Washington State opens Pac-12 conference play with Oregon tonight at 6pm in the Spokane Arena. The Cougars are coming off of a non-conference schedule where they had one terrible weekend near the Mexican border (haven't we all?) and performed fairly well the rest of the way. Oregon beat all the teams they were supposed to beat, won the only toss-up (at Nebraska) and lost by double-digits to the three best teams on their schedule (Vanderbilt, Virginia, and BYU).
This is the second time in three years that WSU begins league play with the Ducks. On New Year's Eve in 2009, DeAngelo Casto hit a go-ahead basket with three-tenths of a second left and [DETAILS REMOVED TO PROTECT THE YOUNG AND VULNERABLE].
Kenpom predicts the Cougs' most likely conference outcome to be ten wins. That says less about the strength of WSU and more about the overall weakness of the conference. The Pac-12's average team rating is 7th right now, below the Mountain West. Although those two would likely be flipped if Utah was still a member of the MWC. Utah is currently 314th. They would totally be killing it in the SWAC.
WSU has looked like a team that can compete in the top-half of the conference at times in the season and they've looked like a team that could finish 11th on occasion. When they utilize ball movement on offense and work the ball inside to frequently open big men, they flourish. When they play disciplined perimeter defense and force contested shots, they flourish. When they don't do those things, they lose to UC Riverside. These are areas that Ken Bone has said he wants to emphasize. It will be interesting to see how much of that shows on the court.
After the jump, offense and defense previews of the Ducks.OFFENSE
Oregon wants to shoot a lot of three-pointers, and they've got many guys who are dangerous from beyond the arc. The Ducks are 92nd in the country in 3PA/FGA and have hit 35% as team. Garrett Sim leads the way, as he has been selective and buried 48% of his attempts.
E.J. Singler and Minnesota transfer Devoe Joseph will be important in Oregon's offense. Singler is having an excellent junior year. He has taken an increased role in the offense and his offensive efficiency has not suffered. Joseph had to sit out the first six games, but has played significant minutes since his debut. He has made a positive impact with a 113 offensive rating and 58 eFG%.
Despite the Ducks' tendency to shoot the three ball, they still are very adept at drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. They are shooting 47 free throw attempts per 100 field goal attempts, good for 24th in the country. 6-11 center Tony Woods has led the way, as he takes nearly one free throw attempt for every field goal attempt.
Singler, Sim, and Joseph have taken care of the basketball and that balances out some of the struggles the big men and reserve guards have had with giving the ball way. Sophomore guard Johnathan Loyd and junior forwards Olu Ashaolu and Carlos Emory all have turnover rates over 24%. As a team Oregon is a little bit better than average in turnover rate at 20% (average is 21%).
The Ducks aren't much of an offensive rebounding team, as their OR% ranks them 293rd in the country. This is typical of a Dana Altman team, where offensive rebounds are given away in lieu of getting back to play defense. In Altman's previous nine seasons the highest a team has finished in OR% is 121st and he seems to emphasizing it even less as he gets older.
Overall, perimeter defense will be needed from all positions on the floor. Oregon will frequently throw out lineups with three or four guys who regularly take and knock down outside jumpers. Forcing contested shots will be vital as the Ducks will likely be unconcerned with crashing the offensive glass.
This team has deviated from Altman's traditional numbers in that they don't force many turnovers or steals. Throughout his career, Altman's teams have hovered around a 22% defensive turnover rate and an 11% steal percentage. This year the Ducks are only forcing opponents into turnovers on 19% of possessions (278th in the country) and stealing the ball about 9.5% of the time.
This change is likely on purpose, as Oregon was torched from the outside a year ago, ranking 303rd in opponent three-point percentage. This year they are all the way up to 62nd . It's an interesting give and take that is likely not having an sort of impact. Oregon ranked 92nd in adjusted defensive efficiency in 2010-2011. This season they are at 107th.
Two things most interesting to WSU are Oregon's ability to defend the inside and prevent free throw attempts. Washington State's two-point percentage and free throw rate have been their biggest strengths. Oregon is above average in defending the two, as it is nice to have a 6-11, 250 pound man roaming the paint. They have been good at keeping the competition off the free-throw line, ranking 48th in defensive free throw rate. Oregon's two worst games in terms of free throw rate came against Vanderbilt and Nebraska. Both those teams aren't great at getting to the line, but likely are a better match-up physically than other Duck opponents have been. It's possible that WSU could have a chance to sort of impose their "free throw rate will."
The Ducks have been a decent defensive rebounding team and they've done it by committee. Jeremy Jacob is the only big that could be classified as a "good rebounder" statistically. The guards chip in on the defensive glass as every guard who gets significant minutes is near or above gathering 10% of available rebounds.
Oregon will likely want to focus on denying perimeter shots, so it will be important for Washington State to move the ball around and work the high-low with Brock Motum. Reggie Moore will also need to do what he can to get into the lane and occupy defenders to open up the looks on the outside as well as set up big men for open shots and opportunities to draw fouls.
It's a little crazy that the basketball season has already reached this point. Non-conference play seemed to fly by (as it always does). Can WSU manage to improve their conference win total from a season ago despite losing their two most important players? The possibility is there. To get to that point games like this one will likely have to be wins. KenPom predicts the Cougs to win 73-65 with 75% confidence.
In that prediction, Pomeroy is giving WSU the traditional bump that a home team gets. This won't be a true home game with the student section in full roar. It will be interesting to see what sort of advantage the crowd at Spokane Arena provides. Typically the games there have been sparsely attended as the people of Spokane have attached themselves to a different, more local, college team.
Hopefully WSU can give fans a reason to come back. Looking at the history between these two teams, odds are the game is going to be closely contested and have some sort of controversial ending where the NCAA grants Tajuan Porter a special waiver to come back and hit 15 threes in the last two minutes.