After opening the season on the road in the hostile confines of the Kennel, the 2011-12 Washington State Cougars will make their Friel Court debut this Thursday as they host Sacramento State. The Hornets made the trip up to Pullman last year and were greeted with an 84-36 loss in which they turned the ball over 32.4% of the time and posted a 33.0 eFG% en route to scoring just over half a point per possession (one point per possession is average). It was easily Sacramento State's worst offensive performance of the season, and that is saying a lot for a group that finished 319th in the country (out of 345) in adjusted offensive efficiency. This game may be just what the Cougars need after being shredded by Gonzaga for over 1.2 points a possession.
Sacramento State is perennially one of the worst teams in the Big Sky Conference. Ken Pomeroy's numbers predict they will finish in the cellar for the fifth straight year. A year ago they only had two players finish over 100 in offensive efficiency and they were reserves who didn't take many shots. Kenpom predicts a 76-57 Washington State victory with 95% confidence.
Offense and Defense four factor previews after the jump.OFFENSE
A quick glance at the numbers shows Sacramento State has been shooting lights-out in their first two games this season. A quick glance at the schedule may tell you why. Sacramento State's first opponent was Division III Menlo. Why that game counted, I have no idea. Their second game was against a Division I school, but the 340th worst Division I school according to Kenpom. So obviously, the Hornet's 62.5 eFG% needs to be taken with at least two grains of salt.
A season ago, Sac State finished 322nd in the country in effective field goal percentage. That was in the face of the 238th most 'difficult' defensive schedule. The Hornets also lost their best outside shooter from a year ago, Duro Bjegovic. This season, look for JC-transfer guard Jordan Estada to take the bulk of the shots behind the arc. He has taken 15 three-point attempts through two games and knocked down five of them.
Not one person has taken the overwhelming bulk of the shots for Sac State so far this season. Returning junior John Dickson, who led the team in shot% in 2010-2011, looks to be one of the go-to-guys again. The slender 6-6 forward hit a respectable 48.2% of his two-pointers a year ago. 6-5 wing Walter Jackson is also someone to look out for. He was one of only two Hornets with an offensive rating over 100 a season ago. He does all his damage inside the arc, where he made 55.2% of his two-point attempts. His role in the offense has increased this season. Transfers Konner Veteto and Joe Eberhard will also be in the mix on offense.
As for taking care of the ball, Sacramento State has had a consistently high turnover rate each year under head coach Brian Katz. The numbers through the first two games have been fine, as they've turned the ball over 14.6% of the time. Of course, once they play an opponent who outmatches them physically, that will be difficult to maintain. There is hope for improved ball control, as their number one offensive threat from a year ago, Sultan Toles-Bey has graduated. Toles-Bey turned the ball over on 25.1% of his possessions a season ago. Returning guys like Jackson and Dickson both had much better turnover percentages.
Sacramento State has generally been a below average offensive rebounding team over the last few years. They've started the season with much of the same,. The Hornets aren't a team that will gather many offensive rebounds, but Jackson may be a threat to sneak in and snare and extra possession every now and then. Eberhard rebounded well at his JC and may provide a spark on the glass.
Getting to the line is something that Sac State has not done well under Katz, but they do have someover players who are capable of drawing lots of fouls. Dickson posted a 60.4 free throw rate a year ago. Dylan Garrity is a freshman point guard who has stepped into a starting role and has eight free throw attempts to just 9 total field goal attempts this season. He may possess the ability to get into the lane and draw contact.
Overall, it is really tough to get a guage on how good Sacramento State's offense is at this point in the season. With four newcomers getting significant time, this team will look very different than the one that tripped up to Pullman a year ago. My gut says that Katz has brought in a little bit better talent, and they will put up a much better fight on the offensive end this year.
To their credit, the Hornets have done what they are supposed to do against the inferior teams on their schedule by making it tough to put the ball in the basket. Central Arkansas and Menlo combined for 43.4 eFG% and made just 27.3% of their three-point attempts. History says that will not continue, as the Hornets have allowed teams over 51 eFG% in every year under Katz. That is made even less impressive in that they usually play a very weak schedule of offensive teams. Although with the 6-8, 265-pound Veteto and 6-11 Pete Rekocevic, they may be able to limit teams more inside the arc.
Sac State is not a team that will ever force many turnovers, even against overmatched opponents. Opponents have given the ball up on just 14.6% of possessions this season, and the Hornets were ranked 301st in defensive turnover rate a year ago. They may have also lost their best defensive man in Toles-Bey, who led the team in steal percentage. So far this season the only man that has recorded more than a single steal is the center Veteto.
Defensive rebounding is one of the few things for which Sacramento State has been around average in recent years. They've done a very solid job on the boards through two games this season, as they''ve secured almost 75% of opponents' misses. Eberhard has made an impact here. He leads the team in defensive rebounds and from his profile seemed to be a half decent rebounder at his JC. One would think Veteto would be a big plus here as well, but so far he has only secured 3 defensive rebounds in 26 minutes of play on the season. With such a big body, I would still expect him to be a factor on the glass.
The Hornets don't foul a whole lot, and that allowed them to be in the top half of the country in defensive free throw rate a year ago. This is one of the few categories where their number is highlighted with a tinge of green on kenpom.com. Their slow tempo may also be a factor (they played at just 64.3 possessions a year ago, 306th in the nation). Without as many possession in which to draw fouls, it is less likely that the opposing team will reach the bonus and get a bunch of cheap freebies at the end of the half.
While it may be improved, it is likely that Sacramento State will still be in the bottom third of the nation in defensive efficiency this season. The transfers brought in do have the potential to help, especially on the inside. However, a dropped effectiveness in turnover rate will be tough to offset without very good rebounding and field goal percentage defense. They've done that so far this season, but it is about to get a lot tougher for them on Thursday.
Shooting: WSU has the advantage here. They have better shooters across the board, but add in the fact that they are going to physically overmatch the Hornets, and easy baskets will be in abundance.
Turnovers: WSU. Sacramento State is not going to force many turnovers, and WSU will be able to step into passing lanes and get some easy steals. The Hornets might also be pressing a bit, playing a Pac-12 opponent and hoping for an upset, so that may lead to a few nervous dribbles off the foot.
Rebounding: WSU. If the Cougs were able to keep a very good offensive rebounding team like Gonzaga under their averages, there is no doubt that they will be able to do the same against Sac State. It will be interesting to see how well they attack the offensive glass. The Hornets have rebounded well on defense in the first two games, but the opponents will be bigger and stronger tomorrow night. Brock Motum showed us something on the boards against the Zags, let's hope he looks dominant in this game.
Free Throws: WSU: Even though the Cougs aren't great at attacking the rim and getting to the line, Sacramento State is even worse. This is a game I'd like to see guys like Mychal Ladd and DaVonte Lacy drive to the basket more and work on drawing contact.
Obviously, Washington State is the heavy favorite to walk away a winner here. Since the Cougs are a little worse and the Hornets are a little better, don't expect this to be the near-50-point blowout it was a season ago. However, WSU should win comfortably in the 20-25 point range. Lots of bench guys should get some minutes in this one.