Ten years ago, Syracuse fans would’ve bet the house that Mike Hopkins would ascend through the ranks and take over as Jim Boeheim’s successor. Even four years ago, when Hopkins took a wild left turn and swapped coasts to coach at Washington, some still had the expectation the former SU guard would return to his alma mater and lead the Orange.
It might be time to reconsider. On Tuesday, UW lost its season opener 71-64 to Northern Illinois, a team with a brand new head coach. At one point, Hopkins and company were trailing by 16, despite grabbing 27 offensive rebounds and committing fewer turnovers and fouls than NIU. The shocking numbers come with the shooting percentages. Washington shot 26% from the floor and 12% from behind the arc. Hopkins took the blame postgame.
“This is on me. That team played harder than us in the first part of the game. They played harder than us, and that’s unacceptable. They played harder. There were loose balls, and we didn’t get them. They got them. We got to do it from the get-go. We got to be tougher. We weren’t tough enough at the beginning of the game. On our home court, that’s not acceptable.”
It doesn’t answer the question as to why the team shot worse than a middle school squad, but the Fizz digresses.
This was the definition of a “buy game,” where usually a power five school brings in a (supposedly) lesser opponent, takes them behind the woodshed and feeds the athletic department a big cash influx. Instead, Washington looks absolutely silly. This is a low point for a tenure which began riding high.
Hopkins went to a Huskies team that suffered through a dud of a 2016 season (9-22. Yuck.) under Lorenzo Romar. UW was looking for a change in identity, and “Hop” brought just that. Carrying his 2-3 zone principles to Seattle, Hopkins led the Huskies to a 21-13 record in 2017 and went 27-9 in 2018, making the NCAA Tournament in 2018 before losing to one-seed North Carolina. He won back-to-back PAC-12 Coach of the Year awards. Those teams were helped along by strong guard play from now-Minnesota Timberwolf Jaylen Nowell and NBA Defensive Player of the Year candidate Matisse Thybulle.
Things began to sour in 2019. Hopkins brought in great talent – one-and-dones Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, along with Kentucky transfer Quade Green, but the team lacked offensive chemistry and looked uninspired as a unit. The Huskies went 15-17 before the season stopped short. Last season, UW went 5-21.
Five and twenty one.
They lost to UC Riverside.
Enough about Washington’s past. It’s time to focus on the present. If Tuesday is any indication, Hopkins is going to sail more rocky water, and it’s not getting any clearer. Washington’s 2022 recruiting class is 56th best in the nation. Hopkins’s seat is steaming. SU fans should be thanking their lucky stars Boeheim is eternal, because the Syracuse program could be headed in the wrong direction.