The Washington Basketball team is back in the NIT after last playing in the tournament in 2016. The Huskies will enter their first round game against Boise State as a No.5 seed.
Pac-12 Coach of the Year Mike Hopkins will lead his 20-12 Washington basketball team into the ninth NIT appearance in Huskies’ history. In the first round, they will meet Boise State, a team that lost in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament for the third straight year. Like Washington, BSU had high hopes of an NCAA Tournament appearance, but in the conference quarterfinal, the No.2 seeded Broncos were upset by No.7 seed Utah State 78-75.
The Broncos, as a No.4 seed, would have hosted this Wednesday’s matchup at Taco Bell Arena. However, it is needed to host NCAA Tournament games this week, which makes Hec Ed the home court.
The two teams haven’t met since December 23, 1999, when Washington picked up a 72-57 victory in Seattle. They haven’t played against each other in the NIT since 1987.
The game, and the tournament at-large, will also introduce experimental rules changes. These changes include: using 10-minute quarters instead of 20-minute halves, resetting the shot clock to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound as opposed to the full 30 seconds, and extending the three-point line to the distance used by FIBA for international competition.
Boise State, with its 23-8 overall record and 13-5 Mountain West record, could easily be considered a March Madness snub. Expect the Broncos and their three senior starters, to come out hungry and attack the Huskies from as many angles as possible.
Here are some areas Washington must focus on to prevail over Boise State.
Stopping Chandler Hutchison
Senior forward and NBA prospect Chandler Hutchison does just about everything for his Boise State squad, leading the team in points (19.3 PPG), rebounds (7.5 RPG), and assists (3.5 APG). He won the Mountain West media Player of the Year award for his stellar senior season, and will leave Boise State as arguably the best player in school history.
An SI article from December called Hutchison “The NBA Draft’s Hidden Gem”, with his refined perimeter game and punishing manner around the rim. His 6’7″ frame reduces the amount of steps it takes him to get to the basket, and his improved ball-handling ability from his first two years at Boise State has made him a nightmare to stop at the college level. He also shoots 35.2 percent from three, making him an all-around threat offensively.
Washington will have to rely heavily on
, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, to contain Hutchison, who scored a career-high 44 points in a January game against San Diego State.
Defending the three ball
As the above tweet indicates, the Broncos are a sharpshooting bunch. Justinian Jessup was their leading three point shooter this season, making 89 threes and shooting 46.5 percent. Following close behind was senior guard Lexus Williams, who shot 42.5 percent from distance. As a team, Boise State shot 38.4 percent from three-point territory, the 41st best percentage in the country.
The Huskies, as they have done all season, must use their 2-3 zone to prevent open looks and force the Broncos to play more inside the arc. Quick rotations are necessary against a team that has four starters shooting better than 35 percent from three.
Getting out in transition
It’s no secret that Washington plays better when they are on the run. The Huskies are the 33rd best squad in the NCAA at forcing turnovers, causing 15.1 per game. They also average 8.0 steals and 5.1 blocks per game, both of which rank in the top 25 for those categories.
In Washington’s first-round Pac-12 Tourney loss to Oregon State, the Huskies had only two fast-break points and forced only 10 turnovers. Compare this to their 82-59 victory over Colorado three weeks earlier, in which they forced 18 turnovers and scored 17 fast break points.
The Washington offense gets going when it can create opportunities for easy layups or open transition threes. And they can only do that if the game is up-and-down. Boise State commits 13 turnovers per game, so if the Dawgs force a similar number and race down the court on the break, it should make victory a whole lot easier.