DIAMOND HEAD CLASSIC, WSU Vs. Butler: Cougs Can't Keep Up With Bulldogs, 84-68

Well, that was frustrating.

However, unlike a lot of you, that's as far as I'm willing to go in an emotional sense in terms of losing the championship of the Diamond Head Classic to the Butler Bulldogs.

Does it suck to lose? Yup. Does it suck to lose by 16, 84-68, after feeling like the tournament was there for the taking? Sure does. But holy crap -- this is just one game out of 30, and there isn't anything you saw tonight that should change your opinion of these guys from where it was just 48 hours ago.

Those of you that have been WSU basketball fans for more than two years should recognize what you saw from our opponents tonight. The Bulldogs were hard-nosed on defense and precise on offense, working together as a team where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. 

Did you think it was ugly? Did you find it maddening? Good. Now you know how all the fans of our opponents felt for six years when the Bennetts were our coaches.

The reality is that for all its strategy basketball is a really, really simple game. Make shots and you're likely to be successful. Miss them, and it's not likely. There are all kinds of things coaches do to try and swing the probabilities of making shots in either direction, but sometimes it's just a matter of making the shots when they're there. Tonight, the team that was 212th nationally in effective field goal percentage at 47.3 made theirs to the tune of 59.8, and the team that was 5th nationally at 57.4 shot just 46.6. The rest of the stats were close enough (and remember that the free throw rate was artificially inflated at the end):

 

Obviously, WSU's defense wasn't great tonight. There were breakdowns at critical times -- including two horrendous ones by Faisal Aden that led directly to six points for Butler -- and the Bulldogs exposed the 2-3 zone just a little bit.

But it's unfair to just say "the defense sucked" when you've got Shelvin Mack dropping bombs from all over the court in the first half, then a guy who was shooting 29 percent from 3 hits three of them in the second half. Beyond that, there's something to be said for the fact that Butler never was a great matchup for the Cougs. The good news is that there are few -- if any -- teams WSU will play the rest of the year that will only turn the ball over 11 times in 70ish possessions and have the patience or smarts to dissect the zone. 

In fact, if we were to go so far as to divvy up the blame pie on the defensive performance, I'd go 35 percent bad defense, 65 percent Butler making shots. And if you don't think that's reasonable, get on ESPN3.com and watch Butler's first three halves of this tournament against Utah and Florida State. The Bulldogs did something in this game they hadn't done for an entire game pretty much all year -- their next highest eFG% against a Division I team was 55.9.

Sometimes, it just happens. And it's not a harbinger of doom with regards to the defense that's been so improved this year.

Last thing. If you are worried about the offense after tonight, you must be riddled with worry all the time, because these guys are fine. Remember how we lauded the all-around contributions of the team against Baylor? Take Klay and his 10-of-18 out of the equation tonight, and this team shot 14 of 41 (34 percent) overall and 3 of 14 (21.4 percent) from 3-point range. 

No, Thompson didn't control the game the way we've grown accustomed to this year, and he took some ill-advised shots at times -- and the Bulldogs (particularly Ronald Nored) deserve a ton of credit for that. But he was plenty efficient enough and his overall contribution was hugely positive. The same cannot be said of his teammates, who all went cold simultaneously.  

Again, sometimes it just happens -- just as it did against Kansas State.

That doesn't mean there aren't lessons to be learned from this game for this team. It was pretty clear that Butler brought a level of intensity that the Cougs weren't prepared to match. When your shots aren't falling, you need to manufacture some little things, and the Cougs just did not do that tonight. All year long, this team has played with a chip on its collective shoulder, and tonight was the first time there was just a little hint of, "Hey, we've arrived." Not a lot; certainly not enough to worry me going forward. But enough to hurt them in this game.

However, if there's one awesome trait these guys have shown, it's the ability to learn from their mistakes. There's no doubt in my mind that these guys will remember for some time what Butler did to them, and the focus they showed in doing it. This one is going to stick in their craw as they travel to Los Angeles, and I'd be shocked if we don't again see what we've grown accustomed to seeing for the last month and half.

Vince Grippi threw out a statement on Twitter that this could "either be a blow to its confidence or serve to motivate Cougs headed into Pac-10." If this was last year's team, I'd expect them to reel for at least a week. 

But this isn't las year's team. This was a physical game that will do what the nonconference schedule is supposed to do: Prepare this team for league play. 

I'm betting on motivation.

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