As my first official editorial duty with Go Joe Bruin, I had the distinct pleasure of catching up with Jesse Kennemer, the lead editor of the Washington FanSided site, The Husky Haul.
Jesse took the time to answer some of my questions about UW basketball and the Huskies’ matchup with UCLA at Pauley Pavilion tonight. I also fielded some of his questions about the Bruins, and my answers can be seen in an article on his site. Here are Jesse’s answers from his Q&A session with Go Joe Bruin.
Q: Based on preseason expectations, which Washington players have been the most impressive this season? And which have been the most disappointing?
A: I would say Aziz N’Diaye has been the most impressive so far. He is not a star, and he still has questionable hands and terrible free throw shooting, but he has improved steadily each year and is now at the point that you can count on him delivering a double-double almost every night (he averages 10.7 points and 9.3 rebounds), and in college that is a rare and valuable asset for a team.
As for who has disappointed the most, I would probably say Abdul Gaddy. It may have been unfair to expect, but I think there was a hope that Gaddy would step up in his senior year to help lead this team while playing the role of the floor-general. Instead, he is shooting 41% from the field and averages 0.6 more assists per game than turnovers (3.8 assists compared to 3.2 turnovers), and it could be argued that redshirt freshman Andrew Andrews is quickly becoming the better player.
Q: If you had to briefly diagnose the problems with UW this season, what would you choose to highlight? And have the issues been consistent all season, or has the source of struggles changed since the non-conference schedule?
A: The biggest issue with Washington has been a lack of overall intensity, of fire. Nearly everyone on the team, with the exception of Andrew Andrews, is to my knowledge has a very calm, laid-back personality, and there is a lack of vocal leadership. There is no go-to guy that will get them a bucket when they truly need it, and there is no one to right the ship when the team is struggling.
I don’t think that it’s a lack of desire, obviously everyone wants to win, but there have been long stretches of very poor defense, a lack of hustle in transition, and really ineffective offense that just don’t get fixed for, in some cases, entire games.
Now, there have been specific games, such as their most recent, a win over Arizona State, that have been different, but right when the team seems to be growing, they will come out with an absolute clunker that makes it seem as if they’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes. It is that lack of consistency that has been the biggest issue.
That being said, the ASU win featured contributions from young players like Shawn Kemp Jr. and Andrew Andrews that could certainly represent that progress that has been missing, and tonight the fans will be watching to see if they build on that.
Q: The loss of Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross to the NBA, and the decision of Austin Seferian-Jenkins to not play basketball, have all affected the Huskies this season. How do you think the presence of any or all of those players would have changed the fate of UW this year?
A: Wroten is a guy that really divides the fan base. He was tremendously talented and scored very well, but he had a ton of holes in his game. He didn’t shoot well, he didn’t defend well, he turned the ball over too much, he struggled at the free throw line and his defensive effort was often questionable. So, while his presence would make the team better, it also would have taken minutes away from a guy like Andrew Andrews that is developing into a great player.
However, there is no question that this team really misses Ross. He was a guy that could score from anywhere, and though he wasn’t necessarily a vocal leader, he certainly would have filled the role of the go-to guy, and would have chipped in somewhere around 20 points, 5 boards, and 2 assists a game while playing decent defense. With him, I think they would have won at least a few more games by this point in the year.
Seferian-Jenkins is really not a terrific basketball player, at least at the Pac-12 level, and I don’t think his presence would have changed things too much, and any minutes he would have received would have taken minutes away from Shawn Kemp and Desmond Simmons, players that are still growing and need time on the floor.
Q: For the matchup with UCLA, which players do you think will need to step up for the Huskies to beat the Bruins? What aspects of Washington’s game will need to be on point for Romar’s squad to get the W?
A: As you pointed out, Aziz N’Diaye will need to take advantage of his size advantage. He will grab offensive boards and block a shot or two no matter what, but if he can get his post-game working, hit an acceptable percentage of his free throws (something he has struggled with terribly), and avoid silly turnovers, it could make a big difference.
As far as Washington’s game as a whole, they need to get back on defense in transition. UCLA pushes the tempo, and while the Huskies succeeded in that type of game against ASU last week, transition defense has been a weakness at times this year.
Q: With the Huskies’ current record and remaining schedule, do you think they have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament at-large? Or is all hope banking on a run through the Pac-12 tournament?
A: I think it’s certainly still possible for the Huskies to get an at-large, but it would probably mean winning all but maybe two remaining conference games, as well as at least two or three games in the Pac-12 tournament. The Huskies have a history of starting slow and then miraculously getting hot down the stretch of the conference schedule, so I wouldn’t count them out, but it doesn’t seem all that likely unless the progress against ASU is something they continue against the Bruins and beyond.