Tennessee (2-0) travels to Toronto, Canada Saturday evening for its first major challenge of the season as the Vols will take on No. 20 Washington University in the James Naismith Classic.
The Huskies are coached by Mike Hopkins, a Jim Boeheim disciple who played and coached for the Orangemen before becoming Washington’s head man following the 2016-17 season.
Hopkins has taken the defensive identity of his former boss as Washington runs a two-three zone.
“Obviously Mike has a strong influence from his days as a player at Syracuse,” head coach Rick Barnes said. “As an associate head coach there, well ‘coach in waiting’ for all those years. They believe in that zone, and they adjust out of it. It’s not just your standard two-three zone. He’s not only played it, he’s lived it.”
Hopkins guided the Huskies back to the NCAA Tournament last season winning the PAC 12 regular season championship and losing in the Round of 64.
Washington entered the season with high expectations as the Huskies brought in blue chip recruits Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels while also adding Kentucky transfer Quade Green.
“Offensively, we know if you look at their personnel they got two of the top 10 recruits in the country,” Barnes said. “They’re a very talented team. They’ve already had some good wins.”
The Huskies are off to a hot start to the season coming from behind to beat No. 24 Baylor, 67-64. Washington improved to 2-0 on Tuesday as they survived a scare against Mount Saint Mary’s, 56-46.
Stewart and McDaniels are both 6-foot-9 forwards who are projected to go in the first round of next June’s NBA Draft.
Washington has leaned on the pair early in the season as they’ve both played 35 plus minutes a game. McDaniels has averaged 11.5 points and 8.5 rebounds through the Huskies first two games of the season while Stewart has averaged 15.5 points and six rebounds.
The duo will be a challenge for Tennessee’s frontcourt as the Vols have run a lot of small ball over their first two games.
John Fulkerson will be matched up with McDaniels while 6-foot-6 Yves Pons, a perimeter turned post player, will be charged with guarding Stewart.
“It’s a challenge because Isaiah Stewart is a fantastic player,” Barnes said. “He plays hard. He goes both ways really hard. Runs the floor hard, post hard and he does everything hard. I love Yves (Pons). I’ll put him up against anybody because I know he’s going to give it his all.”
Despite the hype that Washington’s newcomers got this offseason, a returning guard has helped lead the Huskies offense early in the season.
Nahziah Carter averaged just over eight points per game as a sophomore last season but has expanded his offensive influence this season scoring 23 points in the win over Baylor and 14 points against Mount Saint Mary’s.
Similar to Tennessee, Washington is a thin team who has played just nine players this season. Only seven of those nine players average 10 or more minutes a game.
Washington leans heavily on its top six players: Carter, Stewart, Green, McDaniels, Hameir Wright and Jamal Bey.
Offensively, 87 percent of the Huskies scoring has come from Carter, Stewart, McDaniels and Wright.
Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. ET at Scotiabank Arena. The game will be aired on ESPN+.