Is pre-season middle of the pack in the Pac-12 ok? Flying under the radar acceptable? Despite the success of the program over the years, the Husky basketball team is picked by many of the pre-season pundits to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack. The typical questions like, “Who will replace the scoring that was lost?” and a “light” recruiting class, have placed the Huskies squarely under the radar, at least as far as national talk goes. But is under the radar such a bad place to be? No, if a few key things fall into place.
Pre-season predictions are just that; pre-season. A lot of the pre-season hype is based recruiting classes, which sometimes don’t pan out. By the time pre-season predictions come out, teams haven’t even began practices. Further, you have to wonder how much the national media pays attention to the Pac-12, given the perception of the conference being “down” over the last few years. Finally, one thing pre-season predictions don’t take into consideration, and really can’t, is team chemistry. Talent is one thing, but the last I checked, basketball is still a team sport, and teams win championships.
There was talk, particularly at the end of the year when fan frustrations were at their peak, that the Huskies didn’t have the chemistry necessary to succeed. With no insider information at my disposal to either confirm or deny that assertion, I’d have to agree; not chemistry internally, perhaps, but on the court. This was exacerbated, no doubt, by the teams’ immaturity, but regardless, they failed to win the games they needed to. For the majority of the team, with another year under their belt, expect on-the-court chemistry to improve and roles to be, perhaps, more defined. All in all, an improved team identity.
It goes without saying – defense, in the Romar system, leads to easy offense. Last year’s team was too slow to the ball, missed key assignments and just generally broke down at key defensive moments, leaving the average fan scratching their head, as teams with lesser talent were able to find the “easy” shot. For the Huskies to exceed the rather blase expectations set by the media, they cannot rely on offense alone. Aziz N’Diaye will be the anchor down low that we’ve come to expect, but the Huskies will need an improved defensive effort on the perimeter to shut opponents down and win the close games.
Distributing the Ball
Eyes will be on Abdul Gaddy, returning for his senior campaign, sharing duties as a team captain and deservedly so. Look for Gaddy to be more ball-dominant as the team’s floor general. If forwards Desmond Simmons, Martin Breunig and Jernard Jarreau demonstrate the ability to knock down the open shot, they could contribute to a compelling offensive set of pick and roll / pick and pop ball. We know he can distribute, but Gaddy’s also shown a knack for getting to the rim during the summer league season, which will bode well both for him and for shooters on the perimeter.
The Pac-12 will be much more competitive this year. Can the Huskies exceed pre-season expectations? Yes, if they can locate early that elusive team cohesion, adopt a defense-first mentality and develop an offense that shares the ball. Don’t be surprised if the Husky bite takes a chunk out of the middle of Pac-12, and contends for another title.