Washington State takes on rival Washington in a game that will be nationally televised(ish) on FSN and its affiliates this afternoon. ROOT Sports will carry the game in the Northwest at 4pm Pacific time. As advanced warning, Steve Physioc and Ernie Kent will be on the call, everyone must prepare their ears to bleed and minds to be blown.
The Cougars swept the regular season between these two teams a year ago before falling in the Pac-12 quarterfinal to the Huskies. Ken Bone said in a press conference earlier this week the two biggest reasons WSU was able to have success against UW last year are getting paid to play right now. Nuss wrote earlier this week how those two are having an impact on not just the offensive side of the ball, but the defensive side as well.
Lucky for the Cougs is that the Huskies have taken a step back this season as well after the loss of Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Isaiah Thomas, and Justin Holiday. After finishing 2010-2011 17th in the kenpom.com rankings, UW now finds itself 94th.
Even with their struggles, the Huskies have still had much more success out of the Pac-12 gate, losing only to Colorado in their first four games. Contrast that with the miserable 1-3 start that Wazzu has had against the same schedule. The Cougs should find motivation easy in this one, playing their in-state rival and in desperate need of a win.
Will that extra motivation be enough? Offense and Defense previews and the jump.
The UW offense starts and ends most often with freshman Tony Wroten. Wroten has the ability to control a game on offense for long stretches and he also has the tendency to melt down in a series of turnovers and poor shot selection. He is using 34.4% of the Huskies' possessions while he is on the floor and overall that has been a negative with his 95.4 offensive rating (100 is average and the Huskies are 107.4 as a team).
Wroten's game is primarily attacking the basket and using his athleticism to make close-range shots or draw fouls. He struggles with his stroke. as he is shooting just 22% from three and 58% from the free throw line. His carelessness with the ball has been his (and UW's as a whole) Achilles Heel, as he is giving it away on 23% of his possessions. There will be times when Coug fans are screaming, "We can't stop this guy!" There will be other times when they are thankful he is on the floor.
When Wroten isn't turning the ball over or forcing a shot, he can be an solid distributor, with an assist rate of 24% (he assists on 24% of the baskets that are made when his is on the floor). He has some excellent shooters to dish the ball to in Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox. Ross is a next-level talent who should be taking more of a role in the offense than he is, but as Ryan Divish details, seems fine with letting Wroten run the show. He is shooting 39% from three, 50% from two and has posted a 112.4 offensive rating. Wilcox is deadly with his feet set and has knocked down 44% from beyond the arc while taking almost six threes a game.
As is typical with Lorenzo Romar's UW teams, they are relentless in attacking the offensive glass. Washington currently ranks 29th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (the percentage of available rebounds they grab). 7-foot, 260-pound Aziz N'Diaye will be tough for WSU to box out. Desmond Simmons and Darnell Gant also do well in crashing the offensive boards. The WSU bigs will have their work cut out for them, especially if Ken Bone sticks with the zone he has been using in Pac-12 play.
Of course, it may serve WSU well to just hack N'Diaye when he pulls down a board, as he is hitting just 41% from the line on the year (Cameron Dollar approves this message).
The Huskies have plenty of offensive weapons and the key is how well they (read: Wroten) are able to move the ball around and find the open shooters. The Cougs should look to get pressure on the freshman and force him into making bad decisions. He plays such a huge part in the offense that disrupting his game can limit what the entire team is trying to do. He will be aggressive and draw some fouls, so there may be a rotation of guards on him throughout the game.
Some of UW's season-long strengths on defense have become weaknesses and some of their weaknesses have become strengths in the first four games of Pac-12 play. On the season the Huskies have been slightly above average on the defensive glass, but during Pac-12 play they have been the worst in the conference at allowing offensive rebounds. Through the year they have allowed opponents to shoot 37% from three, 269th in the country. They've tightened up in conference play, allowing just 31%.
Overall, they have done well limiting opponents to a 47% effective field goal percentage, but that number has not been quite as impressive against the better offensive teams on their schedule. They had some excellent games against the likes of Cal State-Northridge (26%). Houston Baptist (39%), Portland (37%), and Utah (41%). However, St. Louis (61%), South Dakota State (65%), Duke (52%), and Colorado (56%) were able to post much better numbers. WSU has been a good shooting team this season, and they may be able to take advantage here if they take care of the ball.
As a group, Washington does not force turnovers at a high rate. They are just 242nd nationally in defensive turnover percentage. Wroten does make an impact in steals, as he is in the top 100 in steal percentage, but as team they do not steal the ball much. If WSU can avoid making their own mistakes, something Reggie Moore has improved in as the season has went along, they should be expected to have a limited number of turnovers. Remember that this game will be played at a higher number of possessions, so the final tally may look worse. That is why it will be important to look at the percentage.
Both offenses will most likely be efficient in this contest. Kenpom.com predicts a 79-72 UW victory with 71% confidence. The Huskies are getting a big boost in that prediction because they have played much better at home than on the road. One wildcard will be Moore, who seems to step up his level of play whenever he is playing in front of his hometown crowd.
WSU has won four of the last 6 meetings in Seattle, with a couple of those coming when it seemed the Cougs had no chance to beat the Huskies. Can they stun the UW faithful again?