The Colorado Buffaloes (15-4, 4-2) will look to complete the Evergreen sweep when they take on the Washington Huskies (12-8, 2-5) on Saturday (7:00 pm, FS1). The Huskies are better than their middling record suggests, as they did beat current #1 Baylor and climbed as high as #20 in the AP Poll. The Huskies are very talented, loaded with size and athleticism and are still coached by Mike Hopkins.
Here are a few things to know about those Huskies.
1. This isn’t the usual Washington Huskies, but they’re still talented
Ever since coming over from Syracuse, Mike Hopkins has confounded the Pac-12 with that 2-3 zone defense. The ideal version of a Hopkins team was the Huskies squad last year: they had a superb lead scorer in Jaylen Nowell, a world-destroyer in Matisse Thybulle, and dependable veterans in David Crisp and Noah Dickerson. That team went 27-9, won the Pac-12 regular season title, and even won an NCAA Tournament game. But every one of those four players is gone this season, most significantly Thybulle, who is causing mayhem as an NBA rookie.
Hopkins reloaded as his predecessor Lorenzo Romar would. He went out and signed two five-stars recruits, brought in a former five-star transfer guard, then promoted two role players into starting spots. Of that bunch, freshmen Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels have been stars at the forward spots, and sophomore Jamal Bey (Tyler’s cousin) has taken major steps to be a great wing.
Stewart is a behemoth who commands all kinds of attention in the paint. His major weakness is spotty interior defense, which is quite important when you’re the center of a 2-3 zone. McDaniels is a 6’10 forward whose perimeter-oriented game is perfectly suited for the NBA. He’s going to get buckets on whoever guards him and he’s an intelligent defender. His issues are foul trouble and inconsistent shooting; Washington lost to UCLA in a game where McDaniels fouled out in 14 minutes, then they lost to Oregon in overtime with him shooting 1 of 9 from the field.
2. Questions on the perimeter
No matter how good your forwards are, it’s hard to win in college basketball if you don’t have quality perimeter players. They brought in Quade Green, the aforementioned five-star transfer from Kentucky, but he was ruled academically ineligible for the Spring semester. Now they use Marcus Tsohonis, the redshirt freshman whose best attribute is his hair. Otherwise, wing Jamal Bey doesn’t really have ball skills, forward Nahziah Carter can’t create for others, and wing Hameir Wright is shooting 31% from the field (!). Tsohonis is a really gifted shooter, but this team doesn’t even have perimeter shooting.
The Huskies are much better on the perimeter defensively, even if some of that is the 2-3 zone covering for everyone. Bey is the best defender here, quite easily. Jaden McDaniels and Nahziah Carter are both long and athletic, so they could pose the same kinds of issues Arizona’s defense did against Colorado. Even with a few questions marks — namely, Stewart making mistakes in the center of the zone — this is an excellent team defense. Oregon only beat UW because Payton Pritchard could create buckets for himself.
3. Issues in close games
In Washington’s five conference losses, all have been toss-ups. They have two overtime losses to Cal and Oregon, a one-point loss to Utah, a two-point loss to UCLA, and a five-point loss to Stanford. The simplest reason: Washington bogs down every offense, but can’t shoot to save their lives. The Huskies shot 29.5% from the field against Cal, who are the worst Power Five basketball team this season, per KenPom.com. No matter how good your defense is, it’s hard to win close games if you can’t score a bucket late in the game.
To make matters even worse, Washington happens to be one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country. They allow an offensive rebound on 32.8% of opponent misses, good for 323rd out of 353 teams in college basketball. If you shoot fewer shots than your opponent because you can’t box out and you shoot the ball under 35% every game, it’s going to be hard to win games.
Colorado is elite at rebounding (most nights), particularly on the offensive glass, and they shut down even the best offenses in the country. If CU is going to get their own misses, as well as drawing fouls, they only have to shoot like 35% from the field to win this game. That’s assuming the usual CU defense, the usual UW offense, and that nothing freaky happens.
Colorado 64, Washington 52