A first look at Idaho

Moscow - City of mystery, So full of history, noble and old
Mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-Moscow, there is a burning fire
That never will expire, deep in your soul
-Genghis Khan "Moscow"

Every Coug has a special place in their heart for Moscow.  For earlier generations, Idaho's younger drinking age built WSU's party reputation as freshman could rub elbows with fifth year seniors at Moscow's various liquor stores and watering holes.  Those days are gone, but most Cougars still find themselves making the 8 mile trek across state lines for the cheap DVDs from Wal Mart, a Dad's weekend postgame dinner, and Winger's.  Of course, there is also the area's premier shopping center, the Palouse Mall.  They know what you want, and they got it.

Also located in Moscow, La Casa Lopez, which has the best Mexican food on the Palouse.  Go during dinnertime (after 4pm) and have the bean dip.  It's phenomenal.

In my time in Pullman, I took my fair share of trips across the border.  I also had the opportunity to take in two basketball games in the Cowan Spectrum.  I saw the legendary battle for last place in the WAC between the Vandals and San Jose State in 2007.  I also saw the Cougs play there in the turnaround year.

That Coug game was my first experience in the Kibbie Dome.  (For those of you that don't know, Cowan Spectrum is the Kibbie Dome with a giant divider down the middle and a basketball court laid out over the north end of the football field.)  The Vandals were having a double header, so I was lucky enough to take in some WAC women's basketball action! 

On a side note, this game took place the day after Dennis Erickson left for Arizona State.  It took every decent cell in my body to keep myself from bringing a sign that said "He's Gone" to flaunt around.  I think I made the right choice.

My friends and I had seats in the front row on the side opposite the benches.  They were the seats assigned by our tickets, and we bought them three days before the game.  The crowd was sparse on that side, so we stuck out pretty well.  Towards the end of the women's game, the cheerleaders brought out pizza boxes to get the crowd cheering.  WSU does the same thing, and despite all my crazy cheering during my college career, I never was able to secure one.  Seeing an opportunity, I yelled and screamed and jumped up and down, all the while wearing crimson.  The cheerleaders, who were apparently colorblind, handed me the pizza box amongst a cascade of boos from Vandal fans.  The pizza box was a bit heavier than I expected and I opened it, expecting a coupon.  Instead, there was a large pepperoni pizza!  My group sat happily the rest of the night and enjoyed pizza while Kyle Weaver and company avoided a total letdown and defeated Idaho.

The 2009-2010 version of Idaho is nothing like the pushovers of that season.  Through their first seven games of the season they are ranked 84 by kenpom.com, 31 spots higher than the Cougs.  They play well on offense, ranked 45th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency.  They beat Eastern Washington soundly and crushed a Portland team that did the same to UCLA.  This is not a cupcake game for Washington State. 

Let's take a look at some important factors:

Pace: 

Once again, the Cougars face a fast-paced team.  Idaho averages just over 70 possessions a game.  As we said last time against Kansas State, that is ideal for a young Cougar team that struggles in offensive sets.  However, the pace of game against the Wildcats seemed to get the best of Wazzu, as they struggled to take care of the ball.  Luckily, Idaho will not have the athletic presence to pressure the ball like Kansas State was able to.  Expect a third straight game over 70 possessions.

Rebounding:

Idaho is a poor defensive rebounding team.  They are allowing 29.6% of opponent misses to be turned into an offensive rebound.  However, that is actually better than the Cougs, who sit at 34.9%.  The Vandals do a solid job on the offensive glass but will not have the strength advantages down low that Kansas State used to bully the Cougar bigs.  WSU probably wins the rebounding battle in this one primarily on the backs of Casto, Capers, and Thompson.

Shooting:

Idaho has done a fine job making it tough on their opponents in making field goals.  They are 84th in the country in eFG% allowed.  They also shoot the ball well themselves, as they are 14th in the nation in eFG%.  Despite a less-than-stellar performance last time out, the Cougs have also shot the ball well so far, ranking 16th in eFG%.  They racked up most of those stats playing teams with similar athletes to Idaho, so look for this one to be a high scoring affair.

The biggest concern here is Idaho's ability to shoot the three.  They are 4th in the nation on three point percentage, and the Cougs have proved time and time again in this short season that they struggle to defend that.  This could be a difference maker in the matchup.

Free Throws:

The Vandals are very good at getting to the line, ranking 66th in the nation in free throw rate.  They are even better at preventing the other team from getting there, ranking 47th in free throw rate allowed.  This could be a problem for Wazzu, as they have relied heavily on free throws on many occasions this season.  The good thing is that Reggie Moore has shown the ability to get in the lane against anybody, and Klay has done very well against smaller guards in drawing fouls.  The Cougs should outperform previous Vandal competition in free throw rate.  Don't be surprised to see Idaho at the charity stripe frequently as well.  If you are recording this game on the DVR, be sure to leave some extra time.

Do not expect this game to be the blowout it has been the last few years Coug fans.  Idaho will be tough team in the WAC conference and they've already shown what they can do in defeating a pretty solid Portland squad.  Interestingly, the Vandals have ten transfers on their roster, including former Coug point guard Mac Hopson among a host of junior college guys.  This matchup should be a contest worthy of the long rivalry between these two schools.

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