TOP OF THE TOWN – You know, Washington has a good chance to win the Pac-12 basketball tournament that starts Wednesday (March 11) in Las Vegas. Don’t laugh. They do. Yes, they have been real bad for most of the conference season, finishing at the bottom of the 12-team standings with a 5-13 record (15-16 overall) and what you see is almost always what you get. It often amused me, for example, that when the Seattle Mariners picked up a pitcher on waivers or in trade the explanation was usually that, yeah his statistics don’t look good but we believe with a few mechanical adjustments and a new environment he can be much better. Yeah, right. What I quickly discovered is a player, pitcher or position player, is what he has been. In other words, believe his career statistics. They can’t hide the truth. So it is with the Washington Huskies men’s basketball team. They are what they are, and you don’t have to look too far to see the truth. It is hiding in plain sight. They are a 5-13 conference team. But I’m going against what I have always believed when I say they could win the tournament. This is a Husky team that is extremely young and for that reason could not figure out how to play well together until this past week. Freshman superstar Jaden McDaniels did what a lot of freshmen do – play like they are still in high school. Going from high school to college in a major D-1 program is easy to say but very difficult to actually do it with success. There are very few Kobe Bryant’s or LeBron James, guys that go directly from high school to the pros and become immediate stars. McDaniels had a tough time just going from Federal Way High School to the Washington Huskies. He was very immature and it showed. I think he is slowly maturing, and it showed in his last two games when he was seen taking more of a leadership role and instead of taking 25-foot jump shots passed the ball to teammates who had better shots. He’s not completely there yet, but I have seen a lot of improvement. The fact he didn’t show up on any of the two Pac-12 All-Conference teams (first and second teams) shows that others saw what I saw in him for most of the season. Then there is Isaiah Stewart, the other freshman superstar. He is a man among children, although he is just 18. He dominated in the non-conference schedule, imposing his bulk and toughness on unsuspecting opponents. But once Stewart got into conference play, opponents were ready for him. They used double and triple teams to quiet him offensively, and the Huskies never figured out how to get him the ball, and he never figured out you need to move around to free yourself. He too often just stood still and allowed opponents to easily double down on him. I blame coach Mike Hopkins for not drawing up plays for him that would free him. I would have brought him out to the high post or use a double low post offense that would give Stewart some freedom while at the same time allowing teammates to dribble drive into the paint for shots or kick-outs to wide-open teammates. I still don’t see that happening, but with a more mature McDaniels and the insertion of 6-2 sophomore Elijah Hardy into the lineup at point guard the ball now moves smoothly from side to side, which creates scoring opportunities. Hardy had not played well for much of the season and when he finally was given more time in the lineup the last few games he continued to be a disappointment. But then, suddenly, he became much better and is the guy that has lit a fire at both ends of the court for the Huskies. He is quick, has a great spin move, and his teammates seem to relish him in the lineup. The fourth player who I think could be the decider in whether the Huskies can possibly win the conference tournament is Nahziah Carter. The 6-6 junior is maddeningly inconsistent. One game he looks like a possible second-round NBA draft choice and the next game looks like he belongs in Sheridan Park playing in the Bremerton Parks and recreation league. But when Carter is fired up (he appears to be very emotional player) he can be as good as it gets.The past two games, road wins in Arizona against the Sun Devils and the Wildcats, it all finally came together for the Huskies with Hardy playing well, McDaniels showing he may have finally matured and the Huskies playing tough on defense and offense. If this past week is an indication of who they are now, they could win this thing. I wouldn’t go out and bet your house on it, but I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel for these Huskies. Can they do it over the next four days, starting Wednesday? It could be interesting.

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