Despite an epic off-season that culminated in the greatest recruiting haul in program history, Pac-12 pollsters failed to get the momentum-memo.
Sadly, they are probably right.
With the exception of senior captain Andrew Andrews and sophomores Donaven Dorsey and Dan Kingma, everyone is new. Washington is going to be very, very young. But they're also the conference's biggest mystery, and there are more than a few reasons why Husky fans shouldn't lose hope despite the disappointing pre-season ranking.
The team will be built around Andrews of course, who will set the tone on both ends of the floor. He's the team's best defender and scorer, and he'll play as many minutes as his legs allow. After that, the roster is a complete unknown.
"We have some fun pieces in place to coach," Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar told the media a few weeks back. "And probably the most exciting thing to me is we now have the personnel to go back to playing the way we want to play. And then everything else takes care of itself. But we know we can go out on that floor and play Husky basketball the way we intended to play. And we’ve talked about all this, I guess, you put it all together the challenge is getting all the new players on the same page. And how quickly we can do that. But that is the most exciting thing to me going into this season. Having the personnel to go out and play Husky basketball the way it’s supposed to be played."
There's no doubt this is a talented group of players, every bit as talented as the standout, top 10-ranked recruiting classes at Arizona and Cal, but for different reasons. This isn't a class like Cal's, which landed two lottery picks in a rotation that already included standouts Jordan Matthews, Tyrone Wallace and Jabari Bird. Nor is this a class like Arizona's - one that includes two all-conference caliber fifth-year transfers and three five-star wings.
Coach Romar recruited a program foundation, getting back to basics to build the roster - prioritizing athleticism, length, energy and defensive upside. What emerged was a potentially explosive lineup built on Lorenzo Romar's core principles: A team built to run and defend.
"We have more athleticism and we will be able to pressure a little bit more," said Romar. "We have more guys that can make plays. That will allow us to do what we have done for the majority of our time here at the University of Washington and that is play up-tempo. It seems like we haven’t done it in a couple of years, so its like we’ve never done it before but that is how we play: up-tempo. We just haven’t been able to do it the last couple of years."
While this may be the newest collection of players Romar has ever coached, this isn't his first rodeo with a bunch of youngsters. He spoke about some of the biggest challenges of coaching up a squad of newcomers.
"Learning how to pull things out in the end," Romar said, talking about the challenges he faced with previous young teams. "Learning what it takes. There were many times that we played well enough to win the game but didn’t. When it came down to it we weren’t quite able to close the deal. We were just not quite sure how to do that, not quite sure how to do that on the road at times. So that is something we will spend quite a bit of time on in the preseason, trying to put our guys in those situations the best that we can so that they are comfortable when we are in those positions again, which we will be."
In terms of historical context, two teams during the Lorenzo Romar era stand out. One is Romar's first, a young team built similarly to this one, with a smallish front court and several talented newcomers, including a couple of future NBA stars in freshmen Nate Robinson and Brandon Roy. Though that core group of players would eventually catapult the program into national relevance, that particular team finished just 3-15 in Pac-10 play.
The second team was played in 2006, a team coming off consecutive Sweet Sixteens and gutted by graduation and NBA defections. It featured talented sophomores Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon, who were suddenly thrust into starring roles, and a recruiting class ranked in the top-10 nationally. It included Spencer Hawes and Quincy Pondexter, plus Phil Nelson and Adrian Oliver. Though they sprinted out to a hot start, their youth was exposed in conference play where they finished with an 8-10 record in Pac-10 play. That was good enough for seventh place.
Hence the 2015 conference pre-season poll results. History just isn't on the Huskies' side.