Shortly removed from a crushing loss to Washington State, ASU basketball must recover against Noah Dickerson and Pac-12 leader Washington.
While Arizona State prepares for Washington, the thought of Thursday’s loss will continue to sting. The Sun Devils didn’t just drop a game they were heavily favored in; they were embarrassed on their home floor by a Washington State team that hadn’t won on the road this season.
Coach Bobby Hurley announced he would make no excuses for the result, but neither will the NCAA Tournament selection committee. The Cougars are ranked No. 197 in the NET ratings, one of the lowest rankings across all Power Five teams despite rising 33 spots overnight, meaning the game will go down as a Quadrant 4 loss for ASU.
Trending toward the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, the Sun Devils have conference favorite Washington coming to town in what anticipates to be their toughest home game of the Pac-12 schedule.
The Huskies, led by a veteran core, haven’t lost since Dec. 15 and are 10-0 in conference play. That core was temporarily disrupted, however, when senior forward Noah Dickerson exited the team’s win against UCLA on Feb. 2 with an ankle sprain. UW fans collectively held their breath when the 6-foot-8 big appeared unable to put pressure on his right foot as he was helped off the floor.
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Undersized for a post player, Dickerson has been exceptionally durable for Hopkins, missing just one game in the past two seasons. That number remained intact after the senior played 26 minutes off the bench in Thursday’s 67-60 win at Arizona.
He finished with 10 points and three rebounds, one of five Huskies to score in double figures. More than anything, his return is a positive sign for coach Mike Hopkins moving forward.
But Dickerson looked as though he did not miss a beat.
He appeared comfortable playing with his back to the rim and crashing the glass while his defensive rotations were rhythmic. One moment that stands out involved Dickerson diving on a loose ball that ended in a dunk for Washington.
Though it’s safe to assume Dickerson was not at 100 percent on Thursday, Hopkins’ all-conference forward continues to be a key cog for the Huskies. Fully healthy, he’s arguably Washington’s best two-way player.
Senior guard Matisse Thybulle, the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, has the eye-popping statistics of an elite defender (3.3 steals/game, 2.2 blocks/game). But, according to Sports Reference, the defensive ratings of Dickerson (92.6) and Thybulle (86.5) per 100 possessions are close in comparison while Dickerson’s offensive rating (115.7) and player efficiency rating (25.0) lead the Huskies.
However, the formula for success in Seattle is anything but an individual effort.
Hopkins, a longtime assistant at Syracuse under coach Jim Boeheim, brought the 2-3 zone with from western New York. As more teams implement the zone into their defensive schemes, Washington continues the set the precedent with a hybrid version.
Like Boeheim’s Orange, the Huskies’ pressure extends well beyond the perimeter. A typical zone defense often leads to the opposition taking most of its shots behind the 3-point line.
Hopkins’ variation of the scheme is in its own category as his creates turnovers as well as more opportunities to create steals and blocks, characteristics rarely displayed in a 2-3 zone.
At the forefront of turnover creation is Thybulle, likely to repeat as defensive player of the year. His 6.4 steal percentage not only leads the country among qualified candidates, but would be the fourth-highest mark since 2009-10 if his current pace is sustained.
Beyond Thybulle, consistency has been equally vital. Hopkins took over a team in disarray, working with former coach Lorenzo Romar‘s recruits and trying to install an entirely new defense. What started as a steep learning curve has become swift mastery.
Zone defense, often regarded as a change-of-pace or in-game adjustment, is a way of life in Seattle. Better yet, the way of life. Washington hardly, if ever, changes its defensive approach with Hopkins benefiting from utilizing the same personnel.
In an age where one-and-done prospects are becoming the norm, the Huskies have their top eight players back from the season prior, regularly starting three seniors and two sophomores who possess a wide variety of length, athleticism and size.
With Washington looking to run the table, Arizona State will aim to get back on track while attempting to solve the Huskies’ enigmatic zone.