Arizona State 81, Washington State 70

Sad charts, followed by some thoughts:

 

My thought leaving the game tonight was this: We know we can't change the roster. As much Bone wants to (and does) play around with the lineup, it's still pretty clear who the best players on the team are. So my conclusion is this: Ken Bone needs to take the players into the practice gym in the PEB, lock the door, and do nothing but teach this team defense. That's the one thing this team needs to (and can) work on right this moment. The one thing that would give them the best shot of reaching the upper echelon of the conference.

We're documented fans of Ken Pomeroy here, and his tempo-free efficiency rankings. Here's how the Pac-10 teams rank at the moment (minus today's action):

Offense:

1. Cal
2. ASU
3. WSU
4. UW
5. Arizona
6. Oregon
7. Stanford
8. UCLA
9. USC
10. Oregon State (waaay last)

Note that we've lost to two of the bottom five offensive teams - UCLA and Oregon.

Defense:

1. USC
2. ASU
3. UW
4. Cal
5. Arizona
6. Oregon State
7. UCLA
8. Stanford
9. Oregon
10. WSU

There we are - dead last. We're not far behind Oregon, and we're only slightly below average nationally. However, being below average nationally in defense, when you're in a power conference, is a recipe for disaster. We've only got by so far because the rest of the conference is so mediocre this year. That and we have an offense capable of scoring on just about anyone when we're on, including the #1 defense in the conference and #2 defense in the nation (SC).

Certainly this is a disappointment. You know where the Cougs ranked nationally in defensive efficiency the last five seasons? 6th, 7th, 19th, 7th, and 2nd. [Side note: the only real reason we weren't a good team in 2005 - the year we finished 2nd - was because our offense was incredibly awful] Point is, we've been spoiled. To drop to 190th nationally - where we sit now - means we've gone back to pre-Bennett-era levels of defense. Chalk it up to youth, and a little bit to a group of kids struggling to learn a new defensive system for a new coach.

My suggestion? Pack it in again. We need to rely more on the Bennett style, man-to-man pack defense, and a little less on the 2-3 zone (unless we're playing a team like OSU that just can't shoot). However the style doesn't really matter. What really matters is that the players commit to it - fight through screens, close quickly to shooters and avoid the lapses that lead to easy buckets. Easier said than done.

The Cougs didn't really play that horribly tonight. They forced turnovers (a good sign for the future of the D, as we slowly morph ourselves into a UW-style pressure defense) and won the battle of the offensive glass. Free throw rate was more or less a wash, with ASU's numbers bolstered by a pretty poor officiating night by Randy McCall and co., who decided NBA-style continuation rules were in effect, but only for the Sun Devils. There was also some classic keep-it-even-on-the-scoreboard officiating, despite the fact that WSU is a more aggressive team in free throw rate. Of the 45 fouls called, 23 were on Wazzu and 22 on ASU.

Of course the refs aren't why we lost this game. Giving up a 64.1 eFG percentage was, and that falls entirely on the defensive end.

Then again, anyone who thinks we're a good perimeter team should glance at the box score, where we were 3 for 18 from downtown. Even worse, that performance was composed largely by our two best shooters at that distance (Nik 1-6, Klay 2-10). That hurt us more than the eleven missed free throws. However, it didn't hurt nearly as much as letting ASU go 7 for 17 from long range and 57% overall.

Player of the Game: Marcus Capers. Career-high 13 points (surprising that's all he needed) on 5 of 6 shooting. He added eight boards - six offensive - and only surrendered one turnover. Only blemish: he missed 5 out of 8 free throw attempts.

Unsung Hero: Mike Harthun. Oh yeah, I went there. He didn't score, but the oddity of Harthun tonight was this: the team played well when he was on the floor. That bodes well for us going forward, because he does possess the ability to shoot from the outside. And if he can simply do the other little things competently, he could be a boost to this team. Tonight he grabbed 3 boards and dished 1 assist against 0 turnovers in 11 minutes. Yes, he didn't do much to help us. However, from my angle, he didn't do anything to really hurt us either. The defense was solid if not spectacular, and he didn't take any bad shots. That's kind of what we need from the bench right now while our stars sort things out.

Play of the Game: Lots of good ones tonight. Casto's blocks were in the running, but I have to go with the Reggie Moore circus shot after drawing a foul in the second half.

It was over when... ASU extended the lead back to double digits near the end of the second half. The Cougs' valiant comeback effort had been foiled.

Stat of the Game: Ok, I know I ragged on the defense, but you can't shoot 16.7% from three like WSU did and expect to win ball games.

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