SAN FRANCISCO – Nahziah Carter has no doubt the Huskies can repeat as Pac-12 champions and believes Washington reloaded with enough high-end talent to surpass last season’s team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“If we all buy in and if we’re unselfish, we definitely have a chance at being better,” the UW junior guard said. “Our length is ridiculous, which gives us an opportunity to grab more rebounds. We struggled with that last year.”
Head coach Mike Hopkins playfully likened the Huskies to a basketball version of the Avengers due in large part to a cadre of freakishly athletic, long-limbed big men.
“We have a lot of superheroes,” he said. “We’d be a good Marvel comic.”
It remains to be seen what kind of team Hopkins has on Montlake, but early projections tab the Huskies as a Pac-12 title favorite again.
For the second straight year, Washington was picked third in the Pac-12 preseason media poll while garnering six first-place votes from a 27-member panel.
Preseason favorite Oregon and runner-up Colorado each received nine first-place votes, but the Ducks edged Colorado 291-288 in points.
Arizona, USC and Arizona State rounded out the top half of the poll. The bottom half of the poll (in order): Oregon State, UCLA Utah, Stanford, Washington State and California.
“It’s nice (getting picked third), but honestly, I don’t really care where they pick us because it’s just a prediction,” said Carter, who was one of four Huskies to receive Pac-12 preseason all-conference honors. “It’s a guess, which is as good as yours or mine.
“I’m pretty sure nobody picked us first last year and we did.”
Even though Washington lost four starters from a veteran-laden 27-9 team, the Huskies remain in title contention thanks to the addition of freshman forwards Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels as well as Kentucky transfer guard Quade Green, who becomes eligible Dec. 17.
Stewart and McDaniels were selected preseason All-Pac-12 first team, which included 10 players, while Carter and Green garnered honorable mention.
“Lots of new pieces for sure and any time you have so many new guys that you have to rely on, then it’s like you’re starting from Day 1,” Hopkins said. “Thankfully, we had a chance to get most of our guys some work together in Italy so that helps.
“But we’re still learning about each other.”
Washington experimented with a man-to-man defense during four lopsided victories in Italian exhibitions in August. The Huskies, however, won’t stray too far from their trademark 2-3 zone defense that allowed just 64.8 points and was ranked 18th nationally in KenPom adjusted defense last season.
“We feel like the man-to-man, how we’re trying to play it, could actually be a great off-speed pitch for us,” Hopkins said. “I think we know what our brand is and how we play, but man-to-man is something that I think we can do and do it really effective this year.”
The Huskies have tinkered with lineups during their seven practices and will have 23 more to settle on starters before their Oct. 31 exhibition against Western Washington at Alaska Airlines Arena.
UW opens the regular season Nov. 8 against Baylor in Anchorage, Alaska.
The first unit will likely include Carter, Stewart, McDaniels and sophomore guard Jamal Bey while sophomore Elijah Hardy and freshman Marcus Tsohonis will direct the offense until Green can play.
“On paper, we have a chance to be better, but there’s so much work to be done,” Hopkins said. “Chemistry is huge. And learning the defense is huge.
“We have these young guys who are really talented. Quade has been a proven guy at a different school. He averaged nine (points) and five (assists) in a major conference, so we know we can expect that. But you still got to coach them and they still got to play for something greater than yourself. The guys that left really bought into that and did it and had a lot of success.”
Hopkins is toying with the idea of expanding the rotation from eight players to 10.
The Huskies are trying to find minutes for a loaded front line that includes Stewart, McDaniels, Hameir Wright, Sam Timmins, Nate Roberts and Bryan Penn-Johnson.
“We’ve got a lot of length, we’ve got a lot of athleticism and we’ve got a lot of depth,” Hopkins said. “Now it’s putting it together. Some guys might have different roles. There’s a lot of growth there, and so we’re going to have some growing pains, I’m sure.”
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