Miller: Top Half of the Pac-12, At-Large Bid to Dance Reasonable for Dawgs

Nahziah Carter's return from suspension, play of transfers key to Washington's chances

Posted on November 14, 2020

Dane Miller
  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

The Pac-12 men’s basketball schedule is beginning to take shape, and preseason honors are out. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be previewing the 2020 season for all 12 teams, continuing with the Washington Huskies.

2020 Recruiting Class: 12th in Pac-12 (Unranked Nationally)

None

Transfers

Cole Bajema, Guard, Michigan (Awaiting NCAA Decision on Waiver)
Erik Stevenson, Guard, Wichita State (Immediately Eligible)
Nate Pryor, Guard, North Idaho College (Immediately Eligible)

Key Returners

Quade Green
Nahziah Carter

Key Departures

Isaiah Stewart
Jaden McDaniels

Big Picture: Player Issues Complicate Potential Outcomes

Washington’s Mike Hopkins could use a few breaks this season. | Isaac Brekken/AP

The Huskies fell off a cliff in 2019-20 after point guard Quade Green was ruled academically ineligible at the beginning of January. The Dawgs were 11-4 at that point, but finished the season 4-13 without Green to run the offense.

Internal problems appeared to boil to the surface in the latter part of the season, and Jaden McDaniels even lost his starting role at one point. The conspicuous tension with McDaniels arguably impacted Mike Hopkins’ ability to recruit, as the fourth-year coach dipped into the transfer market to fill in his 2020 class.   


Pryor

Of the three signed, Nate Pryor and Erik Stevenson have been granted immediate eligibility, with the NCAA decision on Cole Bajema yet to be made public.

Bajema’s situation is different. The sophomore guard seems to have left Michigan because of a lack of playing time, and the NCAA is notoriously inconsistent with their rulings on cases like his.

Best guess: Bajema has to sit the year out.

Carter

Complicating UW’s preseason picture is the suspension of Nahziah Carter. The guard averaged 12.2 points per game and 4.9 rebounds per game last year, and projected to play a prominent role in 2020-21. Losing Carter for any amount of time would be a blow, though Hopkins is hopeful he will be able to play.

With all the drama built up during the summer, it’s easy to lose focus on key role players who must step up this year: Specifically, Raequan Battle, Marcus Tsohonis, and reserve big man Nate Roberts. The three each carved out a role in 2019-20, but the trio have the potential to become key contributors moving forward.

Battle

Battle and Tsohonis are both outside shooters that will see more playing time, although Roberts’ role is more questionable. With fantastic size and rebounding ability, any improvement he can bring to the table would undoubtedly make the Huskies a better team.

Similarly, forward J’Raan Brooks is eligible this year after transferring from USC and sitting out last season. His presence down low could go far in contributing to UW’s success.

Reasonable Expectations: Top-Half Finish, Big Dance Bid

With remaining questions about player eligibility, it’s anyone’s guess what to expect from the Dawgs. Assuming everyone is eligible, the team is capable of finishing in the top half of the Pac-12 with a chance for an at-large bid to the Big Dance.

Hopkins’ zone defense is able to frustrate any team the Huskies face, putting the onus on his offense to be the difference-maker. Even during the lowest points of last season, Washington was losing games by only a handful of points, and were ahead in the second half in most contests.

All eyes will be on Green to get it done on offense this time around. And based on his performances from last year, that shouldn’t be a problem.

At the least, a .500 record or better at home against Conference opponents seems reasonable, along with road victories over Oregon State, Washington State, and California.   

Achievable Goal: Upset a Ranked Opponent at Home

Finding a way to beat a ranked opponent at Alaska Airlines Arena is a distinct possibility. The lack of fans could make the goal more difficult, but UW has the talent on the floor to get it done.

More importantly, Hopkins has a well-defined defensive philosophy adopted from the legendary Jim Boeheim, which should allow the Dawgs to upset a team or two on the road.

Hopkins talks with Carter during the NCAA tournament in 2019. | Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

As the old saying goes, “Defense travels.”

Green and Company’s scoring ability, particularly on the perimeter—where Hopkins appears to have the most talent—could be the deciding factor in close games away from Seattle. As a comparison, last season UCLA built its confidence, and arguably the program’s identity, by winning away from home with strong defense.

On paper, Hopkins’ unit has the potential to match that performance and catapult Washington back into the upper-tier of the Conference standings, where they were just a few short years ago.

Best Case: First-Round Pac-12 Win, Improved Recruiting

Carter returns at the beginning of the season, and the Husky perimeter players knock down their three’s with more consistency. Green leads the program to a 7-seed or better in the Pac-12 Tournament.

The Dawgs win their opening game in Las Vegas but lose to a Top 4 seed in the second round.

Hopkins lands a Top 100 prospect and another quality transfer from a respected program as recruiting returns to normal.

Though the season has its ups and downs, the ship is righted in Seattle.

— Previous 2020-21 Basketball Previews —

California 

Washington State

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