In a prove-it year for Mike Hopkins, the Washington Huskies have one of the best teams on paper in program history.
Is this the season it finally comes together for Mike Hopkins? It’s hard to believe the ex-Syracuse assistant coach is heading into year seven in Washington. So far, his tenure hasn’t been bad, but it also hasn’t lived up to the expectations. He’s had a bit of a leash, but with the roster the Washington Huskies have in 2023-24, an NCAA Tournament bid may need to be the goal.
Hopkins has a versatile bunch, which starts with Keion Brooks Jr., an athletic forward who led the Huskies in scoring last season. Rutgers transfer Paul Mulcahy is the same height as Brooks (6-7), but is a point guard. How he will blend with Sahvir Wheeler is crucial, because both succeed with the ball in their hands. Wheeler’s experience in playing with Brooks previously at Kentucky should also pay dividends.
Washington’s depth is also noteworthy. Moses Wood, a transfer from Portland, could also crack the starting lineup – really dependent on Wheeler’s health. Sophomore Koren Johnson had a solid freshman year and should also be in for an improved season. Then there’s Franck Kepnang, who looked all the part of a key piece on last year’s Washington team before an injury derailed him for the season.
A pair of two more transfers, and 4-star freshman Wesley Yates III round out an impressive Washington Huskies basketball team.
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Head coach: Mike Hopkins (7th season, all at Washington)
2022-23 record: 16-16 (8-12)
2023 postseason finish: No postseason
Notable departures: Keyon Menifield (Transferred to Arkansas), Cole Bajema (Transferred to Utah), Noah Williams (Transfer Portal), Jamal Bey (Graduated), PJ Fuller (Transferred to Detroit Mercy)
Notable non-conference games: vs. Nevada (Nov. 12), vs. Xavier (Nov. 17), vs. Saint Mary’s or San Diego State (Nov. 19), vs. Colorado State (Dec. 2), vs. Gonzaga (Dec. 9)
PG: Sahvir Wheeler (5-9, 180, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 7.7 PPG, 5.6 APG, 2.3 RPG, 36.6 3P%, 21 games played (Kentucky)
SG: Nate Calmese (6-2, So.)
2022-23 stats: 17.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 36.7 3P% (Lamar)
SF: Paul Mulcahy (6-7, 210, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 8.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 37.0 3P% (Rutgers)
PF: Keion Brooks Jr. (6-7, 210, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 17.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.2 BPG
C: Braxton Meah (7-1, 250, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 8.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 0.6 APG, 1.6 BPG, 70.6 FG%
6: Koren Johnson (6-2, 175, So.)
2022-23 stats: 6.8 PPG, 1.8 APG, 1.2 RPG, 1.2 SPG
7: Moses Wood (6-8, 210, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 15.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 40.3 3P% (Portland)
8: Wesley Yates III (6-4, 200, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 47 rated recruit
9: Franck Kepnang (6-11, 250, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 9.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 0.3 APG, 1.9 BPG, 52.8 FG%, 8 games played (Season-ending injury)
2021-22 stats: 4.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.1 APG, 1.2 BPG, 57.5 FG% (Oregon)
10: Anthony Holland (6-5, 225, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 6.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 38.7 3P% (Fresno State)
11: Wilhelm Breidenbach (6-10, 227, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 3.6 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 0.5 APG (Nebraska)
Washington Huskies MVP: Keion Brooks Jr.
Washington Huskies basketball starts and ends with Keion Brooks Jr. He does a bit of everything and could wind up winning the Pac-12 Player of the Year if all goes well.
In the 2022-23 season, Brooks made an immediate impact coming to UW from UK. He nearly averaged 18 points per game and had a major impact on the glass. Brooks’ athleticism allowed him to block over a shot per game, despite being a 6-7 forward.
If there’s one thing Brooks could look to improve, it’s his three-point shot. He’s only a 26.5% shooter for his career, and despite some improvements last year, it still wasn’t anything to write home about. With multiple three-point options around him, Brooks won’t be forced to become a player he’s not, but it could turn an already dominant player that much better.
Washington Huskies make-or-break player: Sahvir Wheeler
The key for Wheeler is staying healthy. At Kentucky, that wasn’t the case. Wheeler only suited up in 21 games last season.
Wheeler’s impact was also much less than expected. After a terrific sophomore campaign at Georgia, his numbers slightly dropped in his junior year in Lexington. Instead of improvements, they dropped again last year, amid injuries and a season that didn’t live up to Kentucky’s expectations. Despite being a steady performer, Wheeler certainly wasn’t the player UK had hoped for.
How much of Wheeler’s fault that is, I’m not sure. UK’s system was different than Georgia’s, and playing with more talent can make it hard for numbers to stay up. One bonus was an improved three-point shot, which Washington hopes translates over.
Either way, Wheeler does have one thing working for him. His connection with Brooks was notable at Kentucky, and will be drawn upon at Washington. Playing alongside Mulcahy could be difficult, but if those three can co-exist, the ceiling is very high in Seattle.
Key analytic: Assists per game
The Huskies weren’t exactly a prime example for ball movement last season. They only averaged 11.5 APG as a team, 306th in the country. Defensively, Washington put up solid numbers. Offensively, aside from Brooks, it was stagnant and at times, an issue. In all but 3 of the Huskies’ 16 losses, they failed to score at least 70 points. That ought to change with this year’s roster, and it needs to.
The chances of it actually changing are pretty darn good. Wheeler and Mulcahy are two veteran point guards and should make life easier for each other, and Brooks. Nate Calmese is another talented scorer from Lamar, and has an underrated passing game. Big man Braxton Meah could have an easier life inside with Washington’s improved guard play.
Some teams are able to succeed with a player who has an excellent one-on-one game. For Washington, that can’t be the case. Ball movement needs to be the focus, especially with so many players that should be able to impact that part of the game.
Washington Huskies 2023-24 projections
Projected conference finish: 8th in Pac-12
Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16