernard Jarreau would combine nearly fourteen feet of athleticism that has the potential to be a truly dynamic force. Shawn Kemp, Jr. and Desmond Simmons would fill in the gaps.

But what if Jarreau doesn't fully recover, or Upshaw doesn't straighten up and fly right? To put it simply, if either one of those things happens the Huskies are in trouble, and they'll probably look a lot like they did this season, if not worse. And if the worst-case scenario occurs…well, we won't go there just yet. There's time to get it all sorted out, and if it doesn't by the time October rolls around, expect another doom-and-gloom rant from yours truly.

But back to the positives: Incoming freshman Tristan Etienne is a good looking college post prospect, rated the fourth rated prospect in Canada. Like all freshman bigs, it's going to take time for him to adjust to the size and speed of the college game in America. It's not an overnight transition for even the most highly touted frosh, and Etienne shouldn't be counted on for major minutes in the rotation next season.

If Upshaw doesn't get his act together, it's safe to assume Jarreau would join Kemp in the starting lineup with Simmons coming off the bench. Even then, expect plenty of four guard lineups, and that's before injuries, which have derailed the Huskies at the start of non-conference play two seasons in a row now.
Five Things To Like:
Backcourt Potential. Nigel Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews should be one of the top guard combos in the conference. The loss of C.J. Wilcox can be mitigated to some extent by a leap in production from sophomore-to-be Darin Johnson, along with growth from senior-to-be Mike Anderson and newcomers Quevyn Winters and Donaven Dorsey.

Jernard Jarrreau Returns. The expected breakout season from the gifted New Orleans redshirt sophomore was delayed a year, and the Dawgs need a big comeback year from the lanky 6-foot-10 forward to have any hope of improvement.

Size On The Wing. In typical UW fashion, Washington's wings check in at an average height of nearly 6-foot-6. They may need every inch, depending on how the front court rotation shakes out. There were too many moments when Anderson had to play the four; you hope that scenario doesn't play out again in 2014.

A Weaker Pac-12. As was stated earlier, the Pac-12 will likely lose 15 of its 20 All-Conference players to graduation or NBA early entry. While that's bad news for the conference from a national perspective, it can only help a young team like the Huskies, a group that returns all but two players.

A Legitimate 7-Footer. If Upshaw earns his way onto the roster next season, the Huskies will boast a true 7-foot scoring option and defensive presence. In light of the fact that Pac-12 front courts are about to be gutted through attrition, Upshaw could give the Huskies a big edge, especially once conference play begins.
Here's Three Things To Fear:
The Lack Of A Go-To Guy. The Huskies haven't had a true go-to player on the roster since Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten. What happens if Williams-Goss isn't that guy? He's proven he can shoulder the load at times, but it's hard to envision the sophomore-to-be being everything to everybody. Can he be a provider in the mold of Brandon Roy? That's a lot to put on Nigel's shoulders.

Andrews was a bust in that role this season, and there's no obvious player that fits the leadership mold in the front court. They have guys that have shown they can fill it up, but can they do it every time - and especially at the crucial moments? It's hard to see that question being answered definitively next year.

The Front Court Without Upshaw. This is probably the scariest scenario facing UW next season. Without the 7-footer, the Dawgs' front court could be even less productive than it was this season, which isn't saying very much. Small lineups have served UW well in the past, but only when the Huskies have featured a versatile go-to scorer on the wing - a player they don't currently have.

The Back Court Doesn't Take A Big Step Forward. While the Huskies look solid in the backcourt on paper, that notion is entirely predicated on the unit as a whole taking a significant leap forward. What happens if they don't? There's no reason to think Williams-Goss and Andrews won't get theirs, but they need a big jump in productivity from Anderson and Johnson, plus solid contributions from either Winters or Dorsey. Being a junior college transfer, Winters was recruited to score now. No matter how you shake it, Wilcox's 19 points per game are going to have to be replaced by someone, or more realistically, several someones.
Sizing up Washington's chances next season means factoring an awful lot of 'ifs' and 'buts' that have yet to be determined. If things roll their way, guys stay healthy, and Upshaw earns his place on the roster, the Huskies should be right back in the thick of the conference title race. There's also a reasonable chance UW adds another player or two before the fall. The fifth year transfer market has turned into college basketball's version of free agency, and could yield a surprise.

No Upshaw and an injury or two could just as easily spin them off course and back into the current doldrums they've endured the previous three seasons.

The Pac-12, from the college basketball world view, has evolved dramatically over the last decade, and no team has risen further than the Huskies during that span. That said, the team's recent struggles have fans understandingly questioning the program's future. There's no easy answer right now, at least in the short term. Until we get further clarity regarding next season's roster, it's tough to predict where the Dawgs fall in the Pac-12 hierarchy.

Regardless of how many players they lose to the draft, Arizona - with their extraordinary depth and top-5 incoming recruiting class - will still be the heavy pre-season favorite. No shock there. Colorado will be in the conversation as well, but beyond those two programs the conference race is wide open and there for the taking.

Washington is down, but not out. Looking further down the road, the 2015 recruiting class is off to a fantastic start with commitments from explosive blue chip forward Marquese Chriss from Northern California and Rainier Beach standout guard David Crisp. A pledge from Crisp's teammate Dejounte Murray or coveted California forward Bennie Boatwright - or better yet, both - would give the Huskies their best recruiting class since 2008.

There's plenty of help in the funnel closer to home for a change. After a five-year drought, the Northwest will be back on the recruiting map. Quality classes are already bursting with high major talent starting in 2015 and extending at least into 2017.

Beach's Bits: A Look Ahead, Part 1


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