Since we now know that Ken Bone reads the site -- or at least someone somewhat near him and able to pass things to him does -- I have a small suggestion for the coach that I really hope he'll consider.
Now, I don't pretend to know more about basketball than he does.* By all accounts, Bone has an amazing basketball mind and probably doesn't need advice. But if I, in some small way, can help push him over the edge on this one, well, then it's a risk worth taking.
* In fact, what I'm really hoping is that my piece on the referee debacle bought me enough clout to sit down and have a beer with him if I show up in Pullman during the offseason. I don't even know if he drinks, so whatever -- I just want to talk hoops with the guy. Is that asking too much? My favorite interview I ever conducted was with Dick Bennett, and that's because we spent most of the time just talking hoops. I live for that stuff.
My suggestion is this.
Put Nikola Koprivica in the starting lineup.
In some ways, I can hardly believe I'm typing this after the debacle of last year. And while we all rolled our eyes and muttered, "Uh-huh. Suuuuuuure ... that's what they all say," when Nik said Bone's system was tailor made for him, that's proven to absolutely be the truth. He's putting up career highs in offensive rating, effective field goal percentage and 3-point percentage -- by absurd margins -- and also putting up career best rebounding numbers, despite consistently playing against players who are taller, bigger and more athletic than him. His defense in the post has been nothing short of remarkable, given his physical limitations.
There's no doubt he's outplayed Abe Lodwick, who currently starts at the 4, but this isn't the most compelling reason for starting him. After all, the guess here is that Bone likes Nik's energy off the bench and steady hand with a unit full of guys who are even younger than the starters. We do understand that.
But one cannot deny the problems the Cougs are having at the beginning of their Pac-10 games. With the notable exception of the Arizona contest, we've started slow in every other game. (Arizona State doesn't count, for obvious reasons.) The reasons are varied, but it's been a trend nonetheless.
Now, the slow starts often extend beyond the moment Koprivica steps on the floor, as he generally comes off the bench around the 16-minute mark. So it's not like he's a cure all. But it's obvious that the best line-up the team has is one of Koprivica and the four other starters. Any fan who is paying attention has noticed it, but it's not like we're the only ones that see it -- that's the line-up that generally finishes the game, so Bone recognizes that, too. And I don't have BigWood's numbers in front of me, but it sure seems like Koprivica is almost always near the top of his plus/minus stats.
I appreciate that rotations can be a delicate thing to balance for a coach; Sunday's debacle demonstrated that clear as day. But it's a risk worth taking if it'll help keep this team from constantly needing to dig out of holes early in games. There's something to be said for having a steadying, senior presence on the floor from the tip, when adrenaline and emotions are highest. And truthfully, I also like the idea of Abe's 3-point stroke coming off the bench when there might be some more shots available.
Beyond that, I'm also kind of a sucker for nice storylines. (Have I mentioned that James Watson is my new favorite player?) How nice would the symmetry be that the guy who showed so much promise as a freshman, only to be derailed by injuries and ineffectiveness as a sophomore and junior, was able to finish his career as a regular starter?
Tomorrow is the perfect time to make the move. There are no gimme wins in the league, but if Bone's looking for a soft landing to tinker with his rotations, tomorrow is as soft as it's going to get for the rest of the season.
Put Nik in the starting lineup.