The Cougar Hardwood Classic most certainly wasn't a work of art, but WSU's effort was more than enough to overwhelm a bad opponent in Pepperdine. It was a 67-56 win that wasn't even remotely that close, and while I know the final score doesn't look as impressive as most people would prefer, the game's outcome really never was in doubt.
If you prefer statistical rather than anecdotal evidence for that fact, Ken Pomeroy does some cool win probability charts* for every game. By his rating system, WSU had an initial win probability of 86.4 percent; it only dipped below 85 percent one time, when the game was 6-5, and the entire game was played at low or medium-low leverage. StatSheet.com declared the game "statistically over" with 4:54 to go, when the game was 61-40.
*You have to subscribe to see them, though - yet another reason to give him $19.99 for his awesome site.
But even when the lead was 21 points, it didn't really feel all that "impressive," if that makes any sense. The defense was generally outstanding -- save for the last five minutes or so of the game -- but the offense again seemed to lack any real flow, just as it did on Sunday when Faisal Aden, Mike Ladd and Abe Lodwick returned to the lineup.
I think there's a pretty simple explanation for that -- and no, it's not just that Aden and his trigger-happy ways have returned.
For the second consecutive game, Bone's rotation went nine deep. On Sunday, I wasn't sure if that was just him working guys back in, or if he was treating it like an exhibition, or what. But last night, it became clear that this is what he intends to do. And it also became clear as to why. Consider this quote from after Sunday's win over Western Oregon, via Vince:
"It has been a topic of discussion most every day in practice, trying to get as good as we can defensively," Bone said. "We want to get it to where we can rotate a number of guys and keep our energy level up."
Bone reiterated the point after last night's game. Again, via Vince:
"We've been trying to play containment defense and have great help, and now, all of a sudden, the last few weeks we've tried to pick up the intensity," Bone said. "We knew we had some guys coming back and we could rotate some guys. I feel like we are five or six guys deep at the guard position."
It's kind of fun to think of WSU playing in-your-face defense. But it's coming at a price for this team.
The idea is for WSU to play a lot of guys on the perimeter so that they can keep the energy level up on defense. Marcus Capers likened it to boxers going rounds. And all night, Bone was shuffling players in and out of the game. The defense was indeed spectacular, holding the Waves to just 0.86 points per possession, a figure that was worse before the last five minutes of the game. They were contesting shots and containing penetration. It was impressive.
But the offense suffers under this philosophy. It's not that you can't run nine deep and have an effective offense; there's plenty of precedent for that. But it's awfully tough to run nine deep and have an effective offense if you're not cranking up the tempo, which WSU is not. The last two games have been played at 62 and 65 possessions, which aren't just "not fast," they're downright slow.
That means WSU is playing a lot of halfcourt possessions, and it's awfully difficult to execute in the halfcourt when there's very little continuity in the personnel groupings. The longest stretch of play for any one unit is when the five starters play the first three or four minutes of each half. Once Aden comes off the bench, it's guys constantly being shuttled in and out, with no unit playing more than a minute or two at a time.
Maybe his intention is to turn up the tempo in Pac-12 play. I really don't know. But I have a hard time imagining the offense being very efficient in this way. (Unless, of course, Aden has one of his spectacular shooting nights.)
Other observations from last night:
- Charlie Enquist has become my new favorite player. I wrote in the last Cougar Sports Weekly about his stellar play this year, and I really am enjoying watching him play. One of the things that strikes me about him is that he attacks rebounds -- he goes hard after them. Maybe this is something he's always tried to do, but lacked the strength or coordination to execute. But he's moved far beyond place holder in the frontcourt to impact player. It really is remarkable.
- I don't know what else to really say about Aden. Bone was explicit last night after the game in saying that Aden's role is to be a scorer, and that really the only thing he needs to work on is letting the game come to him. If that's truly the way Bone views him, then there's probably no use complaining about how he's used or speculating about his minutes changing or diminishing. They're not going to.
Brock Motum keeps turning the ball over. Four more last night, most of them unnecessary. I hoped to get a chance to ask Bone about it, but I didn't get a chance.
- Mike Ladd looks lost. It's no secret I expected much more out of him this year, and he has yet to deliver on that at all. He started the year missing a lot of shots, and then he got hurt. Last night, he just seemed to struggle to find his place, again forcing a few shots. He did make one nice drive into the lane that he couldn't finish, but I wonder when -- or if -- he's going to come around.