The Arizona Wildcats take their season-long road struggles to the Pacific Northwest this weekend, starting with the Washington Huskies on Thursday night.
Washington (12-9, 2-6) is the defending Pac-12 regular season champion but the Huskies have had a rough go of it this year, tied for last place after losing three in a row and five of their last six. To help us understand what’s going on at UW this season, we reached out to Andrew Berg of our SB Nation sister site UW Dawg Pound to get more insight.
Below are his well-phrased answers to our poorly worded questions:
Losing Quade Green in early January appears to have had a major effect on the Huskies. Where is his absence most felt and what’s being done to deal with this?
“While Green isn’t as heralded as Jaden McDaniels, he had emerged as the second most-consistent offensive player—after Isaiah Stewart—prior to losing academic eligibility. He was easily the best three-point shooter on a team that desperately needs to space the court around Stewart. Freshmen Marcus Tsohonis and RaeQuan Battle have helped in that regard, but not to the degree that Green did. He was also the only pure point guard on the roster and the lack of his play-making shows up in the form of offensive stagnation and ugly turnovers.”
Sean Miller’s Arizona teams have been notoriously susceptible to zone. How has that defense been for UW this season?
“Arizona fans might be surprised that this year’s version of the UW defense looks a bit different than it has the last two years. First, the team will switch into man-to-man at times, which was never the case in the first two years under Mike Hopkins. The other difference is that the two wide defenders on the baseline have been pushing much further up toward the perimeter. Teams have found success by getting the ball into the high post and playing high-low with two big men pressuring the center. Without Matisse Thybulle deflecting every entry pass, that strategy is at least possible. Even if the defense is slightly more vulnerable than last year, it’s still a good unit and not the reason the Dawgs have struggled lately.”
Arizona isn’t the only team in the Pac-12 this season that’s been heavily dependent on multiple freshman starters. What makes Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart so important to Washington?
“Stewart is a special player. He’s 6-foot-9 with a 7-4 wingspan and the physical build of a true NBA center. For his size, he has tremendous hands (both in terms of receiving passes and finishing at the rim) and footwork. The only thing I’d like to see him do better at a collegiate level is pass quickly out of double teams to get open looks. He isn’t a shooter with meaningful range yet, so that might limit his NBA upside, but he should at least have an NBA career akin to Al Jefferson.
“McDaniels is a very different sort of player. He can do some incredibly difficult things on the basketball court. The next step will be convincing him to choose to do the easy things instead. McDaniels needs to develop better on-court instincts to go with his physical talents. For every wild chase-down block there are too many blown defensive assignments on needless gambles. For every two-step drive to the basket, there are too many offensive fouls or high dribbles deflected by defenders. Altogether, McDaniels is a wildly talented basketball player, but not yet an efficient one, and that difference has a lot to do with UW’s struggles this year.”
The Wildcats are winless on the road this season and haven’t won in Seattle since 2017. What kind of an atmosphere should they expect at Alaska Airlines/Hec Ed?
“We’ve reached the point where it’s fair to wonder about fan enthusiasm for this season’s Huskies. HecEd was reasonably full and loud for the last two home games against Oregon State and Oregon, but the Dawgs have lost three in a row since then. After blowing big second-half leads against Stanford, Oregon, and Utah and seeing tourney hopes evaporate, the fans might not be as fired up for the last six weeks of the regular season. Keep in mind that this fan base is the same one that just scuffled through a frustrating football season with surprise losses to Cal, Stanford and Colorado. Husky fans are a little down at the moment.”
Cats or Dogs, who ya got? And by how much?
“There’s enough talent on this Husky team to beat anyone in the Pac-12. There’s even enough talent to beat pretty much any team in the country—they did give No. 1 Baylor their only loss and very nearly beat No. 2 Gonzaga. On the other hand, the team is sorely lacking in perimeter offensive options since neither Nahziah Carter nor Jamal Bey have broken through as hoped. Until the post-Green offense starts clicking, it’s going to be hard for me to pick UW to beat a team as talented at the Wildcats. I’ll say Arizona 71, Washington 64.