With Klay Thompson out, suspended after being cited for marijuana possession early Friday morning, the Cougars find themselves in trouble with the season winding down. No matter how slim the chances of an at-large bid are, the Cougs absolutely have to beat UCLA to enter the discussion. Do that, make it to the finals and maybe there's a chance. And it all starts with UCLA.
Against UCLA, with Thompson out and Reggie Moore's status unknown after spraining an ankle on Thursday, the Cougs are woefully thin in the backcourt. Here's what we're looking at if Moore and Thompson are both sidelined:
This is a problem; not just on the offensive end, for the obvious reasons, but on the defensive end, as well. These five players, two of which are walk-ons, will have to play the bulk of the minutes at the point and wings if Moore sits out.
Follow me past the jump and we'll see if there's any chance of a WSU win over UCLA, how they'd do it and what losing Klay does both against UCLA and to the Cougs' NCAA tournament chances.
On the defensive end, WSU needs long, athletic guards to handle the Bruins' attack. Tyler Honeycutt roams the perimeter and can play both on the inside and out, making him a tough matchup. Thompson would've had the responsibility, but now the Cougs have to find other options. Go big on him and he'll run his defender off the court. Go small and he'll shoot over his man.
Malcolm Lee also has size -- at 6-foot-4 -- with Lazeric Jones the short guy that facilitates the offense. Lee has the ability to light up a defense from the outside if left open, creating a pick your poison situation. Again, the personnel needed to defend these two is lacking, especially as Faisal Aden struggles in man-to-man situations.
And, of course, there's Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith. Nelson is Abe Lodwick on steroids, doing the dirty work with clinical efficiency. Smith is a beast on the offensive glass and a force down low, with the size and strength to knock any of the Cougs' post defenders off the block.
Because of the matchup problems, there's no chance -- zip, zero, nada -- WSU goes man-to-man. Ken Bone has to go zone, and he has to do it all night. This takes away one of the weapons in his arsenal: The ability to throw defenses around and change things up, switching between man and zone at a moment's notice. He can, however, throw different types of zone defenses into the scout in an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach -- 1-3-1, 1-2-2, 2-3, etc -- to try to confuse UCLA.
It comes down to pressuring within the zone -- perhaps with the show-me press used against Washington -- hoping to force turnovers, praying the backcourt holds up and hoping UCLA doesn't kill them on the boards. That's a lot of ifs, isn't it?
On the offensive end, it's all about the inside game. The problem, however, is the glaring weakness in DeAngelo Casto's game: He needs service. Casto is at his best when the guards are driving and dishing, not in a traditional halfcourt set where the perimeter players dump the ball into the low post. Casto is going to have to work hard, and the Cougs are going to have to move the ball around to find holes. Add in what WSU is facing -- Josh Smith, Tyler Honeycutt and the like -- and you can see the problem.
The Cougs can go big, with a front line of DeAngelo Casto, Abe Lodwick/Patrick Simon and Brock Motum, but the footspeed on the wings, even in a zone, leaves them ripe to get lit up from beyond the arc. While Simon and Lodwick posses the ability to stretch a defense, no matter how inconsistent they may be, this lineup also leaves the Cougs limited on both ends of the floor. Let's put this idea away now.
I'd expect to see a lineup of Capers, Aden and (insert third of the five guards here, perhaps DiIorio). DiIorio can bring that length and athleticism on the defensive end, but there's no replacing the loss of Moore, if he can't go, and Thompson in the offense. If Moore's back, the chances of pulling this off increase greatly, but it's still a daunting task without Thompson. At the very least, Moore can put Casto in a better position and open up the offense in the way only he can.
Lose on Saturday and WSU must win the Pac-10 tournament. Find a way to pull off the win and WSU still may have to win the Pac-10 tournament, but it's possible the Cougs sneak in as an at-large by advancing to the finals. Remember, the bubble is incredibly weak and the field is expanded. This helps.
My advice would be to go into the game with no expectations and hope for the best. On paper this looks bad -- very bad -- but anything can happen. And if the Cougs lose, it'll take winning the Pac-10 tournament anyway, something they might have needed no matter what. I expect Thompson to be back, and Moore to be healed, by then, at least giving Bone the full arsenal. That's something to take solace in.
Do you believe in miracles?
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