Washington on the Come Up?

Posted by RJ Abeytia on December 8th, 2017

Washington, a team left for dead by the pundit class before the season even started, showed plenty of bark and bite earlier this week in snagging the Pac-12’s best non-conference win of the season versus #2 Kansas in Kansas City — functionally speaking, the Jayhawks’ alternate home court. The question now becomes whether such a monumental win gives any indication that the Huskies’ level of play is sustainable? Three things stand out about Washington’s win: First, Mike Hopkins‘ club won the three-point battle. Second, the Huskies kept Kansas off the free throw line by defending cleanly and effectively. Finally, they got a 19-point, five three-pointer masterpiece of an offensive performance from Matisse Thybulle. So to what extent were these three pillars of victory outliers?

Mike Hopkins Leads a New-Look Washington Program (USA Today Images)

Per KenPom, Washington on the year is shooting 33.5 percent from behind the arc and its opponents are shooting 37.1 percent. The Huskies get 25.2 percent of their points from the three-point line, which rates 294th in the country, but logged 36.4 percent (27) of their points from distance on Wednesday night while holding Kansas to only 25 percent shooting beyond the arc. On the year, the Huskies send opponents to the line at a 34.2 percent FTA/FGA rate, but they allowed the Jayhawks just eight free throws against 62 field goal attempts in Kansas City. That’s converts to a stellar 13 percent FTA rate that would make Washington one of the cleanest defending teams in the country if they were to maintain that identity on a nightly basis. Thybulle’s 19 points were built on a great shooting night resulting in a 177.0 Offensive Rating for the game. Last year Thybulle carried a respectable 106.7 ORtg and is currently at 104.5 this season. Was his sharpshooting (five threes) against the Jayhawks an ascent back to his normal mean? Washington should probably hope so, as his body of work last year (41 percent on 131 attempts) suggests that’s the case.  

So how real was that win?  The interesting part of all of this is that it might not matter. If you’re trying to gauge whether the Huskies — currently at 94th in the Jeff Sagarin ratings and 48th in the RPI (up from 109th) — are for real for real, you should probably wait until this Sunday when they will host Gonzaga in Seattle. Still, the win over Kansas is already in the bank and it will most assuredly hold its value through the rest of the season. A 7-2 overall record with the game against the Zags coming followed by three gimmes heading into Pac-12 play suggests Washington could be 10-3 (even 11-2?) heading into the L.A. trip. That record would likely necessitate at least 10-8 in conference play to become a serious NCAA Tournament bubble threat.

More importantly, Hopkins already has a signature win in his first year on campus. Lorenzo Romar didn’t leave the cupboard bare in Seattle by any means, but nobody expected the Huskies to be any good at all this season. The win against Kansas gives Washington a shot of confidence, jostles a moribund fanbase back into consciousness, and sets up as a potential springboard to leave the first-year head coach ahead of schedule. If they eventually fall back into the Pac-12 pack, nobody can really be too disappointed. Washington happens to have have played lights out against the Jayhawks. It was a huge win for the Huskies and a big one for a league staggering out of the gate so far this year. They are not as good as they showed against Kansas, of course, but it’s getting increasingly likely they are not as bad as we all thought either.

Richard Abeytia (41 Posts)

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