Just one more quick post on the game before my game thread preview pops up in a couple of hours.
One of the things we always have a tendency to do as Coug fans is first think about what we're going to do defensively to limit the other team. I know part of that is our general emphasis on defense, but I think part of that also is our general Cougar angst, in which we're pretty sure that someone is always on the verge of stealing what belongs to us with some sort of superlative performance.
So, I want to take a few minutes to look at how our offense is going to be able to beat the St. Mary's defense, which is no slouch. I was looking a little closer at St. Mary's kenpom scouting report, and a couple of numbers stick out that give us a ton of insight into what the Gaels try to do on defense.
St. Mary's has one of the lowest percentages of 3-point field goal attempts allowed (26.1, No. 7 nationally), as well as one of the lowest percentages of assists on opponents' field goals made (42.5, No. 3). Additionally, the Gaels give up 58.1 percent of their total points allowed on 2-point field goals -- 12th highest nationally.
In lay terms, here's what it means: The Gaels do everything in their power to defend the three point line and force you to penetrate, where two good shot blockers -- Omar Samhan (6.6 block percentage) and Diamon Simpson (5.0) -- await. They trust those two shot blockers a tremendous amount, because if they did any helping off the ball at all, that assist rate allowed would be a heck of a lot higher.
Normally, this is a recipe for a march to the free throw line. But it's been a very successful strategy for St. Mary's, given that they have the 45th best free throw rate allowed in the country. Almost certainly, this has a lot to do with the fact that St. Mary's has a physical advantage over most of its overmatched midmajor opponents. That obviously won't be the case tonight.
The most obvious solution to this is to take the ball to the rim and get to the line -- of their six highest games in FTR allowed, the Gaels lost four, including twice to Gonzaga. Of course, this isn't the Cougs' strong suit (even if we have shown an increased ability to get to the line in the past month), so I'm not expecting WSU to suddenly get up in that 40-50 percent range that has been death to St. Mary's.
Instead, it's going to come down to something much more mundane: The midrange jump shot. And this means heavy doses of Taylor, Klay and Caleb from 15-18 feet.
We know we can more or less count on Taylor. Plus, if he's not hitting his jumper, he can get into the lane -- I think St. Mary's overplays him at the 3-point line at their own peril. But Klay and Caleb are the wild cards at this point.
For a long time, we thought Klay was immune to the freshman wall. It looked like he finally hit it against UCLA. If he turns in a 3-for-12 performance tonight, we will lose. No bones about it: We absolutely need Klay to step up in this game.
As for Caleb, he'll get some opportunities tonight, as Simpson prefers to stay close to the basket and defend the lane. If he concentrates, sets his feet and nails a few of those 18-footers, he will draw Simpson away from the basket in the process and make life easier for everyone. But if he misses a bunch of them? It's basically a gift defensive rebound to St. Mary's.
It's probably this simple: If we have another one of those bad shooting nights, especially from inside the arc, it's bye-bye NIT, and bye-bye seniors.