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Washington men’s basketball expert previews the Arizona game, makes a score prediction

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-washington-huskies-prewview-interview-terrell-brown-mike-hopkins Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats are welcoming December by jumping right into Pac-12 play, hosting the Washington Huskies on Thursday night at McKale Center.

Washington (4-4) is coming off a 5-21 season in 2020-21, going 4-16 in conference games, and coach Mike Hopkins is in fifth season and only three years removed from winning the Pac-12 regular season title.

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Washington has the worst odds of any Pac-12 team to win the league, at +20000. Arizona (6-0) is second-best at +300.

To better understand the Huskies, we reached out to Thomas Adamski of SB Nation sister site UW Dawg Pound. Here are his fascinating answers to our uninteresting questions.

AZ Desert Swarm: It’s been a rough start to the 2021-22 season for Washington, sitting at 4-4 with three home losses. What are some of the reasons for these results, and do you think they’re fixable?

Thomas Adamski: “Coming off a 5-21 season and a lot of new faces, we expected some bumps along the road but can’t help but to be disappointed with a 4-4 record, especially with a forgiving early schedule. Losing to Northern Illinois in the opener could be chalked up to a team learning to play together early on but still an inexcusable loss. UW was also a Terrell Brown layup away from 5-3, which barely rimmed out at the end of regulation against Wyoming. Outside shooting and ball movement were big issues in the first four games, shooting well under 40 percent as a team and single-digit assists in each game.

“Things started to turn the corner in wins against George Mason and a hot-shooting South Dakota State team (5th-best win for the Pac-12 according to KenPom thus far) where UW saw more balanced shooting (over 50 percent in two wins) and sharing of the ball. However, losing to Nevada (neutral floor) and Winthrop (at home) these past two games has tempered any excitement as UW heads into a 3-game gauntlet against No. 11 Arizona, No. 6 UCLA and No. 3 Gonzaga.

“I do believe Washington will play better, we just might not see it these next three games in terms of wins. It’s a new team but a team that has four seniors in its rotation and plays with a lot of energy on defense. Offense has been much better lately but still goes through a few droughts and struggles with rebounding.”

It seems like Mike Hopkins has decided playing faster is better than the more methodical pace the Huskies had when he first arrived from Syracuse. And based on the average possession length on defense it looks like zone is no longer the primary scheme. Is this because of the type of players he has?

“Two things: 1) Mike Hopkins has adjusted the playing style and defensive schemes to match the athletes on the roster and 2) the type of teams we have played so far has impacted the type of defense UW plays. We are seeing a lot more man-to-man defense that switches, as well as a full-court press to help speed up the game and create turnovers. The 2-3 zone isn’t going away and we may see more of it in Pac-12 play but this is the most man we’ve seen under Hopkins. Daejon Davis, Terrell Brown, PJ Fuller, Jamal Bey and Emmitt Mathews are all good defenders that can cover a lot of positions. Mathews (6’7) for example, has played a lot of the 5 position when UW goes small. Not sure how that will work against bigger Pac-12 teams. In the four wins this year, the strength of the team has been getting steals/turnovers and turning those into points.

“In the last five games, UW has faced teams that primarily like to spread the floor and shoot the 3 with mainly one big man down low. The strategy seemed like UW was trying to take away the 3 and give up the post by going small with essentially five guards/wings on the floor. It has also helped UW create better offense, especially in the wins over George Mason and South Dakota State. UW played at a faster pace and did a really good job at taking away the three in all five games, keeping teams under their averages. The issue became the post where it seemed like every big man Washington faced had a career night. If UW continues the same strategy, Christian Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis will be licking their chops. I have a feeling UW will use more of their post players in these upcoming games but that has been the biggest weakness for UW so far (production in the post).”

One of those players is guard Terrell Brown Jr., who spent last season with the Wildcats and is thriving in Seattle. How has he looked so far?

“Terrell Brown has been exceptional so far, single -andedly keeping UW in a lot of these games early on. He’s getting a lot of shots up but not in a ball-hogging type of way. He’s taking good shots and has been very efficient so far, shooting 47 percent from the field, 78 per from the line (7 attempts per game) and with a 4:2 turnover ratio. He’s also been a great teammate and leader for the team who has a big chip on his shoulder. I don’t know if he ever leaves the gym. Hopkins also calls him “Mariano Rivera” after he helped close the first two games of the Crossover Classic in South Dakota, with big buckets and free throws at the end of games.

“He’s being used in a much different role this year compared to last year with Arizona. From watching him quite a bit while he was at Seattle University, he’s doing a lot of the same things he did at Seattle but you can tell how much he has improved since then. I’m sure his one year at Arizona really helped him improve his overall game and it’s showing this year at UW with the way he scores, distributes and plays hard on defense.

“Teams have started to double team Brown in the past two games and he has seven turnovers in those two games, compared to only having seven total turnovers in the previous six games. It will be interesting to see if Arizona and other Pac-12 Teams will try to double Brown as well or play him straight up.”

Brown is one of several transfers contributing so far this season. Of those other newcomers, which ones have stood out the most?

“For me it’s PJ Fuller, a junior transfer from TCU. Daejon Davis (Stanford) and Emmitt Mathews (West Virginia) came in with bigger expectations and have both had big games themselves, but Fuller has out-produced expectations quite a bit thus far and brings another level of energy and athleticism off the bench. In the two wins where UW has played their best basketball, Fuller was option 1B behind Brown late in the game and ended up with 14 and 21 points, respectively (off the bench). He’s shooting the ball well as of late but he might also be UW’s best defender. He’s averaging 1.5 steals per game and almost a block per game, including four Lebron James-like blocks from behind on fast breaks. Fuller can cover a lot of ground.

“The other part is that he’s a junior and has the ability to play a few more years so UW fans are excited to see how he develops. Fuller was also a local Seattle high school star, so it’s easy to root for him and has a strong connection with other local recruits.”

Washington is forcing 17.6 turnovers per game and quite a few are of the non-steal variety. What’s led to these numbers?

“The tempo referenced earlier has quite a bit to do with that. Specifically, the full-court press has caused teams to play faster than they want to and has resulted in a lot of passes that have gone into the stands as well as quite a few charges/offensive fouls drawn. However, where UW is at its best is when they can create steals that lead to transition baskets. In contrast, with the non-steal turnovers, teams have time to set up their defense and UW’s offense hasn’t been able to capitalize on those turnovers as much. Winthrop did a really good job of breaking the press and UW was not able to get many steals. When Winthrop did turn it over, they were able to get back on defense and UW only had 10 points off of 16 turnovers.

Prediction time: can Washington win at McKale Center for the third time in four years or will Arizona beat the Huskies for a fourth consecutive time? Give us a score prediction.

“UW played one of their best games last year against Arizona in the regular Season finale, losing on a Tubelis jumper with six seconds left. This Washington team is better and way more athletic than last year’s team but Arizona is playing really well and seems much farther ahead of Washington at the moment. Anything can happen in college basketball, and Tucson is a hard enough place to win even when both teams are strong. I think Washington will try to muck it up a bit and keep it competitive early on but the Huskies have been absolutely killed on the boards in most games and I see that being a big issue against Arizona on Thursday. If UW can create a lot of turnovers and do a decent job on the boards, there could be a chance of an upset but not ready to make that bold of a prediction just yet. Arizona 80, Washington 68.