I think we are all getting pretty excited for the upcoming basketball season. One of the many fun previews put out every year is the Blue Ribbon preview, usually posted on ESPN.com for those with Insider access. I decided to give everyone a synopsis of what Blue Ribbon has to say about our league this year, but nothing is for free! You also have to suffer through my crimson-tinted commentary! Enjoy.
Since this preview is massive, I’m going to do these by rivals / travel partners. Part I is WSU & UW. Most of the preview is going to be sourced from the Blue Ribbon version, but I arranged it so that each team is profiled by Head Coach, Major Departures, Key Players, Rising Stars, and Outlook.
Head Coach: Ken Bone (1st year, career 335-167)
Coach Bone arrived in P-town shortly after Bennettdict Arnold departed (See what I did there?). Bone's Portland State squads always ran uptempo offenses and were able to make it to the NCAA tournament twice in a row.
Bone has stated that he would prefer to get out in transition rather than setting up a Bennett-style motion offense. While many of us are hoping for the perfect combination of old and new styles (Pack defense + uptempo offense), that may be difficult for Bone to pull off this year. Bone has said "I'm not sure we can be too up-tempo this year. We probably don't have the depth."
Taylor Rochestie, Aron Baynes, Caleb Forrest
Klay Thompson (12.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.9 apg, .412 3PT, .903 FT)
Klay is clearly the go-to guy on offense. Bone has high expectations for him after a great freshman campaign and making the U-19 National Team this summer. The US squad won the gold medal (as covered here on CougCenter!) for the first time since 1991. Thompson shot 52% from 3 (16-31 over 9 games), averaging 4 boards and 2 assists to complement his 8 points per game. Obviously he'll be counted on even more this year with the departure of most of last year's scoring. Can he become more aggressive on offense, consistently driving to the hoop and getting to the foul line?
DeAngelo Casto (4.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 16.1 mpg)
I'm not sure how much more to say than this: Casto rocks! He brings the energy and the emotion every night. Bone calls him an big, explosive player who can get up and down the court, adding: "He's not the most skilled player, but he has a great work ethic. He brings it most every possession."
Xavier Thames (20.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.0 apg, 2.8 spg, Pleasant Grove HS/Elk Grove, Calif.)
Thames is probably our most heralded recruit, though that is no guarantee of an outstanding freshman year. He's already got good size for a point guard (6-3, 180) but he'll need to put on more muscle to survive the Pac 10 season. He's reportedly an excellent defender and passer, and had much success in high school at driving and getting to the lane. If he can open things up for our offense in even a remotely similar way to Isaiah Thomas last year for UW, Klay could get a lot of open shots.
Reggie Moore (15.0 ppg, 6.0 apg, Brewster Academy/Wolfeboro, N.H.)
Moore is a little smaller than Thames but, according to recent anonymous reports, may be higher on the depth chart. He's got a decent offensive game, with the ability to drive and dish or pull up and shoot. His defense is the question at this point. He'll definitely see a lot of action for the Cougs this year.
Brock Motum (6-9, 215, Australia Institute of Sport)
Motum is a very promising player from the AIS, following in Aron Baynes' footsteps all the way to Pullman. He's more of a 3 or 4 than a big bruiser like Aron, and Bone thinks he needs to hit the weight room a bit. He has a solid jumper and can drive to the hoop. If he plays at the 4, he'll need to work on defending bigger and stronger players than himself. He's got a lot of potential but I'm not sure how much we'll be able to rely on him this year.
Blue Ribbon Outlook:
"We're a very, very young team," Bone said. "We have one senior and no juniors. We're about as young as you can get. As they get older, bigger and stronger, we'll be able to push it more and not worry as much about the possessions. They're a good group of kids, very coachable. They seem disciplined, but they're young. The good part of that is we have the opportunity to mold them. I think in the next few years we'll be competitive."
But in the right now, it could be a rough year for the Cougars.
Head Coach: Lorenzo Romar (8th year, 146-81 at UW)
Romar had one of his best years as a coach last year with UW, winning the conference and taking home the Pac 10 Coach of the Year award. He'll probably find it a little harder to win the Pac 10 this time around, but UW has to be considered one of the favorites. While losing Brockman does hurt the team, they have all the weapons to be a deadly small ball team.
Jon Brockman, Justin Dentmon
Isaiah Thomas (SO, 15.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.6 apg, 28.4 mpg, .418 FG, .291 3PT, .686 FT)
Romar says "He doesn't fit the mold of a one or a two. He's just a guard who makes plays." That is certainly true, as IT (as he's affectionately known in Montlake) won the Pac 10 Freshman of the Year award and made the Freshman All-American team. He'll have to step up his game even more this year as two huge senior leaders departed. The MO of every opposing team is going to be "Contain IT" but it seems unlikely many will succeed.
Quincy Pondexter (SR, 12.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.5 apg, 28.1 mpg, .511 FG, .214 3PT, .742 FT)
Pondexter (or Poindexter, thanks Bob Knight!) looks to finally have that breakout season. He came on strong at the end of last year and was arguably the best player for the Huskies in the NCAA tournament. Like Thompson and Motum, he got some National Team experience this summer. UW will hope he can replicate his late-season form the whole year this time around. If he does, Brockman might not be missed. Pondexter can hit the jumper, post up, crash the boards, play solid defense, and even make some free throws on occasion. Can he do it all every game, rather than having his typical hot-or-cold nights?
Abdul Gaddy (FR, 25.3 ppg, Bellarmine Prep/Tacoma, Wash.). Gaddy was a McDonald's All-American, and looks to step right into the starting lineup. He is a more of a passing point guard than Thomas, but he is very capable of scoring in bunches. Romar says he has a "high basketball IQ" and is "a good leader." Of course, doing it in high school is not the same as doing it in the Pac 10, but Gaddy is a player to watch out for every game.
Darnell Gant (SO, 3.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 0.4 apg, 18.3 mpg, .366 FG, .704 FT). Gant probably will continue to be a starter for UW after starting nearly every game last year. He complemented Brockman fairly well but will need to develop his own post presence in order for UW to enjoy the same success. He will also need to score consistently. Adding some solid post moves and upping that free throw percentage would certainly help.
Blue Ribbon Outlook:
"We have players on this team who are capable of leading," Romar said. "When you lose a couple of seniors who handled that role, other players have to pick up the slack. I see a lot of guys on this team who could fit that role. Now they have to step up and embrace it. Matthew and Darnell, those guys need to take the next step, be more featured players," Romar said. "That would be a key for us.""
After a two-year absence from the postseason, Romar got the Huskies back on track last year with a surprising run to the Pac-10 regular-season title. The talent level is there not only for another run to the NCAA tournament, but perhaps a deeper one than last year.
So, how is this year going to play out? The Cougs should make a serious run at the middle of the pack! I think our ceiling is around 5th place, but if everyone is on the same page in Bone's system perhaps we can pull off a few upsets and sneak into the tournament. We know this year's team is young, and Bone himself said we won't be quite as suited to his style as he'd like. But with youth comes energy and exuberance, and we should be exciting to watch!
I think we more or less know what UW is going to be all about: slashing to the hoop, tough man-to-man defense, streaky jump shooting and trying to control the boards. If Gaddy is as good as he's supposed to be then this team is a major threat to repeat as Pac 10 champs. You've also got to figure they'll learn from their early exit in the tournament and make it farther this time around. I hope we can pull off a win against them in Pullman but I have little hope for a Seattle victory. I can see a top 3 conference finish, a year-end national ranking and at least a Sweet 16 season from them.