The ASJ Effect

When starting tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins walked on to the Husky basketball team earlier this month, it wasn’t clear what to expect. Seferian-Jenkins had been a fine player in high school, but would have to learn Lorenzo Romar‘s system from scratch during the middle of the season.

On Saturday, Seferian-Jenkins got his chance as Washington’s fourth big man off the bench, and made an immediate impression. In the 16 minutes he played before fouling out, Seferian-Jenkins grabbed seven boards and gave the Husky front line an element of toughness that was previously lacking. My work with plus-minus only reinforces how valuable Seferian-Jenkins was: Washington outscored Stanford by 17 points with him on the floor, meaning the Cardinal was +4 the rest of the 13-point Husky win.

Here are the single-game plus-minus figures for Thursday’s loss to California and Saturday:

California

Simmons +9
Ross +3
Gaddy +2
Gant +1
Wroten +1
Kemp -5
N’Diaye -5
Stewart -6

Stanford

Seferian-Jenkins +17
Gant +15
Wroten +14
Ross +13
Gaddy +9
N’Diaye 0
Simmons -3

Over a single game, we know plus-minus is not terribly meaningful in a larger sense. It tells a story–Washington was factually better with Seferian-Jenkins in the game–but can’t necessarily attribute it to his efforts. Maybe Seferian-Jenkins just happened to play with better lineups, or against weaker Stanford units. (Indeed, the Cardinal’s second-string front line is lacking.)

Still, the difference between Seferian-Jenkins and what the Huskies had been getting from their true freshmen big men is immense. Neither Martin Breunig nor Shawn Kemp, Jr. has posted a positive plus-minus in a conference game since the opener against Oregon State. C.J. Wilcox‘s injury further stressed Washington’s depth, and Seferian-Jenkins’ emergence allowed Romar to use Desmond Simmons as a backup small forward to rest his starting perimeter trio. (Such lineups were +3 in about seven and a half minutes.)

The loss to Cal can pretty clearly be traced to the segment of the first half when Kemp and fellow true freshman Hikeem Stewart were on the floor together. That unit put the Huskies in a hole that was ultimately too big to overcome. Seferian-Jenkins turned what had been Washington’s biggest weakness into an enormous positive. If he can do anything like that in the future, and if Wilcox is able to return, it stands the chance of turning around the season.

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