I'm not sure there is another team currently in the nation that has started out more snake bitten than the Washington Huskies. This was supposed to be a year where they play up and down, but use 2013 as a spring board to being a nationally competitive program again next year. They're bringing in a McDonald's All-American point guard in Nigel Williams-Goss to supplement a veteran laden back court with visions of spoiler this year. Along with a complement of very capable guards Washington was going to have Jernard Jarreau and Desmond Simmons. Two front court players expected to get a lot of time and easy buckets facilitated by the guard heavy Huskies. Instead, both the 6-11 Jarreau and 6-7 Simmons are done for either the season or until January.
Due to the two devastating injuries, Washington has pretty much zero front court. The top minutes receivers for the Huskies through three games measure in at 6-5, 6-3, 6-2, 6-5 and 6-4. That tallest players for Washington that receive large chunks of minutes are Shawn Kemp and Perris Blackwell at 6-9. Both play about 20 minutes per game. Of the two Blackwell does get a good amount of focus when he's in, receiving about 20% of the possessions when he's in the game, but Kemp (and 7 footer Gilles Dierickx [7 minutes a game]) rarely touch the ball when they're in. With this kind of information you would think that Indiana's front court gets a lot of looks tonight.
Noah Vonleh and Hanner Perea have both looked great to start off the season and one would think that the first game in New York City in front of a legitimate national audience would be a very good opportunity for some coming out parties. Vonleh has already generated some chatter for inclusion as one of the top freshmen in the country and a couple of the regional basketball guys have taken notice of Perea, but now is as good a time as any to force these two into everyone's eye holes.
On the flip side, we may see some struggles on the perimeter tonight. Washington's biggest strength is obviously their bevy of lengthy guards. Washington is chocked full of guys that can drive and attack the basket. Senior CJ Wilcox is a sniper from range and former Stan Robinson teammate Williams-Goss has been an excellent facilitator so far. To go with his strong assist rate (36th in the nation) he's taking care of the ball very well. With an assists to turnover rate of nearly 4 to 1 he isn't going to be making dumb decisions. Defending Williams-Goss will be all about containing him and denying the pass, not getting into his body and frustrating him.
Defensively Williams-Goss has also been stellar. With a steal rate that is 81st in the country he's going to get into Yogi and force him to make some tough plays. This really might be the first real test to know exactly how good Yogi Ferrell is. He's going to have a tough defensive test and he's going to have long guards harassing him on the perimeter. If Ferrell can come out of this game smelling like roses, you have to think he's got a good shot of going toe to toe with Shabazz Napier of Connecticut on Saturday.
Filling out the guards in the lineup for Washington are starting third guard Andrew Andrews. Also one who takes very good care of the ball Andrews is a guy that can get to the free throw line with some consistency. Indiana's going to be tested on whether they can keep him in front of them and prevent the bigs from picking up fouls coming over to help. Also getting time on the perimeter are freshman Darin Johnson, who takes care of the ball when he's in but not much else. Same with Junior Mike Anderson. A strong rebounder for a perimeter player, keeping him off the glass will be key to putting Washington away early.
Overall this should be a good test for Indiana. This team isn't Stony Brook, but they do have pieces that are stronger individual players than what we've faced this year. They just don't fit well together as a team. Indiana is currently a Pomeroy 8 point favorite for a neutral court win, but I want to see more than that. The Hoosiers should push this well into a double point victory and flirt with 20 points for me to be content. Anything less than double digits, though par for what we've been doing so far, would have me concerned of a potential disaster against a very good UConn on Saturday.
One way or the other, this is going to be a very good experience for a very young Indiana team. Currently the 21st youngest team in the nation according to playing time, this Indiana team needs to see some bright lights and challenging competition. Washington and UConn/Boston College will provide just that. Look for the Hoosiers to make some mistakes but come out of this long weekend better for it. Whether they're 2-0, 1-1 or 0-2 after Saturday, Indiana will be better in February because of this.