2. Washington Huskies (9-4) LW: 2
What was designated to be a rebound season for the Pac-12 as a conference has been anything but. Instead, labels like overrated and disappointing cast a dark cloud over the self-proclaimed ‘Conference of Champions.’
Washington is no exception.
After winning 20 games and reaching the NIT in coach Mike Hopkins’ first season with the program, the Huskies sit at 8-4 ahead of their nonconference finale against Cal State Fullerton, a Big West program that pushed Arizona State to the limit in its season opener.
The biggest takeaway from Washington’s first 12 games is its inability to make a statement. Three of its four losses came against teams ranked in the top 15 (at No. 11 Auburn, at No. 1 Gonzaga and a neutral site game with No. 13 Virginia Tech) in addition to a neutral site defeat to a two-loss Minnesota team. Granted, Auburn crushed UW by 22 but the other losses are by a combined 16 points.
Hopkins’ team is more than capable of handling teams it should beat, a good sign as he prepares to navigate through a very weak Pac-12. Utilizing the 2-3 zone Hopkins brought over from Syracuse, Washington allows under 66 points per game, 39 percent shooting to opponents and forces over 14 turnovers nightly.
Nonetheless, there’s not a dominance or swagger to the team that makes them an intimidating group. Hopkins’ best win of 2018 came at home against Western Kentucky.
If the Huskies hope to have a shot at their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2011, they’ll need consistency from its core.
Averaging just over 70 points per game, sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell as well as seniors David Crisp, Matisse Thybulle and Noah Dickerson have to find a way to channel the frenetic energy of the 2-3 zone into an increase in scoring production.
The first chance to do so comes against in-state rival Washington State on Jan. 5.