AIA Basketball Classic Preview

The 13th-ranked Washington Men's Basketball team plays host to the Athletes in Action Basketball Classic this weekend to open the 2009-2010 season. As opponents go, Wright State, Belmont and Portland State seem like unlikely upset candidates against a nationally ranked, veteran Husky squad, but this is a dangerous weekend for Washington nonetheless.

Friday night's season opener against Wright State looms largest for the Dawgs this weekend. Hailing from the Horizon Conference, which also features recent mid major darlings Butler and Cleveland State, expectations are running high for the Raiders.

A senior dominated lineup, led by 6-foot-5 guard Todd Brown (11.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and junior Vaughn Duggins (13.8 ppg) are projected to finish second behind Butler this season.

The Raiders' strength is in their tall backcourt, behind the 6-foot-5 Brown and 6-foot-3 Duggins; both of whom are 40-percent shooters from 3-point range. WSU is missing point guard John David Gardner, who dished out 3.1 assists per game in 2008 and will turn to N'Gai Evans to run the point. Down low, Wright State lacks a significant scoring threat, with 6-foot-6 forward Corey Cooperwell and 6-foot-9 center Ronnie Thomas manning the post. Cooperwell averaged 9.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season and is their best scoring option down low. Forwards Cooper Land and Paul Darkwa back up the post.

Under normal circumstances this should be a comfortable win for the home team, but as the Huskies found out in their season-opening loss against Portland, anything can happen in the first game of the year. The Raiders will likely start four seniors and a fourth year junior in Vaughn, so they've done this before. The Huskies will rely on their pressure defense, transition game and dribble penetration to carry them through the first game jitters if their shots aren't falling. Expect UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar to stick with a short rotation until the games outcome is assured.

On Saturday the Huskies take on the Belmont Bruins, who are coming off four NCAA tournament appearances in the last five years. They have a tough task ahead of them this season. The Bruins return just one starter from last season's 20-13 squad and head coach Rick Byrd is faced with a rebuilding year.

Six-foot-9 senior forward Keaton Belcher is the team captain and averaged 7.1 points and 3 rebounds a game last season. Junior Jon House, the Bruins' leading returning scorer at 8.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, is also the team's lone returning starter. Six-foot-9 sophomore Mick Hedgepath rounds out the starting front court. Six-foot-10 Scott Saunders, a transfer from Rice, and 6-foot-11 senior Mike Dejworek add depth off the bench.

Sophomore Drew Hanlen and junior Jordan Campbell draw the unenviable task of guarding Washington's high-powered backcourt. Neither player has played much, though the 6-foot-5 Campbell averaged 3.5 points and 4 rebounds a game last season. Three-point specialist Jonny Rice will provide firepower from outside. Beyond that, several freshman will vie for what promises to be an challenging night for Coach Byrd.

The Bruins have a sizable height advantage over the Huskies. They'll likely try to slow the pace of the game to limit Washington's speed. Expect the Huskies to play pin ball inside the key as they counter the Bruins' size advantage with their quickness and penchant for collecting fouls. This will be a good opportunity for coach Romar to experiment with different lineups in an attempt to counter teams with more size than the Huskies, but also expect Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Darnell Gant and Tyreese Breshers to log plenty of minutes.

Finally, Portland State returns to play the Huskies on Sunday at Bank of America Arena after consecutive NCAA appearances under Ken Bone, now head coach at Washington State. Tyler Geving, who spent the last four years under Bone at PSU, is now the Vikings' new head coach.

The Vikings are led by Dominic Waters (11.4 ppg) and former Husky Phil Nelson (10.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and they like to shoot it from three. The Huskies will have their hands full defending PSU when they start their 3-point barrage.

Portland State is woefully short, though they do return 6-foot-7 all-conference forward Jamie Jones who averaged 9.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in the post. After that the Vikings will turn to 6-foot-8 freshman forward Phillip Thomas and 6-foot-5 senior Julius Thomas for back-up minutes, with Nelson spending plenty of time at forward.

Expect Washington to exploit their size advantage underneath, while utilizing Gant and Bryan-Amaning's ability to defend the PSU shooters on the perimeter.


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