Final Four aspirations for Isaiah Thomas and the Washington Huskies were denied this year, as they bowed out of the NCAA Tournament at the hands of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Will next year be any different?
If Thomas has anything to say about it, there is a good chance that the Huskies will make a deep run in March of 2012. Thomas, who will be a senior, will be called upon to lead Washington to glory, and the 5'9" point guard just might have what it takes to bring the Huskies to national prominence.
Nonetheless, there will be several obstacles that the Huskies must overcome next year. Among them is the loss of three contributing seniors.
Matthew Bryan-Amaning, a 6'8" power forward who played in the Pac-10 when Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute were still at UCLA, will graduate this year, leaving a gap in the front line. He played a very efficient career, one in which he improved each and every year.
This season, MBA averaged 15.3 points per game, good for second on the team, and 8.0 rebounds per game, leading the Huskies in that category. Next season, the team will look to Aziz N'Diaye, a 7' sophomore, to grab boards and be a physical presence on the court.
N'Diaye has shown his potential, demonstrated by his 11-rebound performance against the Tar Heels in the NCAA Tournament. Those types of performances will have to become regular for N'Diaye to give the Huskies a shot at winning in March.
With Isaiah Thomas returning, how far will the Washington Huskies advance next season?
Another key senior who will be leaving is Justin Holiday, brother of Philadelphia 76er Jrue Holiday. Justin, the older brother, averaged career-bests in points, rebounds, assists and minutes this season. At 6'6", he posed a matchup problem for opponents, and his presence will be sorely missed next season.
A possible replacement for Holiday could be C.J. Wilcox, a freshman wing with a similar build to that of the departing senior. In under 16 minutes of action per game this season, Wilcox scored 8.1 points, and reached double-figures in 12 contests.
Wilcox, along with Terrence Ross (8.0 points per game), will offer the Huskies versatility at the wing position next season. Both are long and athletic, and could have similar careers to that of Holiday. Scott Suggs, a will-be senior, is also capable of filling in for Holiday.
Although Isaiah Thomas has ran the point ever since he arrived on campus, Venoy Overton has been a solid backup. A model of consistency, Overton played in at least 20.5 minutes per game in each of his four seasons as a Husky, and played well when called upon. While his 6.0 points per game might not suggest it, it will be difficult to replace him.
A possible replacement for Overton is Abdul Gaddy, the highly-touted, in-state recruit from the class of 2009. He was averaging 8.5 points per game and 3.8 assists per game this season before he tore his ACL. If he can return healthy, he is a viable option.
Not to be overlooked is the incoming freshman class, which includes the third-ranked point guard in Tony Wroten, Jr. It shouldn't be expected for the teenager to have an immediate impact, but the southpaw (just like Thomas) could play a large factor in March Madness.
Along with Wroten, the Huskies will bring in Jernard Jarreau, a versatile 6'10" power forward, whose range extends to behind the three-point line. Shooting guard Hikeem Stewart was widely sought after in the Pac-10, and will look to crack a spot in the rotation.
At the end of the day, the success of the Huskies will fall on Isaiah Thomas's shoulders. Yes, the Huskies are losing three solid seniors, but they are bringing back a group of talented underclassmen. Along with the freshmen, the sophomores will fill in the voids.
The Washington Huskies were a mere basket away from forcing overtime against UNC in the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament this season, and in 2012, they will be hungry to advance further into March, perhaps making an appearance in the Final Four.
Edit: On March 31, Isaiah Thomas announced that he would enter the 2011 NBA Draft.