Washington’s men’s basketball team was picked to finish third in the conference by members of the Pac-12 media, marking the highest predicted finish for the program since the Huskies were picked to win the league title in 2010-11 season. UW returns all five starters, something no other team in the conference can say.
Although Washington did reach the NIT this past season, the Huskies are dreaming of another tournament, the NCAA tourney. A third-place (or better) would probably get UW into the NCAAs, and fulfill the predictions several preseason websites and magazines made about UW breaking its eight-year NCAA Tournament drought.
At the conference’s annual media day Thursday, Washington was represented by head coach Mike Hopkins and guards Matisse Thybulle and Jaylen Nowell.
Here’s what Hopkins had to say:
On being picked to finish third in the preseason: “You know, I don’t know. We obviously have a lot of returners, but (we’re) still trying to build what we’re doing, raising the standard. We’re just focused on how we get better every day. I know it’s the corny coaching cliché, but the reality of it is, how do we get better?”
On if experience can still win in college basketball: “I think experience wins early, and then that’s where freshmen and younger players are infused and where you (are going). You’re going to grow, (and) how can you get better in certain areas? I worked for a great coach in Jim Boeheim, and he used to say you win with veterans early, so to have a veteran team coming back, that’s a luxury. We’re excited about that. They’ve figured out how to win. Now can they be consistent with that? We’ll see.”
On if there were any changes to Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Matisse Thybulle’s defense in the offseason: “No, he was just Spider-Man, like he’s a superhero. It’s interesting; back when (I was) part of the zone for so many years at Syracuse, it was that defense, it was like playing against the Princeton offense. They put us in the bracket with Princeton, it’s going to be back-doored to death, and the zone has that mental piece. You saw Michigan State versus Syracuse this year in the tournament, and it’s stifling when it’s rolling. When the coaching staff recommended about putting Matisse up top, we were going against the grain. But he understood it, and his anticipation skills — you know, it’s just uncanny. It’s become in the minds of your opponents, and that’s when you know your defense is really good. He’s just a disruptive guy.”
Cougars picked to finish last
With no NCAA Tournament appearances in 10 seasons (heck, Washington State hasn’t even gone over the 15-win mark since the 2011-12 season), to say that Ernie Kent is under pressure to show improvement in Pullman is an understatement.
The media doesn’t expect it will happen this season, either. The Cougars were picked to finish last in the conference in the annual preseason media poll, making it the fourth season in a row that WSU has been picked to finish last.
Kent said he believes that his team is more talented than some of his previous squads, however.
‘Oh, no question,” he said. “Not just (with) talent and the ability to score, but defensively we can do a lot with this group. You can put two 6-foot-9 guys at the top of your zone and that will disrupt a lot of people. I just think the freedom to do more is what I’m comfortable with.”