Getting to know: Washington basketball

Washington's Matisse Thybulle comes down with the ball against Seattle in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, in Seattle.

Washington's Matisse Thybulle comes down with the ball against Seattle in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, in Seattle.

Only a few days after facing Jim Boeheim and Syracuse’s zone defense, the Kansas basketball team will see plenty of similarities against Mike Hopkins, a longtime Syracuse assistant, and Washington’s new zone defense.

The Huskies (6-2) have won their last four games, all of them at home against mid-major competition. But they’ve struggled to an 0-2 record against Power Five opponents heading into Wednesday’s game against Kansas (8 p.m., ESPN2) at Sprint Center.

One of the differences with the Huskies’ defense is how well they steal the ball. Washington is on pace to set a new school record, averaging 9.1 steals per game, which leads the Pac-12. The Huskies have double-digit steal totals in four games this season.

“Very few times in life you have opportunities to play a team of the caliber of a Kansas,” Hopkins said. “They’re No. 2 in the country and that’s why you come to these big schools and have these opportunities. I think the guys will be excited.”

Fun fact: As previously noted by KUsports.com’s Tom Keegan, the Kansas-Washington game was scheduled as a favor to Michael Porter Jr., a one-time commit to UW, as a potential homecoming game.

Series history: Kansas leads 8-1. The Jayhawks have won the last four meetings with their most recent meeting in 2008. Cole Aldrich had 16 points, nine rebounds and six blocks in a 73-54 win. UW’s Isaiah Thomas had 17 points.

BREAKING DOWN WASHINGTON

TOP PLAYER

No. 5 — G Jaylen Nowell | 6-4, 200, fr.

Washington's Jaylen Nowell shoots a free throw against Seattle in an NCAA college basketball game against Seattle Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, in Seattle.

Washington's Jaylen Nowell shoots a free throw against Seattle in an NCAA college basketball game against Seattle Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, in Seattle.

From Seattle, Nowell has emerged as one of Washington’s go-to scorers in his first collegiate season. He’s averaging 17.9 points on 52 percent shooting, adding 3.9 rebounds per game.

Nowell is very efficient with his mid-range jumper, knocking down 49.1 percent of those shots according to hoop-math.com. He’s an even better finisher at the rim, which makes him tough to stop once he starts driving downhill.

He scored 32 points in the team’s season opener, setting the UW freshman debut record. He won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2015 FIBA U16 championships.

  • “Jaylen Nowell is a special player, and I’ve been around a lot of great players,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “He’s got the eyes of a scorer. You can’t really explain it, he just does it. He gets those killer eyes.”

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 15 — F Noah Dickerson | 6-8, 245, jr.

Washington's Noah Dickerson (15) tries to drive past Seattle's Aaron Menzies in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, in Seattle. Washington won 89-84.

Washington's Noah Dickerson (15) tries to drive past Seattle's Aaron Menzies in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, in Seattle. Washington won 89-84.

Dickerson is averaging nearly a double-double in 24.6 minutes per game, posting 16.4 points and 8.0 rebounds a night. He leads the Huskies with 29 offensive rebounds and is shooting 67 percent from the floor.

According to hoop-math.com, he takes nearly two-thirds of his shots at the rim, which helps him earn trips to the free-throw line. A 73 percent free-throw shooter, he ranks 13th in the nation with 67 attempts. He originally committed to Florida, but switched after Billy Donovan left for the NBA.

No. 4 — G Matisse Thybulle | 6-5, 195, jr.

Only two players in the country, including West Virginia’s Jevon Carter, average more than his 3.5 steals per game. In addition to being a pesky defender with a 7-foot wingspan, Thybulle leads the Huskies with 18 blocks.

Thybulle, who has started 73 straight games, is averaging 11.3 points and 2.9 assists on 39 percent shooting. He’s made 12 of 44 attempts from behind the 3-point line.

ONE THING WASHINGTON DOES WELL

Washington ranks 11th in the country in free throw attempts, averaging an impressive 29 free throws per game. As a team, the Huskies are shooting 72.2 percent from the charity stripe. Kansas doesn’t foul often, especially with its limited depth, so it will certainly be an area to watch for both teams.

ONE AREA WASHINGTON STRUGGLES

Through the first eight games of the season, the Huskies have done a poor job of defending the 3-point line, allowing opponents to shoot 38.3 percent from behind the arc. One of the pitfalls of a zone defense is that they will allow a lot of 3-point attempts. Washington ranks 295th in the country in 3-point defense.

MEET THE COACH

Washington head coach Mike Hopkins directs his team against Seattle in an NCAA college basketball game against Seattle Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, in Seattle.

Washington head coach Mike Hopkins directs his team against Seattle in an NCAA college basketball game against Seattle Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, in Seattle.

Mike Hopkins spent 22 seasons as an assistant at Syracuse and was the designated replacement for Jim Boeheim, if the longtime coach had opted to retire. A Southern California native, Hopkins started at guard for Syracuse in the early ‘90s.

Known for his intensity, Hopkins has implemented a 2-3 zone at Washington. "I know the benefits of it,” Hopkins said. “The biggest thing I want to do is control tempo. So if you're fast, I can slow you down; if you're slow, I can speed you up.”

VEGAS SAYS…

Kansas by 21. The Jayhawks probably had no better preparation for Mike Hopkins’ schemes than facing Syracuse last weekend. Facing a similar zone defense, I think it only plays to KU’s advantage.

My prediction: Kansas 86, Washington 61. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 4-2.