SEATTLE - Say this about the Seattle University Redhawks' first full season of Division-I basketball since 1979-80: It's certainly been interesting. Probably the two most notable games I've watched this NCAA season have involved Seattle U visiting a Pac-10 opponent--first the Redhawks' improbable 51-point win at Oregon State, and now their 47-point loss last night at the University of Washington.
There was some reason to believe entering the game that Seattle U might pose a threat to its crosstown rival despite having gone just 5-9 in its last 14 games after a solid 4-2 start. After all, both teams had been inconsistent, the Redhawks sandwiching six losses in a seven-game span around the upset of the Beavers and the Huskies alternating between looking dominant and disappointing in the Pac-10. Nobody knows Washington better than Seattle U's first-year head coach Cameron Dollar, who served as Lorenzo Romar's right-hand man for the last seven years before getting a chance to run his own team. Also, the Huskies played without starting guard Isaiah Thomas, who sat due to illness.
Any notion of an upset was quickly dashed when Washington started the game with an 18-0 run, torching the Redhawks' 2-3 zone and holding Seattle U scoreless through three timeouts (two taken by Dollar) and more than five minutes of game action. The score would get little better for the Redhawks, who went to the locker room trailing 61-20. Quincy Pondexter outscored Seattle U all by himself in the half, 22-20.
Then things got surreal. Coming out of the locker room, Dollar instructed his players to start taking more risks on defense, holding out faint hope of a comeback and willing to accept the fouls that came with the style. In a postgame radio interview, Romar said he wasn't surprised because Dollar had suggested something similar in the past as an assistant.
"Yeah, without obviously doing it crazy or pushing them in the back, we were more trying to go for the ball and see if we could get a steal and be very aggressive going for it," Dollar explained to the media after the game. "If they call it, they call it. It wasn't intended to rough them up or be physical, it was to get to the bonus as quick as possible and slow the game down and get them to the line, which we were able to do."
Less than three minutes into the second half, veteran Pac-10 official Dick Cartmell called both Dollar and Romar to center court to deliver an impromptu lecture. Dollar wanted no part of Cartmell's message, which according to Romar was that the refereeing crew would not ease up on the whistle no matter how many fouls were committed. Cartmell wasn't exaggerating, and thus fans were treated to one of the longest halves of basketball you will ever see.
Seattle U was called for consecutive ticky-tack fouls while Washington tried to inbound the basketball, followed by a third very legitimate call, and the Huskies were in the single bonus at the 17:11 mark. All told, the Redhawks ended up getting called for 29 fouls in the final 20 minutes of basketball. Washington, which is prone to fouling in the best of circumstances, was hardly an innocent victim in the sloppy second half, getting whistled 18 times itself. There were six held basketballs and an amazing eight players fouled out. Six of them were from Seattle U, leading to this indignity. Since the Redhawks saw reserve guard Drew Harris leave the team this week, they dressed just 10 players and had to finish the game's final 1:32 with just four on the floor. (Possible defensive alignments: "The box (no one)" or the "2-2 zone.")
For some reason, the four-player lineup has always fascinated me, and I was devastated to realize the NBA doesn't allow it when the Golden State Warriors flirted with such history earlier this month. In the pro game, when the last available player reaches six fouls, that and each additional foul also draws a technical. Such was the case when Stephen Curry committed his sixth late in their game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Outside of Hoosiers, the only other four-player lineup I can remember--and probably the one that sparked the interest--came when Clemson committed 41 fouls (an ACC record, at least at the time, and four shy of Seattle U's total) against a North Carolina team led by Antawn Jamison in 1997-98, as described in a Sports Illustrated article I still remember vividly more than a decade later.
If Dollar legitimately believed that sending the Huskies to the free throw line would be an effective strategy for his team, he was badly mistaken. Washington made a school-record 46 of its record 61 attempts, led by 16-for-19 shooting by guard Venoy Overton, who started in place of Thomas. Combined with phenomenal first-half shooting and easy buckets against the Redhawks' pressure, the free throws helped the Huskies reach triple-digits with more than seven minutes left in the game and pile up 123 points, the second-highest total in the 108 years of Washington basketball.
