Husky Men's Basketball Preview
Oct. 30, 2007
SEATTLE -- To borrow from a familiar phrase -- The NCAA Tournament Committee helps those who help themselves.
With that in mind, the 2007-08 Washington men's basketball team is intent on taking care of business on the hardwood and not leaving its fate in the hands of a collection of administrators in a boardroom.
Last year, the Huskies registered a 19-13 record with wins over five ranked opponents. They capped the regular-season with a home victory over second-ranked and Final Four-bound UCLA.
But, when postseason invitations were distributed, Washington was not included.
The Huskies weren't anticipating an NCAA berth. But, they believed a National Invitation Tournament bid was a certainty. They are still stinging from that snub.
'It will definitely be in the back of everyone's minds,' sixth-year coach Lorenzo Romar exclaims. 'Not that we're going to show the NIT anything, but that we've got to make sure we don't put ourselves in a position like that again.
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'We want to take any guesswork out of any committee's hands.'
Ironically, the Huskies were invited to particpate in the NIT Season Tip-Off to open the regular season.
'I expect us to be a more mature team and a better defensive team. That will allow us to be more up-tempo,' Romar projects. 'We will be more athletic than last year. Experience will also be a strength. Amazingly, in only one year all of a sudden we are experienced.'
Despite seven underclassmen on the 13-player roster, UW will be vastly more experienced than in 2007. Youth was served in generous helpings last season as two freshmen and two sophomores were regular starters. Seven of the top-eight players who logged the most minutes were underclassmen.
The Huskies return four starters from last year's squad. All of them averaged double-figure points. Heading the list of returnees is first-team All-Pac-10 selection Jon Brockman, a 6-foot-7 junior forward who led the conference last season with an average of 9.6 rebounds per game.
'Many times when you have a player on your team that leads the league in rebounding, that is usually their last year. To be able to have Jon back as the leading rebounder in the conference and an All-Pac-10 performer makes us very fortunate,' Romar says.
UW's other returning starters are senior Ryan Appleby, junior Justin Dentmon and sophomore Quincy Pondexter. Appleby set a school record with 84 treys last season and Dentmon became one of just nine Huskies with back-to-back 100-assist seasons. Pondexter was an honorable mention Pac-10 All-Freshman team selection who appears poised for a breakout season.
The returning Huskies got a head-start on the season when they ventured to Greece from Aug. 27 to Sept. 6 for a five-game tour. The team sandwiched several sightseeing excursions and other bonding experiences around five games that yielded a 2-3 record against Greek professional teams.
The four incoming freshmen were not allowed on that trip, but three players who did not see game action last season did participate.
Senior Tim Morris, who sat out last season after transferring from Stanford, made the most of the games in Greece. He was second on the team with a 12.8-point scoring average and hit 6-of-8 shots from 3-point range.
'Tim is experienced, strong and athletic. He may have taken advantage of his red-shirt year more than anyone we've ever coached,' says Romar. 'He should be more than ready to come out and make a significant contribution.'
Athletic junior Joel Smith returns after red-shirting last season due to a foot injury. Despite missing the entire season, Smith is still the most experienced Husky with a team-high 66 career games in a UW uniform.
Sophomore Joe Wolfinger played well in Greece after missing the previous two seasons with a foot injury. The 7-foot center is an excellent shooter, with range past the 3-point line.
'Wolf has got to be one of the top shooting big men in the country,' Romar describes. 'He has put on additional weight and strength, which will allow him to get underneath and bang more.'
The experienced returning athletes should help correct one of the glaring weaknesses from last season -- the striking dispartiy in home vs. road records. UW posted a 17-2 record at home, but was 1-10 at opposing arenas.
'When you look back on last season, what it came down to is was that we were two different teams, at home and on the road,' says Romar. 'We were able to beat UCLA, USC and Oregon at home. So, we were successful at home, but we obviously weren't as good on the road.'
The only major departure from the primary rotation was freshman center Spencer Hawes, who was the 10th selection in the 2007 NBA Draft. This marks the third straight season the Huskies need to replace a first-round NBA draft pick. Washington is the only school in the nation to have a player selected in the first round of the last three drafts.
'We've had some good players and, in the last three years, five of them have gone on to play in the NBA,' said Romar. 'It definitely shows that playing at the University of Washington gives you a chance to succeed at the collegiate level, but it does not hurt your chances of going to the NBA.'
Another talented recruiting class joins the ranks, providing what could be the best depth in Romar's tenure. The wealth of talent should enable the incoming freshmen to contribute without the pressure to lead the team.
'I like the fact that the guys coming in are all long and athletic. They will all have opportunities to contribute, but the season won't be on their shoulders. They will not have to carry the load. Although one or two of them, whichever ones they are, will probably step up and play significant roles for us.'
The outstanding four-player recruiting class should offer immediate reinforcements to the veteran corps. Two newcomers were players of the year in their respective states, Matthew Bryan-Amaning in Connecticut and Venoy Overton in Washington.
The Huskies play at least 14 games against 2007 NCAA Tournament competitors, including two meetings with Final Four qualifier UCLA. Eighteen regular-season games will be played at Bank of America Arena where UW posted a 17-2 record in 2007.
The regular season commences with two games in the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off at Bank of America Arena. The West Regional champion earns a trip to New York for a semifinal contest on Nov. 21 at Madison Square Garden. The consolation and championship games are slated for Nov. 23.
Highlighting the non-conference home slate are visits from NCAA Tournament participants Long Beach State and Pittsburgh.
The Huskies venture away from Seattle twice for non-conference encounters. Both times they meet formidable foes. UW visits Oklahoma State, a postseason NIT qualifier, on Dec. 1 as part of the Pac-10/Big 12 Hardwood Series. On Dec. 29, the Huskies play at LSU.
'It will be close to being up there with the schedule we had we when were a No. 1 seed in the country,' Romar says, comparing this season's slate to that of the 2005 Sweet 16 squad. 'We will be tested at home and we have some challenging road games.'
As for the Pac-10 race, there will not be an easy game in a league that is arguably the best and deepest in the country.
'It will be as good, if not better, than last year,' Romar says. 'From top to bottom this is probably the best I've ever seen the Pac-10.'
There is perhaps no greater barometer revealing how far Romar has brought the UW program than this -- there was disappointment after a 19-win season.
Romar directed the Huskies to a Pac-10 leading 93 wins since 2004, matching the most successful four-year stretch in school history.
The Huskies became accustomed to making NCAA Tournament travel plans during the previous three years.
Parlaying their disappointment into motivation for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament will come down to improving performances on the road and taking advantage of a veteran influence that wasn't present last year.
The potential is there for a stellar season. Coach Romar cautions that the results need to be revealed on the court, not just on paper.
'We are still at the potential stage. Potential means you haven't done anything yet. Everything that we are speculating, everything that we are predicting, has to happen. We have to see it happen.'