New Washington basketball head coach Mike Hopkins will open his career at UW with a home opener against Belmont on Friday night.
About nine months ago, the Washington athletic department decided to take a new road. In hiring former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins, UW set sail for a full rebuild, focused on a new program culture and identity.
The regular season has arrived, and Hopkins and his coaching staff regularly emphasize the importance of day-to-day improvement for their young players. Although the rebuilding efforts are in full effect, Washington still has a regular season to play beginning this week.
Belmont is an underrated mid-major
Belmont has a history of NCAA tournament appearances, most recently as a 15 seed in 2015. The Bruins finished 23-7 a season ago and lost a single game in Ohio Valley Conference play. Belmont defeated Georgia in the NIT before bowing out to Georgia Tech in the second round.
The big determinant for Friday’s matchup is how well the Bruins will be able to shoot from deep. In exhibition play last week, Division II Saint Martin’s knocked down 18 threes against Washington’s 2-3 zone and full court press.
Smaller programs similar to Belmont are known for capable three point shooting guards, so Friday night is a major test for the Huskies’ defense.
Zone? Man-to-man? Press?
All the above. Hopkins proved in the exhibition game that he will go away from the 2-3 zone if it hurts Washington’s chances at getting a victory. He had the Huskies switch to man-to-man in an effort to slow the Saint Martin’s shooting attack, and it worked.
The zone will continue to be the first option for the UW defense, especially with the length the Huskies possess at guard. Junior guard Matisse Thybulle finished last season with 65 steals–good for third-most single season steals in program history. He has the ability to disrupt passing lanes and has a proven knack for finishing the fast break.
An exciting new addition to the UW backcourt is freshman guard Jaylen Nowell. The local product is a natural scorer (finishing with 14 points against Saint Martin’s), but more surprising is his defensive prowess. His energy and vision fits Hopkins’ zone look perfectly.
Don’t expect any of these early UW games to be pretty. The Huskies should win a few games during this rebuilding year, but it won’t always be easy.
Washington should come away with a narrow, high scoring victory on Friday night. Belmont is a solid team, but the losses of multiple seniors limits the leadership and could allow UW to come make some big plays late in the game.
Washington and Belmont tip off at 7 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks Friday, then stay at home to face Eastern Washington on Sunday.