Chosen by the West Coast media to finish eighth in the Pac-12 Conference, the University of Washington men’s basketball team enters the 2013 regular season with few absolutes and many question marks, the first of which will be answered Sunday at Alaska Airlines Arena against Seattle University (7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
Coach Lorenzo Romar has a new point guard: McDonald’s All-America selection, freshman Nigel Williams-Goss, earner of steady praise from Romar and a high IQ. Williams-Goss turned down Harvard to join the Huskies after starring last season at Findlay College, a prep school in Henderson, NV.
Romar has what appears a reliable power forward: Fffth-year senior Perris Blackwell, a transfer from the University of San Francisco who, at six-foot-nine and 275 pounds, will try to replace the front court presence lost from Aziz N’Diaye’s departure.
Romar is comfortable with his roster as evidenced Wednesday in UW’s 95-65 exhibition win against Central Washington. Romar played everyone, though no one exceeded 25 minutes.
However, questions loom.
“Defensively, how are we going to play? How are we going to rebound?” Romar said Friday, pegging his biggest concerns. “With the newer guys – these are real games now against quality opponents – can we carry over what we’ve been seeing in practice to the games immediately or will it take awhile?”
Lost to graduation are three of the Huskies’ four leading scorers (Abdul Gaddy, Scott Suggs and N’Diaye) from last year’s 18-16 team. Junior forward Desmond Simmons, who was expected to provide a proven defensive presence, is out until at least mid-December after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee earlier this week.
“It means someone is going to have to step up and provide some of those things for us or provide in more minutes what they can bring to the table,” Romar said.
There’s going to be a lot of replacing going on. It’s a theme that hovers over a UW outfit that, in Romar’s 12th season, will need major contributions from unfamiliar faces to improve upon last season’s disappointing first-round NIT loss.
“Curio-excited — how would you say that?” Romar joked about his outlook for the regular season. “I’m curious and excited. I like what we have to work with. I like the fact that we have depth . . . probably 95 percent of the time (we) have five players on the floor that can make a play for themselves or others.”
One who did that well against the Wildcats was Blackwell, the Huskies’ new best option down low. Wednesday he led the UW with 21 points on seven of nine shooting in only 21 minutes, adding nine rebounds and two assists.
“He knows how to seal you,” Romar said. “He gets you on his hip and he gets an angle. It’s hard. He’s very crafty and he can shoot with his right or left hand. He’s strong and quick. He’s quicker than he is fast.
Per NCAA transfer rules, Blackwell sat out last season after earning West Coast Conference honorable mention as a junior for the Dons in 2011-12. Since, he has added nearly 40 pounds to his frame.
“He’s relentless. He knows what butters his bread,” Romar added. “He knows how to get in those positions and he just continues to throw it at you the entire time he’s in there.”
Back-up center Gilles Dierickx battles Blackwell every day in practice.
“Man, it’s tough. I’m not going to lie,” Romar said.
The Huskies aren’t receiving much preseason hype, even though they return leading scorer C.J. Wilcox (16.8 points per game), healthy for the first time in a year after offseason surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot. Wilcox had the chance to enter the NBA draft after the disappointing end to last season but opted to instead return for his fifth-year senior campaign.
Unproven but capable are sophomore Andrew Andrews, the former Oregon 5A Co-Player of the Year, and Mike Anderson, a first-year junior-college transfer that might help provide the Huskies’ stability in the back-court.
For the first time in Romar’s tenure, expect a team that relies most on the post.
“Now I think we still have really good guards, but now we have inside play that balances it out a little more,” he said. “We have never really been a balanced team in terms of inside and outside. Now this gives us a little more balance in the perimeter as well as in the paint. That’s what you want.”