Tomorrow night is a HUGE game inside of Auburn Arena. Other than the two Champions Classic games played Tuesday night, it’s the only matchup in America this week featuring 2 Top 25 teams. In order to better understand the Huskies, we talked with the University of Washington’s Dawg Pound to get a better insight on the Huskies. Thanks to Max Vrooman for answering our questions. You can see my responses to Max’s questions here.
1. Auburn and Washington fans both thought in the preseason that their teams had a chance to be a part of the College Football Playoff. With that dream gone for both teams, how much is the UW fanbase looking forward to Washington Basketball?
As long as the football team still has a shot at the Rose Bowl I think the majority of the attention will remain with them at least until conference play. That said, this is probably the most hyped UW basketball team since 2012 when Washington infamously missed the NCAA tournament despite winning the regular season Pac-12 title. Washington is definitely a football school first and foremost but hopefully the team’s success can bring all of the Sonics refugees onto the bandwagon. Last year was a big step forward but it will take a return to the NCAA tournament for everyone to buy in.
2. What’s been the biggest change in Washington Basketball from Lorenzo Romar to Mike Hopkins?
On the court the biggest change has certainly been the installment of the Syracuse 2-3 zone. Washington’s defense struggled with discipline in Romar’s last few seasons and it took a few games but last year’s team eventually thrived in the zone. Hopkins is definitely a higher energy guy than Romar in press conferences but they have a lot of similar personality traits. Both are genuine guys who aren’t afraid to yell when they have to but definitely have a more player friendly approach.
3. How would you assess the Pac-12 as a conference basketball wise? The league seems to have struggled in recent years, similarly to the SEC a few years ago.
The conference has certainly had its share of struggles. Part of it is the coaching. Steve Alford at UCLA and Sean Miller at Arizona have consistently brought in top 10 if not top 5 recruiting classes and yet have a combined 0 Final Four appearances despite 9 NCAA Tourney appearances as a #6 seed or better. Dana Altman at Oregon has been the only coach to really maximize his talent on the court but last year he struggled to replace the core led by Dillon Brooks. Arizona and USC currently have the top 2 recruiting classes in the country for 2018 despite each having coaches arrested in the FBI investigation (hmm...). The Pac-12 is certainly hoping that they can turn things around but the conference has just had a lot of teams ranked in the 30-40 range recently and very few teams in the 5-10 range.
4. Similarly to Auburn, Washington has an excellent backcourt in Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle. What are you looking forward to most in that matchup?
On defense I’m most interested to see how Washington is able to slow down an undersized but good shooting Auburn team on the perimeter. Matisse Thybulle’s near 7’0 wingspan is going to force 5’10 Jared Harper to take a few steps behind the line before launching 3’s but if Auburn can make them then that shot will be there. Nowell won’t guard Bryce Brown directly because of the zone but it will be a good test when Nowell has the ball. Jaylen is a midrange artist and just has an innate ability to get his shot off. He was 12/15 from the floor for 26 points in Washington’s exhibition win over #7 Nevada by 18 points a few weeks ago.
5. Who is the one underrated player Auburn fans need to know about going into this matchup?
Probably the most underlooked player for Washington is senior Dominic Green. Green came into the program known as a knockdown shooter but he really struggled on offense his first 2 seasons. As in least efficient player in the Pac-12 kind of struggled. But he magically found his confidence about 1/3rd of the way through last season and shot 48% from behind the arc the rest of the way. He’ll likely be the 1st guy off the bench and provides much needed spacing to a team that doesn’t have a lot of great 3-point shooters. Starting with conference play, Green averaged 7.3 points per game in Washington’s wins and 4.4 points in their losses so him making 3+ shots will be key.
6. Washington may have one of toughest first weeks of the season in the country, playing (and beating) a good Western Kentucky team before coming to Auburn. How do you see this game playing out?
The old adage is that a good shooting team can shoot a defense out of playing zone. But the Huskies were tremendous at shutting down undersized guard-oriented teams last season and led the Pac-12 in 3-pt defense. The player that killed them was a 6’8 small forward capable of getting into the middle of the zone and knocking down free throw line jumpers or passing to the big man hiding on the baseline. I don’t see a player for Auburn who is going to really punish Washington in that area. The Huskies won at Kansas last year in the non-conference so they won’t be intimidated playing at Auburn with a veteran team returning every single rotation player. If both Purifoy and Wiley were playing in this game I might go the other way. But as it stands I think between Washington’s experience and a solid matchup that they have what it takes to get it done on the road. Washington- 78, Auburn- 74.