SEATTLE – First, some positive news for a Washington men’s basketball team that sorely needs some holiday cheer and good tidings.
The Pac-12 retroactively adjusted its game-cancellation policy for teams unable to play due to COVID-19.
Initially, the conference forced the Huskies to forfeit their Dec. 5 game against UCLA because of an COVID outbreak among the Huskies.
That game will be rescheduled for a mutually agreeable date or declared a no-contest.
And now, here are some sobering, Grinch-like predictions for Washington (5-5), which begins Pac-12 play Wednesday at Washington State.
KenPom.com predicts UW will lose the next 18 games and finish the regular season at 6-23 overall and 1-18 Pac-12.
Meanwhile, WarrenNolan.com has slightly merrier forecast for Washington and calculates an 8-22 overall record and 3-17 Pac-12 finish.
Coach Mike Hopkins admitted the Huskies, who fell to 227th out of 358 teams in the NET rankings, have dealt with several challenges on and off the court, including a two-week suspension of team activities that put several players and assistants in COVID protocols.
“They are a resilient group,” Hopkins said. “It’s not easy. The last two years have been really hard, not just basketball wise but just life. We got great kids. And they care. Seeing this thing and to go through it, not just here, but the rest of the country – it’s pretty delicate.
“And for a lot of these guys it’s on their mind. We just try to teach them how to focus. In life there’s a lot to be grateful for. We’re healthy. We get an opportunity to play basketball and represent something bigger than ourselves. It’s not easy for sure, but you learn. It’s a life lesson.”
Here are three Huskies observations following their nonconference games.
Time to shake things up
Washington started the same lineup for nine games before Tuesday’s loss to Utah Valley State, after guard Jamal Bey entered COVID protocols and was replaced by Cole Bajema.
The Huskies have trailed at halftime in seven games, and after Tuesday’s game Hopkins hinted at tinkering with the lineup.
“We’re going to have to evaluate,” he said. “The bottom line is we just got to have more of an energy boost. It’s got to be more of a pop. We’ve had one game this year – South Dakota State – where we came out really good at the beginning of the game. A lot of these other games we’ve gotten behind. We just haven’t played with a pop that we need to.”
UW’s most productive nonstarter is guard P.J. Fuller, who is third on the team in scoring (9.9 points per game) and shooting 41.8% on field goals.
When asked if Fuller might replace Daejon Davis (8.3 ppg and 31.3% FG) or Bey (9.1 and 33.3% FG), Hopkins said: “That could be a solution. It’s always also good to have energy when you make a sub that you actually get better.”
Freshman forward Jackson Grant could also replace senior forward Nate Roberts. In limited minutes, Grant appears to be a more efficient low-post scoring option than Roberts who has tallied five or more points in just two games.
Terrell Brown Jr. needs help
After Tuesday’s 23-point performance, Terrell Brown Jr. ranked fourth nationally among Division I players in scoring (21.4 points per game).
The senior guard, who transferred from Arizona, has been one of the few bright spots on a UW offense that ranks last in the Pac-12 in assists (9.0) and field-goal shooting percentage (39.0), 3-point shooting percentage (28.5), 10th in free-throw shooting (65.8%) and ninth in scoring (69.7).
Brown has scored at least 20 points in six games, but it remains to be seen if he’ll continue to deliver when Washington faces stiffer competition.
Invariably, UW opponents will make it a priority to slow Brown, who shoots 46.5% from the field, with one or two defenders while forcing other Huskies to score.
At the moment, senior forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. is UW’s second offensive option. He averages 10.9 points and has scored a season-high 21. He’s an explosive scorer who thrives in transition, but he’s shooting 67.6% at the line and 25% from behind the 3-point arc.
Developing a low-post scoring threat and reliable three-point shooters after 10 games are seemingly impossible tasks for Hopkins, whose offense has not ranked higher than seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring the past four years.
Still, Hopkins has to coax more out of a lethargic offense, even if it means compromising a ball-hawking defense that leads the Pac-12 with 17.9 turnovers per game.
Hop’s hot seat is getting hotter
This was always a make-or-break season for Hopkins, who resurrected a downtrodden Husky program and won Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors in 2018 and ’19.
During his first two years, UW was 48-22.
Washington is 25-43 during the past three seasons, including a disastrous 5-21 last season.
UW athletic director Jen Cohen gave Hopkins a chance to turn things around, which resulted in eight players leaving, including six transfers, and seven newcomers.
The results have been mixed, which is not surprising for a team that’s hovering at .500.
But if KenPom.com is correct and the Huskies endure a prolonged losing streak, then Hopkins isn’t likely to return next season even though he’s owed $9.3 million for a contract runs through the 2024-25 season.
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