Six Key Questions For UW Hoops

With the start of the 2014-2015 college basketball season scant weeks away, the Huskies face off against St. Martin’s in their only exhibition test Thursday night. The game can be seen on the Pac-12 Networks. Here are six key questions facing the team this season.

More productivity from the front court? - One of the most exciting and potentially explosive elements with this years’ team is the size and athleticism of the front court. In stark contrast to last season when 6-foot-8 Perris Blackwell and 6-foot-4 Mike Anderson formed the smallest front court of Lorenzo Romar’s tenure at Washington, these Huskies boast some big bodies. As a unit, the potential in this year's front court is tantalizing. Six-foot-nine forward Shawn Kemp Jr. is the lone holdover from last season’s rotation, and even he is an entirely different player than a year ago, packing on muscle after a bout with Graves disease sapped him on his strength. Both 6-foot-11 Center Robert Upshaw and 6-foot-10 forward Jernard Jarreau are two of the team's biggest mysteries. Jarreau packed on 25 pounds of muscle while recovering from an ACL tear. His combination of size and backcourt skill make him a unique college player, and the extra muscle has helped him extend his quality mid-range jumper to out beyond the three point arc. Upshaw is a menacing, high energy center who tries to flush every ball he touches. Those three players form what should be the biggest, most athletic front court in the program's history, with legitimate, game-changing, East Coast style size for the first time in Romar’s UW career.

How is the chemistry between Nigel and Andrew? - While the front court holds considerable promise, the only certainty heading into the season is in the backcourt. Nigel Williams-Goss was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year runner-up last season, while Andrew Andrews roared to life during the Huskies' last six regular season games, averaging over 19 points a game. They need to play better together, though. With C.J. Wilcox gone, the duo becomes the team's rudder, not just from a point guard perspective, but from a leadership standpoint as well. As co-captains, they’ll direct the offense and shoulder a sizable portion of the scoring load. They’ll set the tone on the defensive end as well. No matter how well the front court plays, Williams-Goss and Andrews must be in sync for Washington to make an NCAA Tournament run. For Andrews, that means playing unselfishly, making good decisions, and improving his three point shooting while pushing the tempo at a breakneck pace. For Williams-Goss, it’s a matter of focus, especially on the defensive end. Last season, their primary goal was to find scoring opportunities for Wilcox on the wing. This season, they need to do it for each other.

Will there be enough production from the wings? - The Huskies know full well it’s going to take a group effort to replace Wilcox’s prodigious shooting. That task falls primarily to senior Mike Anderson, sophomore Darin Johnson, and junior JC transfer Quevyn Winters. The consummate team player, Anderson played out of position as a forward for most of last season and returns to his native home on the wing. His play should blossom as a result. Johnson is a rugged slasher and above the rim finisher who should thrive as the Huskies increase the tempo to a more traditional UW pace. Six-foot-four shooter Quevyn Winters gives the Huskies a needed jump-shooting threat from the perimeter. Though backcourt minutes will likely be scarce, freshman Donaven Dorsey is an intriguing addition to the roster. The athletic 6-foot-7 wing handles the ball like a point guard and has developed a promising three point stroke. He could find a role, particularly in four guard sets. Major maturation from this group of players will be critical to the Huskies success this season.

Improved energy on defense? - Everyone knows Washington has struggled on defense in recent years. Last season, several factors contributed to those struggles, not the least of which was a lack of healthy bodies. This season, a deeper roster should alleviate some of those challenges, but not everything is so easy to fix. Blackwell was dealt a tough hand, forced to clog a porous perimeter defense that was constantly under assault, especially early last season. Throwing Upshaw and Jarreau into the mix up should discourage opponents from attacking the paint so frequently, and their presence totally changes the team’s defensive complexion. At 6-foot-11, Upshaw is an athletic, energetic shot-blocking rim defender. Jarreau has packed on 25 pounds to his muscular 7-foot-7 wingspan. Kemp, who has struggled defensively, has transformed his body and is said to be the team's strongest player. The lineup is tall and relatively athletic. If the bigs can give opposing guards something to think about, Washington’s perimeter defenders should be able to pressure the ball and overplay passing lanes as they have in the past - a tactic the coaching staff was forced to abandon early last season.

A return to up-tempo? - During Washington's Media Day last month, players and coaches reiterated their plan to get back to their running ways. We’ve heard that before, though. It seems like the past couple of seasons there’s been a pre-season push to pick up the pace back to historical norms, before the reality of personnel limitations and roster depth challenges sets in. This season, the Huskies appear better equipped to supply more than lip service in that regard. It starts in the backcourt, where Andrews and Williams-Goss will set the tone. Andrews is a blur in the open court, and Williams-Goss is no slouch in that department either, but transition basketball requires strong finishers. The Huskies have been woefully underpowered in that department of late. The athletic upgrade in the front court, along with improvements from Johnson and Anderson, should dramatically improve their capabilities in transition.

What are the roles for Jahmel Taylor, Gilles Dierickx and Donaven Dorsey? - Both Taylor and Dierickx struggled in limited minutes last season. Unfortunately, as it stands today, it’s going to be a tough rotation to crack. Entering his third year with the program, Dierickx has the size to play at the Pac-12 level, but his instincts and execution haven’t been up to snuff. The post rotation of Kemp, Jarreau and Upshaw is all but set, but at the rate injuries have piled up recently, they may need him. Taylor is regarded as one of, if not the best, three-point shooters on the team. But between Williams-Goss and Andrews, point guard minutes are going to be tough to come by, which means he’s going to have to shoot his way into the two-guard spot where the competition will be fierce. Despite his stellar jumper, he’s undersized and lacks high level athleticism, which may ultimately prove too big a barrier to overcome this season. Thanks to his size and versatility, Dorsey could find himself playing any of four positions long term at Washington. But for now, his best shot at playing may come in four guard lineups with Upshaw anchoring the paint where he’d add a tall, ball handling shooter to the mix while defending smaller front court players. How quickly he catches on defensively and his consistency beyond the three point line should be the two biggest factors that determine his current fate in the rotation.


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