basketball-men-d1 flag

Tim Booth | The Associated Press | October 27, 2018

College basketball: Next step for Washington is ending its seven-year NCAA tournament drought

SEATTLE — David Crisp, Noah Dickerson and Matisse Thybulle all arrived at Washington with the task of being the group to get the Huskies back to the NCAA tournament.

It's a challenge that remains after three years, a coaching change, a chance to leave for other opportunities and now hope the task accepted when they arrived might finally be accomplished.

Washington begins the season with the kind of optimism that has been missing from the program since the early part of this decade and the last time it was in the NCAAs. The Huskies were No. 25 in the preseason AP Top 25 and picked to finish third in the preseason Pac-12 poll. The vastly higher expectations are part of a remarkable turnaround coach Mike Hopkins has engineered in 18 months on the job.

But proving the Huskies are worthy of their standing in the conference and nationally is the next step in Hopkins' development of the program.

"We've got a lot of potential to be really good. Really good. The only thing that can stop us is us," Crisp said.

Crisp, Thybulle and Dickerson will be at the heart of Washington's success and each plays a critical role. Crisp is the point guard in charge of making sure the offensive runs efficiently. Dickerson is the inside presence who improved dramatically as a junior and needs to be just as good again. Thybulle may be the best defensive player in the Pac-12 and arguably the biggest key to Washington's zone defense.

MORE: 7 early-season college basketball games you don't want to miss

Throw in sophomore scorer Jaylen Nowell and 3-point threat Dominic Green and the Huskies have the makings of a team that has the right mix to be among the Pac-12 elite.

And if the expectations needed to be amped, the Huskies beat preseason No. 7 Nevada by 18 on the road in an exhibition game.

"It hasn't been done in a while, unfortunately," Thybulle said of making the NCAAs. "We have all the pieces necessary to do it. We've all gotten better, myself included, and I think that would be the perfect way for me to end it."

Here's what else to know about the Huskies, who are ranked in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 2011:

SUPER SOPHOMORE: Nowell had a dynamic beginning to his college career. He scored 32 points in the first game of his career and after six games was averaging more than 20 points per game. He was at times a star in the making during his freshman campaign and at other moments struggled. Nowell said the strain of the season began to wear on him as February and March rolled around and his play suffered. Nowell still led the Huskies averaging 16 points per game as a freshman, but he topped 20 points only three times in his final 16 games.

Nowell may have more of an influence on the game offensively this year as he's been working as the backup at point guard to Crisp.

FRESHMEN CLASS: Washington's freshmen class may not have the same impact as the group that arrived a year ago, but it brings some unique attributes and will likely get solid minutes during the season. Posts Nate Roberts and Bryan Penn-Johnson immediately give Washington the frontcourt depth it lacked a year ago, while Jamal Bey is another athletic wing that gives the Huskies a fourth backcourt player that's 6-5 or taller.

IN THE ZONE: How Washington plays its zone defense won't be a surprise to Pac-12 foes this season. Playing the Huskies required some acclimation last season because the zone as the primary defense is so rare, especially in the Pac-12. The evolution of the zone in Hopkins' second season will be the length added to the defense with the addition of Bey, Penn-Johnson and Roberts off the bench. The zone will be a handful to deal with for 40 minutes.

STIFF SCHEDULE: Washington's non-conference schedule is a serious upgrade over previous seasons.

The Huskies will face four teams ranked in the preseason Top 25 before Pac-12 play begins in early January. None of those will take place in Seattle with road games at Auburn and Gonzaga and neutral site matchups against Minnesota (Vancouver) and Virginia Tech (Atlantic City). The Huskies also face Texas A&M during their time in Canada and open the season against Western Kentucky, the preseason favorites in Conference USA.

Even if it means the Huskies may take an additional loss or two, Hopkins believes the upgraded schedule with be beneficial when being evaluated by the NCAA selection committee.

This article was written by Tim Booth from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.