Okay, so we’ll be honest. It’s been a bit of a slow news week given finals and a one week hiatus between Syracuse games. With that in mind, we thought it would be an opportune time to catch up with our old friend Max Vrooman at uwdawgpound.com to talk Hop, Washington basketball and the big win over Kansas.
TNIAAM: So it seems the fan base has more or less bought into Mike Hopkins, what's the overall sentiment from the Pacific Northwest?
MV: The overall sentiment has been positive. Hop’s energy and enthusiasm have been infectious and it’s clear he really gives a crap whenever things go right or wrong. The jacket watch has already become a thing to note when he first becomes so upset that it needs to come off. He went out before the big game against Gonzaga on Sunday delivering pizzas to the student section who were waiting in line the day before finals started which is always a crowd pleaser.
TNIAAM: Have fans bought into the 2-3 zone or is there still some lingering doubt about what could be viewed as a gimmick of a defense?
MV: I don’t think there was ever real skepticism about the 2-3 zone. I think fans realize that the current team is trying to run a defense mostly with personnel who weren’t recruited into it. Only 2 of the current 5 starters are players that Hopkins would have ideally recruited to play in it. It’s not that the other players aren’t good but they clearly aren’t all suited for it. I think there have been enough flashes that fans are excited to see what it could look like with an infusion of length next year. Noah Dickerson is the team’s best offensive weapon and low-post player but at 6’8 with short arms and limited agility/athleticism he is a liability in the zone.
TNIAAM: You guys have a chance to eclipse last season's win total before conference play. Was that expected coming into the season?
MV: I think 9-4 would have been the target coming into the non-conference season (9 all of last year) so this is almost on pace. To meet it meant avoid dropping a gimme at home as the team has done several times in the past few seasons. Eclipsing that total meant finding an upset win over one of Providence, Virginia Tech, Kansas, and Gonzaga. Obviously the win over Kansas was the upset we weren’t expecting.
TNIAAM: How did the fan base react after the Kansas win?
MV: The fan base definitely took notice instantly. The game thread for the game before Kansas (against Omaha) had 4 comments on it. The Kansas game had 205. Most of the home games this year have had less than 2,000 people at them. The Gonzaga game on Sunday was a sellout (capacity about 10,000) for the first time in the non-conference since 2010. Now part of that is because it was a game against an in-state rival but a lot more of those seats would’ve been filled by Zags fans buying up tickets if UW had gotten blown out by Kansas. The question now going forward is whether following a blowout loss to a top-15 team they’ll continue showing up next week against Loyola Marymount and Bethune-Cookman.
TNIAAM: With the PAC-12 having a down year, is it a stretch to think Washington could earn at at-large bid this season?
MV: It’s definitely a stretch. If they can make the NIT I think 95% of the fan base would be happy with it. Part of it being a down year for the Pac-12 means I don’t think more than 4 teams make the tourney. And this team is much closer to 8th in the conference than they are to 4th. The reasonable best case scenario I see is 9-9 and 7th place which would be in line for an NIT spot.
TNIAAM: Everyone is back for Washington next year barring some unforeseen circumstance, is big dance definitely the goal for next year?
MV: I think it should be the goal. Everyone would have a year of experience in the zone plus UW will be bringing in a true point guard which they’re currently missing and one (with another pending) 7-foot center with athleticism and a 7-6 wingspan. Replacing the back end of this roster with those additions and having 3 senior starters (this team has none) sounds like a tourney team.
TNIAAM: How have the New York kids (Carter and Wright) come along?
MV: Both have been steadily improving throughout the year. Nahziah Carter got his first start of the season against Gonzaga but I don’t expect that to be permanent. He’s made 46.2% of his 3-pointers so far in a small sample size which is well above expectations. He’ll also make his fair share of freshman mistakes but then flash with tremendous putback dunks. Carter has played 18+ minutes in 3 of the last 4 and has established his place in the rotation.
Wright looked completely lost for the first few weeks before finding his stride. Through the first 6 games, Hameir was averaging a foul every 3 minutes and because of that could never find his rhythm. But now he’s playing under control and has hit 6/12 from deep with very good block and rebound percentages. He’s played 19+ minutes in each of the last 4 games and has clearly passed Carlos Johnson and Dominic Green on the depth chart. Barring injury they should continue to play about a combined 40 minutes per game the rest of the season.
TNIAAM: On the off chance, has there been any sort of discussion of getting Syracuse on the schedule for next year?
MV: I haven’t heard anything about it. My gut read is that Hopkins has too much respect for Boeheim to want to schedule that game and stick one of them with a loss. However, if Hop could set up a home and home it would do wonders for continuing to recruit the Northeast so in that regard I could maybe see it as a favor from Boeheim. But unless they play as part of a tournament I don’t see it happening.
TNIAAM: Anything else Syracuse fans should know?
MV: The discussions about whether Hop is interested in coming back down the road are going to continue at Syracuse but he’s 100% committed to the team right now. The video of the team celebrating with him after the win against Kansas was great. (Link: https://twitter.com/katieK24x13/status/938803801749893120). The players love him. For now both fan bases can wish the other best of luck and we’ll see how things stand when Boeheim is finally on his way.
What do you think? Have you kept up to speed with Hop and Washington hoops? Do you needlessly watch every Washington game possible like me? Think it’s about time we shut the heck up about Hop and Washington and focus on Syracuse?
Leave your thoughts below.