#24 Washington Preview 2018-19

-Jim Root

Key Returners: Noah Dickerson, Jaylen Nowell, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp, Sam Timmins, Dominic Green, Nahziah Carter
Key Losses: Not applicable!
Key Newcomers: Bryan Penn-Johnson, Jamal Bey, Elijah Hardy, Nate Roberts


Outlook:  Praise be to Mr. Hopkins! In his debut season in Seattle, Mike Hopkins brought Washington back to relevance, despite the loss of #1 pick Markelle Fultz to the NBA. In what was one of the strangest “results-based-rankings vs. predictive metrics” resumes in hoops history, the Huskies flirted with the bubble down the stretch in February, despite hovering in the 90s of KenPom’s rankings.

Basically, the Huskies put together some very strong wins (Kansas in KC, @USC, Arizona, Arizona St.) while barely squeaking by many of their lesser opponents, which dragged down their advanced analytics rankings (and made them one of the statistically “luckiest” teams). With pretty much the entirety of that team back, hopes are high for the Huskies to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since…good lord, can this be right??...2011?! Seriously? Sigh. Lorenzo Romar, you are an atrocity. 

As mentioned, the Huskies bring back essentially every relevant piece from last year’s surprise team. In fact, after being one of the 50 least-experienced squads in the country last year, the Huskies return the highest percentage of minutes played in all of the Power 6 conferences, per barttorvik.com’s estimates:

As a longtime loyal disciple of Jim Boeheim, Hopkins brought his patented 2-3 zone out west, employing zone D 92.6% of the time, per Synergy. That trailed only Rice and – guess who? – Syracuse for the highest rate in the country. Interestingly, though, Hopkins employed a completely different offensive strategy, allowing his deep and athletic roster more freedom on offense, particularly in getting out in transition. Washington’s average offensive possession length was 74th, compared to Syracuse’s stagnant 341st ranking in the same stat, as athletes such as Matisse Thybulle, Jaylen Nowell, and Noah Dickerson got out into the open floor.

As one of the most disruptive defenders in the entire country, the lanky Thybulle keys the Huskies’ defense and transition attack, a terror with his on-ball defense and a menace on the weakside in passing lanes or as a shot-blocker. He’s up there with any of the most disruptive Syracuse wings – Wes Johnson, James Southerland, you name it – anchoring the back line and essentially cancelling an entire side of the floor, like basketball’s version of Revis Island.  The Huskies didn't have a mainstay shot-blocker at center, although Sam Timmins did his best and Hameir Wright flashed strong potential. Incoming freshman Bryan Penn-Johnson offers another candidate here, as his monstrous lefty frame offers tremendous upside as a pogo stick in the paint, although he remains quite raw in the skill department.  Aside from that, the Huskies' biggest flaw defensively was a total dearth of defensive rebounding (typical in the 2-3), particularly as the guards/wings looked to leak out into the open floor. 

Nowell (5, far left), Dickerson (15), and Thybulle (4, far right) form an outstanding trio for the Huskies. Oh, Hameir Wright (13) is on the team, too.

Offensively, Washington was primarily limited by two things: 1) they didn't have a pure point guard (apologies to David Crisp, a solid player but more of an undersized scoring guard), and 2) they didn't shoot the ball very well (only 32.6% from deep in Pac-12 play, 11th in the league).  Washington hopes the answer to the first question is 4-star freshman Elijah Hardy, a lightning-quick lefty with solid court vision and a nice mid-range pull-up/floater game. Though it would be vulnerable in the middle of the 2-3 zone, a lineup with Hardy/Crisp/Nowell/Thybulle/Dickerson would be an absolute nightmare to guard. Sophomore Nahziah Carter and freshman Jamal Bey give Hopkins wing/forward depth for flexibility, as well. 

As for issue #2, Dominic Green, another lanky wing, shot a pristine 43%, but he's a standstill shooter who rarely looks at the hoop. Thybulle and Nowell were respectable (37% and 35%, respectively), but Crisp's 29% on 189 attempts was simply crippling. This cramped the floor around Dickerson, a hyperactive but undersized post presence who got to the free throw line at one of the country's highest rates; with more shooting (and if Dickerson shows more willingness to kick it out), he could punish opponents even further in the paint. Bey offers upside as a young shooter, and a bump up from Crisp and Nowell would go a long ways towards unleashing Dickerson inside. 

Bottom Line: Washington has an extremely deep and talented roster featuring one of the country's most impactful defenders (Thybulle), a developing perimeter star (Nowell), and a widebody force in the paint (Dickerson). With depth at basically every position and another year of familiarity in the new system, the Huskies have the pieces to make serious noise this year under Hopkins. Hardy emerging as a contributor at PG and Penn-Johnson being a shot-blocking threat right off the bat would be the cherry on top of an already-solid lineup, and if the team collectively shoots it at a higher rate from deep, they could find themselves competing for a Pac 12 title.