After losing their top three scorers from a team that finished last season with a 19-15 record and missed the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive year, the Washington Huskies begin the 2016-17 basketball season with a 4 p.m. Sunday game against Yale at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
Here are five things to watch from the Huskies this season.
1. Markelle Fultz.
The star freshman is the kind of player who can ensure by himself that the Huskies will be worth watching this season. A 6-foot-4 point guard, Fultz has been named a second-team preseason All-America selection by the Associated Press and USA Today, and is widely considered among the top three freshmen in the country.
He will be relied upon to help make up for the loss of UW’s top two scorers, guards Andrew Andrews and Dejounte Murray, though he is also reputed as a masterful distributor. His presence on the floor should help elevate everybody else’s play.
Fultz has been sitting out of practice recently and played only 23 minutes in UW’s 109-103 exhibition victory over Western Washington in order to get some rest after a busy summer of international competition and travel. But coach Lorenzo Romar said Fultz is ready to play as much as needed against Yale.
Against Western, Fultz finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a blocked shot, and scored six consecutive points during a crucial stretch in the game’s final minutes.
2. Better rebounding.
The Huskies were among the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country last season, but Romar is certain they will be better this year.
Why? Well, UW added a pair of strong forwards, Auburn transfer Matthew Atewe and New Zealand native Sam Timmins, who should allow the Huskies to match up against bigger teams. And they still have forwards Malik Dime and Noah Dickerson, both of whom had a full offseason to get stronger and dedicate themselves to attacking the glass.
Early signs are positive: the Huskies turned the ball over too much and had too many defensive lapses in their exhibition game against Western, but they did out-rebound the Vikings, 51-29, and they do appear to have more players this year who want to attack the glass. Fultz should help with that effort, too.
3. Who makes shots?
The Huskies shot 33.1 percent from 3-point range as a team last season, a clip that ranked 11th in the Pac-12. And they lost Andrews, their best outside shooter.
So who is going to stretch the floor and knock down 3-pointers this season? UW’s top returning shooter is sophomore guard Matisse Thybulle, who made 36.6 percent of his 3-point attempts last season and has said he wants to be more assertive offensively this year.
UW also needs to get more consistent shooting out of sophomore guard David Crisp, who made some big shots last season but ultimately connected on only 30.2 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc — and he shot more than anyone but Andrews.
Fultz is a capable shooter, but not a marksman. It would help if fellow freshman Carlos Johnson could come off the bench and knock down a 3-pointer or two. And like Thybulle, UW’s coaches think sophomore Dominic Green has made significant strides since last season and can be one of the team’s most consistent scorers. Speaking of …
4. An improved Dominic Green.
Ask Romar to name the most improved player on the team, and Green’s name comes to mind immediately.
He played sparingly as a freshman last season, averaging 11.3 minutes and 2.7 points per game off the bench. Green, Hazen High School’s all-time leading scorer, was reputed for his 3-point touch, but struggled with shot selection last season and shot only 27.6 percent from the perimeter.
Romar hopes the 6-foot-6 sophomore continues to produce like he did in UW’s exhibition game, when he scored a team-high 25 points with seven rebounds in 33 minutes. Green made 7 of 13 from the field, 3 of 8 from the 3-point line and 8 of 13 from the free-throw line in that game, and looked more comfortable and confident as a scorer.
5. Defensive focus.
This was Romar’s biggest criticism of UW’s closer-than-expected exhibition win over Western: the Huskies didn’t focus enough on their defensive details.
Western shot only 40.5 percent from the field, but the Huskies gave up a number of wide-open 3-point looks. That can’t happen against better opponents.
UW’s defensive approach is similar to last season, but not identical: Last year, the Huskies switched nearly every screen, a philosophy Romar chose because the Huskies’ roster was stacked with freshmen and the learning curve was steep. They finished ninth in the Pac-12 in defensive field goal percentage.
They won’t switch nearly as much this year, but will still play what Romar and players describe as “Husky basketball” — pressuring passing lanes, trapping occasionally and aggressively pursuing the basketball in an effort to fuel their transition game.
The addition of Timmins and Atewe should help UW better defend the post, especially with UW single-season blocks record-holder Dime back to protect the rim.
WASHINGTON (0-0) VS. YALE (0-0)
4 p.m., Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Seattle
TV: Pac-12 Network. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.
All-time series: Washington leads, 3-0.
Statistics for 2015-16 unless otherwise noted:
3 Alex Copeland, G (6-3, so.): 2.3 ppg, 0.7 rpg.
13 Trey Phills, G (6-2, so.): 1.2 ppg, 0.8 rpg.
1 Anthony Dallier, G (6-6, sr.): 5.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg.
32 Blake Reynolds, F (6-7, so.): 2.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg.
44 Sam Downey, F (6-9, sr.): 5.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg.
20 Markelle Fultz, G (6-4, fr.): Has not played in college.
1 David Crisp, G (6-0, so.): 7.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg.
4 Matisse Thybulle, G (6-5, so.): 6.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg.
15 Noah Dickerson, F (6-8, so.): 7.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg.
10 Malik Dime, F (6-9, sr.): 6.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg.
Scouting report: Yale had perhaps its best season ever in 2015-16, winning the Ivy League title before beating Baylor in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It was the Bulldogs’ first NCAA tourney win in school history. … But Yale has lost a lot, including four senior starters. And the Bulldogs will play this game and the rest of the season without their star player, guard Makai Mason, who broke his foot during an intrasquad scrimmage. Mason led the team last season with 16.0 points and 3.8 assists per game and would have been Yale’s only returning full-time starter. Without him, Yale’s most experienced returning player is guard Anthony Dallier, who started 10 games last season. No other available player on Yale’s roster started more than three games last season. … Yale was one of the best rebounding teams in the country last season, ranking in the top 10 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebound percentage. As a team, the Bulldogs shot 46.9 percent from the field last season and 36.3 percent from 3-point range. … Washington has not played against Yale since 1980, a 68-62 victory at the Pillsbury Classic in Minneapolis. The Huskies have won each of their three games against the Bulldogs. … Dickerson sat out UW’s exhibition game due to a concussion, but is expected to play Sunday.
Christian Caple: email@example.com