TCU and Washington met just a handful of days ago, squaring off in the Championship Game of the Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas. They’ll meet again tonight in Fort Worth, finishing off a home and home series that began a year ago in Seattle.
Maxvroom of UW Dawg Pound was kind enough to step away from the College Football Playoff Rankings Show Watch Party to take a few minutes and tell us a little bit about the Huskies, their incredible freshman guard, and the if they have their dancing shoes polished up for March.
Melissa: Washington has one of the best freshmen in the country in guard Markelle Fultz, who was limited in the first matchup against TCU but has been dynamite overall. How much has he changed the look of this Washington team on both sides of the ball through the early goings of the season?
Maxvroom: Markelle Fultz has been as dynamic as advertised so far. He’s taking over the lead guard role from a senior who averaged 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists and somehow has been better in just about every facet of the game. What really stands out is his offensive versatility. He can knock down the 3, has an impressive mid-range game, and can drive to the basket and throw down a monster jam. The offense has really struggled at times when Markelle sits down because he is so talented as both a scorer and distributor. On defense, Fultz has shown the potential to get steals with his length but as can be expected from a freshman is occasionally prone to making mistakes in the context of team defense.
Melissa: The Huskies have never been short on talent in the Romar era, but with mixed results. He's made the tourney six times, but it's been a handful of years since they've made a run. What do fans feel about Romar and the program as a whole heading into the meat of this season?
Max: There is a significant split among the Washington fan base on Coach Romar. Everyone agrees that Romar is the perfect steward for the program when it comes to representing UW off the court. The question has been can he make enough changes on the court? Romar has always preferred a hands-off approach on offense by recruiting great athletes who can make plays outside of structure. That has mostly worked (although with more turnovers than fans would like) but the defense has struggled mightily for several years with no indication that it’s getting better. Losing Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray to the NBA draft after their freshman years was a huge blow to the depth of this year’s team as neither was viewed as that kind of talent coming into last year. A very vocal contingent of fans believe that if this team with a possible #1 overall pick can’t make the tournament then it is finally time to move on from Romar. However, next year’s recruiting class is set to be top-5 nationally and it would be tough for the University to risk that talent jumping ship with a new coach.
Melissa: What is the ceiling for this Washington team? Can a talented player like Fultz push them to the top of a deep PAC 12 conference and make a run deep into the NCAA tourney?
Max: Given the results of the season so far, it looks as if the ceiling for this team is a 5th or 6th place finish in the Pac-12 and a medium seeding in the NCAA tourney with a chance to get a win or two depending on the matchup. If I had to wager right now I’d probably bet against a tournament berth but this team is still young enough that significant mid-season improvements aren’t impossible. The presence of Fultz and the tempo the team plays at means that UW will consistently score points but they haven’t shown the ability to stop any team with a competent point guard. The team defense needs to get better and quickly for this team to be as great as the sum of its parts.
Melissa: We've talked a lot about Fultz, but let's look at the rest of the lineup. What is the biggest strength on offense and defense for the team and who are some players that have stepped up in the early portion of the season?
Max: The only real positive on defense this year has been the team’s ability to block shots. They were 8th nationally in block percentage last year and are in the same spot this year led by Malik Dime. On offense, the team has just flat out shot the ball better than they did last year making about 5% more 2’s and 3’s. David Crisp and Matisse Thybulle are both shooting 41.7% from beyond the arc after shooting 30% and 36% respectively last year. Thybulle in particular deserves credit for his improvements on both sides of the ball. He is a crazy athletic wing who gets his hands on more balls, whether through blocks or deflections, than any player at UW in recent memory. On offense he has grown from a spot-up shooter role to showing an ability to take the ball off the dribble and nail a mid-range jumper in isolation. His scoring is up 6 points per game over last season and it’ll be crucial for him to keep up this level of play for UW to have a chance at making the tournament.
Melissa: TCU led almost wire to wire Saturday night in a game that was impacted by whistles and subsequent foul trouble. Do you see Wednesday's game playing out differently, and if Washington were to win, what would be the biggest difference in the game?
Max: From a Washington perspective, at the beginning of the 2nd quarter it really looked like Markelle Fultz was going to single-handedly will his team to victory. Then he got his 4th foul and the wheels finally came off for good. If he once again only plays 25 minutes then TCU can expect another easy win. It didn’t look like UW was prepared for how good Jaylen Fisher was in the pick and roll as he tore them up time and time again. You would expect the Washington staff to be able to make some adjustments defensively to slow the Horned Frogs down. Finally, Washington shot about 10% below their season average from three on Saturday night, so a few more makes from long range would go a long way towards closing the gap. That game didn’t provide a ton of hope for the Huskies but it isn’t inconceivable that Washington is able to make some defensive adjustments and Fultz is able to make a few plays down the stretch to steal one down in Fort Worth.
Thanks to Max for taking some time, and be sure to check out UW Dawg Pound and my Q&A with him, there!