In "First Look," Prospectus updates our preseason expectations for some of the nation's top college teams after getting a chance to watch them in action early in the season.
At least publicly, University of Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar wasn't concerned with the score of Friday's exhibition game against Seattle Pacific University.
"My thoughts are that in an exhibition game, it's a time to experiment, it's a time to teach, it's a time to learn," Romar said at last week's Pac-12 media day.
For other observers, the Huskies' task was simple: Avoid the same kind of upset that SPU sprung on another Pac-12 power, Arizona, last Thursday in Tucson. Once again, the Falcons proved surprisingly competitive against a bigger, stronger and more athletic foe. This time, however, Washington led from start to finish in a 77-60 win.
The difference between Seattle Pacific's two exhibition games was largely at the offensive end of the floor. Against the Wildcats, SPU players repeatedly freed themselves for layups with backdoor cuts. The Falcons also dominated the offensive glass, rebounding better than 40 percent of their own misses. For the most part, those easy score were not available against the Huskies, who communicated and helped better on defense. After making 61.8 percent of its two-point attempts against Arizona, Seattle Pacific was held to 39.0 percent inside the arc on Friday.
Washington has to feel good about how well the defense executed given that the team played without starting center Aziz N'Diaye, one of the top paint protectors in the Pac-12, who sat out due to the effects of a concussion suffered in a closed scrimmage last week. Senior forward Darnell Gant slid over to the middle to replace N'Diaye, but the rest of the Huskies' frontcourt rotation was entirely inexperienced.
Redshirt freshman Desmond Simmons, who started next to Gant, was the only player of the group with any D-I minutes--all coming in last year's exhibition game. Reserve big men Martin Breunig, Jernard Jarreau and Shawn Kemp, Jr. were all getting their first collegiate action. Given that fact, the trio acquitted itself nicely. Breunig and Jarreau (who is sort of a poor man's Anthony Davis) both showcased shot-blocking ability and the athleticism to defend on the perimeter, while Kemp was stout in the paint. The Huskies only need one of the three true freshmen to play regular minutes as part of a four-man rotation up front.
On the offensive end, much of the attention was on the backcourt. Washington must replace star point guard Isaiah Thomas (one of several former Huskies watching from behind the team's bench) with the return of junior Abdul Gaddy from a torn left ACL suffered midway through last season and the arrival of local product Tony Wroten, one of the most touted recruits in program history. Gaddy will surely start at the point; Wroten, who is coming back from minor arthroscopic knee surgery, came off the bench but could ultimately start at shooting guard.
Gaddy was never spectacular, but quietly put together an impressive final line of 15 points and four assists without a turnover. Wroten is essentially the opposite kind of player; he wants to turn every play into a SportsCenter highlight, which ends up succeeding or failing spectacularly in nearly equal measure. Wroten flashed terrific court vision in racking up four assists, yet also committed four turnovers, including a pair of the kind of ill-advised passes that might in time cause Romar to develop an ulcer. Surprisingly, Wroten's best work came on the offensive glass. He pulled down a team-high three offensive boards, all of which led to scores.
Romar can feel most comfortable with his wing rotation. Scott Suggs, last year's leading three-point shooter in the conference, is out until at least the end of November after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right pinky toe. Yet Romar still has two reliable options in sophomores Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox. The Huskies are counting on Ross to emerge as their leading scorer this season; he's a natural scorer who can fill it up inside and out. He needed just eight shot attempts to score 15 points on Friday. As important were the eight rebounds Ross added, and the fact that he led a defensive effort that held SPU's best perimeter player, guard Jobi Wall, to 4-of-15 shooting from the field.
Wilcox is Washington's premier outside shooter, a fact that apparently did not appear on the Seattle Pacific scouting report. He got a number of open looks from beyond the arc and could have done better than the 5-of-12 he shot from three-point range. Wilcox did lead all scorers with 19 points. When both Ross and Wilcox are on the wings--the starting lineup Friday night--floppy actions with both players coming off screens, giving Gaddy or Wroten the choice of where to deliver the basketball for an open jumper, figure to be difficult for opponents to defend.
The Huskies were far from perfect in their lone exhibition. They struggled to put SPU away until late in the game, played even on the glass and fouled too frequently. But the game revealed no serious weaknesses and it was a victory, both of which put Washington ahead of Arizona at the same point in the schedule.
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