- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject? Washington. Up next? Gonzaga.
The 2009-10 Washington Huskies were always there. We just didn't quite notice them.
It was easy to write off a team that, at times throughout the Pac-10 season, seemed no better than much of its mediocre conference competition. After early-season losses to Texas Tech and Georgetown, the Huskies lost five of their first eight Pac-10 matchups, including losses to Oregon, Arizona, UCLA and USC, all teams in the midst of rebuilding (or, in Oregon's case, deconstructing).
But the Huskies weren't bad. They were just inconsistent. A look down their tempo-free game stats throughout the season proves as much: When they were on, the Huskies showed flashes of the consistent, high-octane offensive play that got them to a somewhat unexpected Sweet 16 berth. When they weren't, they lost. It was pretty much that simple.
That offensive inconsistency came down to one key stat: shooting. As a talented, veteran UW team looks to take the next step in 2010-11, it'll have the same challenge to overcome. Can Washington shoot well enough to win?
That will require some new contributions. In 2009-10, the Huskies posted a 49.7 effective field goal percentage, ranking them No. 128 in the country. It was their one sub-standard offensive stat. Washington rebounded well (36.6 offensive rebounding percentage), prevented turnovers (17.5 turnover percentage, good for a No. 34 overall rank) and got to the free throw line (40.9 percent free throw rate) at a reasonable clip. But they didn't always shoot well, and that could be troublesome given the personnel losses the Huskies will have to deal with. Cue Quincy Pondexter.
Pondexter, like the Huskies, flew under the radar for much of the season, but he was a ruthlessly effective offensive player. He posted an offensive rating of 122.2; that was the 44th-best mark in the country and the No. 3 ranking among all players who used at least 24 percent of their team's possessions. Pondexter shot well (54.7 percent eFG), didn't turn the ball over (12.7 percent turnover rate), cleared the offensive glass (10.2 percent offensive rebounding percentage) and drew plenty of fouls (5.9 per 40 minutes, to be exact) from opposing teams. He registered national KenPom rankings in all of those statistics. Frankly, he did it all, and he did it all well.
Pondexter is gone, of course, which begs the question of just who can replace his offensive efficiency. The answer is discouragingly unclear.
The obvious if somewhat questionable solution is the backcourt. Guards Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton had the second- and third-most Huskies possessions in 2009-10, respectively, and while their offensive ratings weren't nearly as high as Pondexter's, both players have scoring ability. Washington fans will also expect more from sophomore Abdul Gaddy, who showed occasional flashes of brilliance as a freshman but finished with pedestrian per-possession numbers (84.1 offensive rating, 42.8 eFG, and a much-too-high 30.8 percent turnover rate). Gaddy will have to improve his consistency in 2010-11 if he wants to assert himself on a veteran team. He certainly has the talent.
Meanwhile, senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning -- whose nickname is MBA, which I learned today, and which is totally awesome -- will have to recreate some of Pondexter's low-post proficiency. He might not be the scorer Pondexter was, but MBA has already proven himself as an offensive rebounder. A bigger role could mean bigger contributions.
And, of course, there are the recruits, too: 6-foot-6 small forward Terrence Ross is an athletic wing with a proficient jump shot. There's also 7-foot junior college transfer Aziz N'Diaye that will give the Huskies their first legitimate size in years. Pondexter, after all, was the team's best rebounder at 6-foot-6, and Bryan-Amaning is a mere 6-foot-9. (Which is still very tall, but you get the point.) Adding a 7-foot center to the mix, even if his main contribution comes on the glass, will surely help the Huskies match up against taller, more physical teams.
In the end, though, the 2010-11 hopes for Washington hoops come down to a simple equation: Who will replace Pondexter's offense? If the Huskies can get better, more efficient guard play, and young talent like Gaddy and Ross can score consistently at the collegiate level, U-Dub could be just as good as 2009-10. If not, expect more inconsistency and a less effective team.
Last season, Northwestern basketball had a funny little team motto, one that eschewed the typically dramatic coach-speak fluff you find on college fan T-shirts. Those shirts merely read: make shots. The 2010-11 Huskies would be wise to take Bill Carmody's advice. Above all, Washington needs to make shots. Whether they can do so without Pondexter will be the great challenge of their season.
For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun.