I didn’t expect the Huskies to win last night at Gonzaga. I also didn’t expect them to be down 27-6 nine minutes into the game, which went about as poorly as possible save for everyone coming out of it healthy.
If last night was your first time watching UW play this year — true for almost anyone without the Pac-12 Network — I think it offered something of a misleading impression for a few reasons.
– At Gonzaga might be the hardest game on the schedule
After their win, the Zags are now up to No. 13 in the KenPom.com rankings, just ahead of the top Pac-12 team (UCLA, now 14th). Add in the crazed bandbox that is the Kennel and playing at Gonzaga is a tough matchup for any team, let alone one starting a pair of freshmen playing just their second true road game.
Earlier this year, Gonzaga hosted a pretty good San Diego State team and beat the Aztecs 69-48 in a game that was no closer than this one. We’ll see if Akron, the other top-100 team the Zags host, can do any better on Saturday night.
– The Huskies couldn’t make anything around the rim
The signature sequence of this game to me came just under four minutes in. Washington came up with a pair of offensive rebounds and missed twice from point-blank range before Przemek Karnowski finally cleared the defensive glass. He began a fast break that resulted in Jordan Mathews burying a 3 at the other end. The phrase “five-point swing” is one of my pet peeves because it implies the other team would automatically go scoreless, but in this case had the Huskies merely made a layup they could have forced Gonzaga into the half-court offense in addition to scoring two points. Let’s call it a 3.8-point swing, one of many that helped turn the game into a rout.
According to Hoop-Math.com, UW shot 14-of-35 (40 percent) at the rim. These are the kinds of looks teams want to generate on offense, and the Huskies have made them at a 58.7 percent clip this season. It would be overly simplistic to say UW should have made six or seven more shots because many of those attempts came on second chances that wouldn’t have existed had the first shot gone down, but suffice it to say the process was better than the results for the Huskies’ offense.
– Gonzaga made everything from the perimeter
Intriguingly, virtually the same thing happened to San Diego State on offense in Spokane. The Aztecs shot 8-of-19 (42.1 percent) at the rim. The only reason the final score wasn’t more lopsided than 21 points was the Zags’ 8-of-24 3-point shooting. UW got no such break, as Gonzaga made half its 16 3-point attempts.
The Huskies are now allowing 38.7 percent 3-point shooting, good for 284th in the country. And while it’s tempting to attribute that to missed assignments like the ones that left Matthews open, the evidence is overwhelming that teams have little to no control over what their opponents shoot from 3-point range over a full season, let alone a handful of games. Washington’s 3-point defense will inevitably regress to the mean, which will be interpreted as the defense improving.
If the Zags go 6-of-16 on 3s and the Huskies make a few more shots around the basket, this game looks more like the 15-point loss KenPom predicted than the calamity that actually unfolded. And that helps explain why this game didn’t actually do much to change KenPom’s outlook for the season going forward. Washington dropped just four spots in the rankings and is still projected to go 7-11 in conference play.
Look, let’s be clear: this is not a good Huskies team. It’s going to take some kind of a miracle — either an in-season turnaround on the magnitude of Lorenzo Romar‘s first NCAA tournament team in 2003-04 or running the table at the Pac-12 Tournament — for the Huskies to reach March Madness. But UW also isn’t nearly as bad as last night looked and felt.