Craig's going to be along later to give a full-blown preview of tonight's game, but I wanted to single out an aspect of it that the Cougs just might be able to exploit in an effort to get a win that would provide an enormous boost to their NCAA Tournament resume.
One of the interesting things about this Arizona team is that its defense is merely mediocre. Because of that, while the Wildcats have 10 conference wins and are generally considered the best team in the Pac-10*, only four of those wins have been by more than 10 points -- and two of those were against Arizona State, who is pretty clearly the worst team in the conference.
*Arizona actually only has the second best efficiency margin in the conference, well behind Washington. Make of that what you will.
The Wildcats have posted just the seventh best defensive efficiency in Pac-10 play so far, not something you typically see out of a conference champ -- heck, even offensive-minded Cal last season was fifth. So, while you'll probably here plenty of talk on the broadcast tonight about the "toughness" that Sean Miller has instilled in them this season, the reality is that this is a defense with some soft spots.
The one that's most notable to me? A pretty porous 2-point defense. Arizona allows opponents to shoot 51.7 percent in there, second worst in the conference. (Only Oregon State is worse.) Related, they also are third-worst in the conference at putting their opponent on the free throw line and are the worst shot blocking team in the conference. It's pretty clear where a team should be attacking the Wildcats, and that's great news for WSU, which possesses the third-best percentage in the conference on 2-point shots.
The simple answer for the Cougs is to put the ball on the deck and attack the rim. There's certainly a case to be made for that, especially given the way Reggie Moore owned these guys last year and has come on a bit as of late. But I'd argue a different strategy is in order for WSU.
Pair DeAngelo Casto and Brock Motum together as much as possible, preferably from the start of the game.
The duo is developing a nice chemistry on the offensive end with Casto working the block and Motum moving without the ball, culminating with the Aussie's breakout performance against California on Saturday. The pair has proven most adept at this against zone defenses but there's no reason to believe this pairing can't be reasonably effective against man-to-man, which is what Arizona is likely going to play the entire game.
Additionally, this is one of the few games where putting Motum on the floor with Casto will actually give WSU a size advantage up front. It won't miraculously cure all of their rebounding issues, but it won't hurt.
This also can serve another purpose: Derrick Williams, while one of the great offensive forces in the country, isn't the greatest defender in the world. He's a rebounding machine, but he won't block a lot of shots and -- most importantly -- can be prone to foul trouble, as we have discovered in two of the three games we've played against him. And he can't score if he's on the bench.
When any big man is forced to move defensively, rather than simply man up on someone, he's usually going to be more exposed to fouls. Look no further than to our friends across the mountains, who used a pairing of two big men to hurt Arizona inside. While Aziz N'Diaye didn't have a big game, his presence was enough to cause issues.
Of course, Williams is also the potential monkey wrench in this plan -- he draws fouls on opponents at a prodigious rate, and if Casto and Motum are both in the game at the same time, there's a chance they both get in foul trouble, potentially leaving us with extended stretches of Charlie Enquist and/or Abe Lodwick. Since that's a disaster waiting to happen, I could see why Ken Bone would want to keep Motum in his usual role.
However, with the position the Cougs are in at this point in the season -- needing a road win against a quality opponent in the worst way -- I think it's a calculated gamble worth taking. If it blows up in their faces, what do they really lose? But if they lose playing it safe, as coaches are usually wont to do ... let's just say I'll be disappointed.