Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, January 6, 2012

Washington State Basketball Preview

Turnarounds in the Pac-12 are damn quick.  Just over 40 hours after the CU win over the Washington Huskies, and the Buffs will start running out of the North side of the CEC again.  This time it's the Washington St Cougars who will face our Black and Gold clad heroes.

CU stands alone at the top of the topsy-turvey Pac-12 conference, and have an excellent chance tonight to improve to 3-0 in the early goings of conference play.  Washington St was selected to finish in a 10th-place tie with CU before the season started, and the Buffs will have ample opportunity to prove separation Saturday afternoon.

Hey Buff Nation!  The basketball team needs your help one more time.  Get your butt up to the CEC to see the best team the Pac-12 currently has to offer (such as it is).  The Broncos aren't on til Sunday, so you have no excuse.  Your university needs you; answer the damn call!

Tip off is set for 2 in the afternoon, and you can see the action on FSN national (Reggie Theus is providing the analysis!).  It's on KOA if you can't find a FSN station to your liking.

Click below for the preview...


Opponents season so far - 

It was always going to be a tough season for the Cougars.  Losing one of the better players in program history, Klay Thompson, to the NBA means talent scramble mode for a program historically situated in the basement of the Pac-10 conference.  Compounding the loss of Thompson to the Golden State Warriors was the earlier-than-anticipated loss of forward DeAngelo Castro to the Turkish professional leagues.
Klay Thompson aint walking through that door...
The loss of the lanky Thompson and the bullish Castro leave the Cougars deprived of both talent and balancing height.  There is a steep drop off on their roster from the stalwarts in the forward ranks to a generally undersized guard corps.  Cue a season of struggle.

They've handled small schools, like Eastern Washington well enough, with the odd collapse against UC Riverside, but struggled to keep up with athletic squads like New Mexico, Oregon and Oklahoma.  An upset of the over-achieving Oregon St Beavers gave Cougar nation some hope of a climb out of a predicted 10th place in the Pac-12... that was until the game from Thursday night against Utah.
That win over the Beavers would've been big for the team without the stumble in Utah
The Utes, who had played the role of a train-wreck the entire season, nicked the Cougars in overtime 62-60, shocking many (including myself) who thought the Utes had a great chance to go winless in conference play.  The great Kenpom was at the game, and had this to say about the proceedings:
"As one might have expected in a Utah win, the Utes played better than normal. The ran a crisp offense in the first half and only committed three turnovers while racking up 29 points in 27 possessions. It also helped that the normally sloppy Utes encountered a zone during the entire half. This allowed Utah to take better care of the ball and also take the air out of it. The game ended with just 60 possessions in 45 minutes which undoubtedly boosted Utah’s chances as well. Furthermore, Washington State made just 10 of their 22 free throw attempts. The Utes played better than usual, and the Cougars (except for Brock Motum) played worse than usual, and that’s how these things happen."
That Ute win lays the groundwork for a basement finish in the conference for the stunned Cougars, and puts the damper on a season that had just seen its high point (the win over Oregon St).  Such is life in the Pac-12.

Coaching - 

OK, I'll be honest, I have no idea who the hell Ken Bone is.  Couldn't pick him out of a crowd if you paid me.
No offense, dude, but I have no idea who you are.  The warm-up and mic are my only hopes at an ID
Bone has been around in Pullman the past two seasons, and benefited greatly from the services of Klay Thompson.  Bone and Thompson were able to lead the Cougars to the other side of the finals bracket in last season's NIT.  While they ended up getting smoked by eventual champion Wichita State, it was a good run for a program which has even less historical success than CU.

His career record in Pullman sits at a mildly respectable 47-34, and, depending on his ability to recruit in life after Klay, seems to have the WSU program headed in a semi-positive direction.

Star Players -

In the power vacuum left by the departures of Thompson and Castro, the team's leading returning scorer is shot-happy guard Faisal Aden.  Even for a high usage player, he takes and misses a large number of shots without the added benefit of getting to the line.  In 12 games this season, he's taken only 19 free throws despite taking the vast majority of his team's shots when he's on the court.

The 6-4 senior has seen his minutes drop and the loss of his starting spot as a result of his reckless shot taking, and hardcore Cougar fans were almost glad to see him sit out three games earlier in the season with concussion issues.  Since returning he hasn't fared much better from the field, and is shooting a paltry 32% over the past five games. 
Aden has lost plenty of support in Pullman this season.
Still, since he takes a large number of shots, even with reduced minutes, there is always the danger that those heaves could fall, granting WSU some semi-deserved points.  Best to guard him anyway.  Overall, he's scoring near 13 points per game, and is a decent threat from outside (40% shooting from 3).  Defensively, he can play an empty shirt and still not get many stops.

The current leading scorer, junior Brock Motum, is one of the few players with any size that the Cougars can rely on a nightly basis.  Motum scores near 16 points and grabs over 6 boards per game.  The 6-10 Aussie forward is not much of a defensive force, but he's deadly in the paint with the ball in his hands.  He boasts and eFG of 62%, and can even step out and take a 3 when offered.
Yes, I did select this photo 'cause the one kid is wearing a Sox hat.  What of it?
It was anticipated that the primary offensive force this season would be Reggie Moore.  Unfortunately for WSU, Moore is saddled with the same missed-shot bug that plagues Aden.  He makes barely over 40% of his 2-pt attempts, and has an eFG% in the low 40s.  He hasn't been the same since breaking his wrist early in his sophomore season.  The 6-1 junior can still cause plenty of problems out on the court, however.
Moore can still drop some points if he gets hot.
The defensive guru on the squad is Marcus Capers.  Despite getting over 67% of available minutes, he factors in less than 12% of possession, and is mainly content with wrecking havoc with his defensive game.  Standing at 6-4, the senior should figure to be the lock-down presence placed on either Carlon Brown or Spencer Dinwiddie.

Prediction -   

As noted in the passage from almighty Kenpom, WSU likes to pack into a zone, even to its detriment.  Knowing CU's struggles with the zone this season, I worry that this will not be the walk-in-the-park that some would expect after Thursday's results (CU's win over UW/WSU's loss to Utah).  If CU lays an egg with shooting, and revert to form from the free throw line, it could get hairy.

However, the CU offense looked much more... lifelike Thursday night.  Coach Boyle had said that he'd been saving some looks for conference play, and those looks paid off big time to the tune of the most points scored against a D-I opponent on the season.  The Buffs probably won't have nearly as perfect an offensive night as they did against Washington, but that performance gives me hope that they were just holding back in the early goings of the season.  As to free throw shooting: CU has shot better than 75% from the line in five of the past seven contests.  If not solved, the early season FT woes are seriously diminished.

There's always the thought that CU might struggle against a zone with tired legs less than two days after a hard fought victory, but CU didn't play two stretches of two games in three nights earlier this year for nothing.  I bet the Buffs play well, and score more than enough to keep the Cougars at bay.

Kenpom says a 5 point win; I'll go a few more than that.

CU 76 - WSU 67


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