After the past two games there is little doubt that the 4-0 start, including 3 road wins, was more fluke than fact. The Huskies showed none of the promise that many fans believed existed following an unexpected start to conference play. The Huskies have looked much more similar to the uninspiring team that took the court in the non-conference during their back-to-back losses to teams that were winless in Pac-12 play. Heck, not only were those teams winless, but they completely DOMINATED the Huskies who were a half game removed from first place that is held by the team they face in Saturday’s match-up in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks are on fire and are trending in the complete opposite direction of the Huskies who have faltered again and again. The WSU Cougars gave the Ducks a run for their money only to choke in the final minutes to see a tie turn into a near double-digit defeat.
Following a tough triple overtime loss to UTEP, the Ducks have gone on a tear winning 8 straight, including a narrow victory at home over then #4 Arizona. The Ducks’ only other loss was at the hands of Cincinnati, a squad ranked 22nd in the nation. What is it that has made the Ducks so good this season? Senior leadership, hard-nosed rebounding, excellent ball distribution, a solid bench, and a high pace transition offense. Of those things, the Dawgs can really only count themselves as competitive in the rebounding department due to the dominance of Aziz N’Diaye and Desmond Simmons who account for nearly half of the Huskies nightly quota. The Ducks on the other hand receive a solid 9.5 boards a night from 6-7 226lb Arsalan Kazemi, a senior transfer from Rice University. Outside of Kazemi, the next highest rebounding average is 5.0 a night. The Ducks rebound by committee and the effort pays off as a single player subbing out does not destroy their ability to crash the glass.
The Ducks also post 5 players between 10.2 and 11.8 points per night during their 25 or so minutes a game. The fact that so many players show the ability to explode on any given night makes for near impossible defensive planning and as such the Huskies cannot attempted to bottleneck anyone player, else they risk a second to drop 20+ on us. While E.J. Singler is only third on the team in scoring average, he is the team leader in free throws made, free throw percentage, and 3-point percentage (excluding reserve players with only a handful of attempts). He is a dangerous player that, despite having broken the 20 point barrier just once this season, is always on the cusp of having a career night. As a senior he has all the necessary talent and skills to take a team apart. During the 3 meetings last season, Singler put up scores of 20, 13, and 19. Somewhat interesting is that in the games Singler scored the most against the Dawgs were the games they lost. Perhaps the key to the game for the Huskies is to let Singler hog the ball a bit.
Damyean Dotson has exploded onto the scene his freshman season averaging a team high 11.8 points along with a solid 4.1 rebounds per game. As with Tony Wroten, Dotson’s large 6-5 202lb frame makes for a tough match-up against most Division 1 guards and I expect the Ducks to take advantage of the size differential to force fouls in the frontcourt when our big men have to prove help defense, something they often due too slow to avoid contact. Dotson is currently 47% from the field and is 80% at the line with 24 makes on 30 attempts.
Maybe the past two games have soured me and perhaps it is inappropriate to judge this team so harshly, yet it seems strange that this squad can go from a monstrous beating of Cal on the road to a near double digit loss to Utah at home. To me this screams a lack of leadership and it is evident this squad lacks a player like Isaiah Thomas to command the troops. Glance over the Husky roster and see if you can pick out a guy to carry the team on his back. It’s an unfortunate fact that is perhaps to late in the season to correct.
I have a small glimmer of hope left that this team can squeak in a tournament bid, yet to do so will require Herculean wins over Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA both at home and at least 1 of the 3 on the road. The Dawgs’ RPI took a major hit after losing to Utah at home, a hit coming just a short time after an impressive uptick following the 3 road victories in conference. The fact remains that the thick of the conference schedule is upon the Dawgs now and its do-or-die time. The Huskies have yet to win on Matthew Knight Court and I just don’t see this weekend’s game going any better than the past two given the previous week’s lackluster performances. A win over #16 Oregon would do wonders for our tournament resume as the Ducks are most definitely the team to beat in the Pac-12. As impressive as UCLA has been over the past 10 games, Oregon has show considerably more resolve and fight power than the Bruins at this point.
The Dawgs can make their case in the coming weeks as to which team is truly the Huskies of 2012-2013, but it all starts Saturday with Oregon. A win would perhaps shore up some of the concerns myself and other Husky fans have expressed. A loss, while not surprising, would likely compound the issues already at hand. Anything can happen, this is college basketball after all.