Despite there being 2,748 miles between the schools, the University of Washington men’s basketball looks more like the vintage early 00's Syracuse teams than anyone else playing the sport right now (including Syracuse’s 2019-20 team).
They’re ridiculously tall and skilled even by the absurd standards of college basketball. But most importantly, they primarily play an uncompromising 2-3 zone defense that’s aided by their absurd length.
That’s not just happenstance, Huskies head coach Mike Hopkins played his college ball at Syracuse, despite growing up in Southern California, and from 1995 through 2017 was an assistant coach there. In June 2015 Hopkins was even given the title of ‘Men’s Basketball Head Coach-Designate’ as Jim Boeheim’s assumed successor, but with Boeheim’s reluctance to step aside Hopkins took the Washington job in the spring of 2017.
Its hard not to see the difference between Syracuse pre and post Hopkins’ departure. The Orange did have a Sweet 16 run in 2018 but have slipped from a top-tier ACC team to the tier below the likes of Duke, UNC, Virginia and Louisville.
Hopkins on the other hand had the Huskies in the NCAA Tournament by his 2nd season (UW’s first appearance since 2011) and landed the #11 recruiting class in the country. The jewels of this class were 5-stars Isaiah Stewart (#3 recruit in the nation) and Jaden McDaniels (#8 recruit).
Stewart comes from Hopkins’ old recruiting footprint in Rochester, NY and McDaniels is from a suburb of Seattle. The 2 were joined by another former 5-star sophomore Quade Green who began his college career at Kentucky and transferred west.
Stewart and McDaniels have lived up to every bit of the hype that comes with recruits of that caliber. Stewart, listed at 6’9” and every bit of 250 pounds, is shooting 64.2% on 2-pointers and leads the Huskies in scoring (18.8 pts./game) and rebounding (8.9 rebs./game). McDaniels is also listed at 6’9” (the Huskies have 8 players listed 6’9” or taller) but is more of a stretch player and is shooting 37.5% on 3-pointers.
Green has started all but one game as the Huskies’ point guard, averaging around 5 assists per game while shooting 47% on 3-pointers and over 50% on 2-pointers. He isn’t the first option offensively, but clearly is good at picking and choosing his spots. Junior Nahziah Carter, sophomore Jamal Bey and junior Hameir Wright will also play a fair amount against the Coogs.
Despite the abundance of top end talent, Hopkins keeps a pretty tight rotation and the Huskies rank 343rd nationally in % of bench minutes played. Bey was the only Husky non-starter to play more than 9 minutes in their 72-61 Diamond Head Classic semifinal win over Hawaii.
The Huskies opened their season with a very impressive win over Baylor, currently 9th in KenPom, in Anchorage, Alaska on November 8. Since then, the Huskies have only played 2 top 100 teams: Tennessee (a 75-62 loss in Canada) and Gonzaga (an 83-76 home loss). I don’t bring this up to knock the Huskies’ strength of schedule, but to point out that this Houston team will be much better than the average team UW has seen in non-conference play.
It should come as no surprise that the Huskies with their absurd size are 8th nationally in Average Height and are top 10 nationally in both Block % and Opponent Block %. Unlike the Cougars, the Huskies don’t have one guy who’s an elite shot blocker but instead have 4 different players averaging over 1 block per game (Stewart, Carter, Wright, McDaniels).
One stat I found interesting is how the Huskies generally shoot quick on offense (14th in Avg. Possession Length) and because of the unique 2-3 zone they run their opponents take dramatically longer to shoot (349th nationally). Notably, the Coogs had a much more difficult time getting good looks when Georgia Tech switched to a 1-3-1 zone look in the 2nd half of their last game.
Figuring out how to score inside the perimeter is a difficult, but not impossible task and this game against Washington represents the Coogs’ last chance to get an indisputably high level win before the beginning of AAC play.