Ultimately, just like the win over Oregon State, I'm not sure the game says much about where Seattle U is in its transition to Division-I. Both efforts were so out of line with the rest of the Redhawks' performance that they can safely be written off as flukes. Nor does winning by 47 indicate that the Huskies, who have dominated lesser competition but struggled on the road and against teams who can take away the easy buckets that power the Washington offense, has turned a corner after a pair of road losses to the L.A. schools last weekend.
More meaningful going forward may be the performance of the two NBA prospects in the respective teams' frontcourts. As quickly as Seattle U's Charles Garcia rose on draft boards early in the season, he has been slipping since mid-December. Garcia was a non-factor in that win over the Beavers, and had topped 20 points just once in his last seven games after scoring 20-plus in 10 of the first 13. Dollar benched Garcia for stretch run of a win over Utah Valley State, and he watched due to foul trouble much of the second half as the Redhawks beat Cal State Northridge last Monday. Taking note, Chad Ford dropped Garcia to No. 83 in his most recent Draft Tracker, and he's fallen to the second round of DraftExpress' most recent update.
Jon Nichols of Basketball-Statistics.com has done yeoman's work to provide NCAA plus-minus this season, and Garcia's poor net rating is one of the most interesting. On a hunch from following Seattle U, I asked Nichols to break down Garcia's plus-minus on a game-by-game basis, and what becomes clear is there have really been two seasons for him.
Period On Off Net
Through Dec. 15 - 0.8 -9.4 + 8.6
Dec. 17-Present -15.6 +9.8 -25.4
Overall - 6.8 -2.5 - 9.3
Over the Redhawks' first 11 games, Garcia's dominant play carried the team to a 6-5 record, and he was missed badly when he sat. Starting with a Dec. 17 matchup against Oakland, however, Seattle U has been dramatically less effective with Garcia at the floor. At the same time, his unheralded teammates have been playing remarkably well without Garcia, outscoring the opposition in these scenarios five times in 10 games--highlighted by a +41 while Garcia watched against Oregon State.
Last night was Garcia's last matchup against an NBA-caliber opponent and possibly his last best shot to convince scouts that he belongs in this year's draft. If so, consider it a disappointment. Wearing Elgin Baylor's No. 22 throwback jersey as Seattle U honored its past, Garcia was a non-factor in the first half before piling up most of his 20 points following halftime.
One play epitomized Garcia's first half. He dribbled into a contested jumper over Pondexter, then allowed Pondexter to beat him back downcourt for a transition opportunity that resulted in an intentional foul from Garcia while Pondexter was going up to dunk.
There's plenty of blame to go around for the inability to get Garcia better looks in the half-court offense. In part, it's because the Redhawks guards have a tough time getting him the ball in the post, but Seattle U's coaching staff could be more creative instead of leaving the 6'10" Garcia to try to create one-on-one. Onus also goes on Garcia, who needs to refine his post game and certainly must improve his shot selection. I'm not sure it's really Garcia's fault, however, that the ball seems to move better without him on the floor. Teammates are so concerned with getting the ball to Garcia that they miss other opportunities that open up when he's watching on the bench.
The matchup with Pondexter highlighted Garcia's weaknesses. While the Husky forward gives up four inches to Garcia and is not quite in his class as an athlete, Pondexter has made dramatic strides in polishing his game over four years of college. Even on a night where Pondexter was uncharacteristically turnover prone in coughing the ball up five times, his shot selection was impeccable, and he needed just 11 shots (nine makes) and eight trips to the foul line to put up 27 points. By contrast, Garcia shot 4-of-14 from the field, doing most of his damage by making 12 free throws in 18 attempts.
Simply, Garcia hasn't played a lot of high-level basketball. He played a year and a half of JC basketball, sitting out the second half of last season to focus on his academics. (He was still denied entry to UW, which is why he ended up playing at Seattle U.) While I'm not sure his situation with the Redhawks is ideal for his development because he is so much more talented than his teammates and most of his opponents, it's certainly preferable to the NBA at this point.
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kpelton as he tries to make sense of the up-and-down Huskies.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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