Washington Basketball: How Will They Replace Stars To Win Pac-12 Next Season?
For Washington Huskies seniors Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Venoy Overton and Justin Holliday, Sunday's loss to North Carolina not only signaled the end of the 2011 season, but the end of their careers in Seattle.
The three were part of 92 wins over the course of their four years with the team, including 76 in the past three seasons.
That type of experience and leadership will be tough to replace next season as the Huskies enter into the first season of the Pac-12.
More teams (Colorado and Utah will be added) won't necessarily mean better competition, at least not immediately. But the Huskies will have plenty to worry about with current rivals Arizona and UCLA, as well as improving Stanford and California teams.
Picked by the vast majority of people to win the Pac-10 this season, the Huskies finished third in the regular season, a disappointment considering the expectations both inside and outside of the program, though they did win the Pac-10 tournament.
With heavy senior losses, will the Huskies compete for the league crown next season?
As mentioned, Bryan-Amaning, Overton and Holliday are the departing seniors. Bryan-Amaning was second on the team in scoring and first in rebounding and combined with Holliday to score nearly 26 points per game.
Overton scored six points per game, but more importantly was a catalyst defensively and a distributor offensively.
With the departure of Bryan-Amaning, the Huskies lose their only true low-post threat from this season.
Fortunately for the Huskies, their top scorer and team leader, Isaiah Thomas, should return.
Though he might choose to evaluate his status at some NBA evaluations, Thomas is not on many mock boards for this coming draft. Thomas has the ability to raise the level of play of those around him and make clutch shots in big games, and will be the key again for the Huskies in 2011-2012.
Also returning are six other players who averaged at least 15 minutes per game this past season. Terrence Ross came on strong toward the end of the season and looks to be a lock to start at either small forward or shooting guard. C.J. Wilcox averaged eight points per game in his 15 minutes and, along with Scott Suggs, can fill it up from the outside.
Darnell Gant continued his steady improvement up front, where the Huskies will need his solid 6'8" frame, and JUCO transfer Aziz N'Diaye showed tremendous athleticism for his size (7'0'', 260 pounds).
This year's experience for N'Diaye, who started 25 games, should make him much more prepared for the grind next season. His limitation was his inability to avoid foul trouble.
The wild card in the mix of returning players is Abdul Gaddy, who was lost for the season after 13 games due to a knee injury. Gaddy, who struggled as a freshman, was coming into his own as a sophomore, averaging 8.5 points and 3.8 assists per game. If he comes back healthy, the Huskies backcourt will be as good as anyone's.
Tony Wroten, ranked anywhere in the top 10 nationally for this year's point guards, is the key commitment for Washington.
The addition of Wroten to an already stacked backcourt gives coach Lorenzo Romar more options. He likes to play fast and use 10 players, so Wroten should get some time early.
Losing the quality of players that Washington will is never a good thing. However, there are several things to suggest that the Huskies should come back strong next season.
First, Isaiah Thomas is returning, and that is a great starting point.
Second, if you analyze the careers of Bryan-Amaning and Holliday, you can see some interesting parallels. Namely, with each successive season, their minutes increased, their production increased and their respective roles with the team expanded.
By using his bench, coach Romar provides all of his players with the opportunity to get better. Gant and N'Diaye will be in this position next season after being solid contributors this season.
Third, the Pac-12 will be wide open again next season, and while this year could be seen as a disappointment, opportunity to win the conference next season will be there.
Last, the style of play that Romar prefers puts pressure on opposing teams to either alter their style of play or try and gun with them. And most teams don't have the depth or the scorers to do the latter.
So, do they contend?
Arizona's Derrick Williams, barring an NBA lockout, will be a lottery pick. However, the Cats are ready to reload with one of the top recruiting classes in the country coming in. UCLA, who could lose Tyler Honeycutt to the draft, will be solid. Another nemesis of the Huskies, Klay Thompson, will likely declare for the draft as well.
All that said, the other teams in the league will be behind them in talent and depth, meaning that Washington will be at or near the top of the new and improved (?) Pac-12.
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