Rebounding Issues Unlikely To Improve Soon

I had planned on writing a post on WSU's rebounding issues and why they were unlikely to improve significantly this season, but lo and behold our new beat guy at the Spokesman-Review already did it tonight!

So, rather than go into some kind of long treatise* on the subject, I figured I'd just give you a few thoughts on it and send you on your merry way to read Christian's story.

Caple notes that WSU ranks ninth in the Pac-12 in defensive rebounding percentage and 10th in offensive rebounding percentage. (Yes, a beat reporter used rebounding percentage. In a totally related move, I want to hug that man.) But if you limit it to just Pac-12 play, it's even worse -- the Cougs are dead last in both categories.

I think the explanation is pretty straightforward: The Cougs just can't match up athletically up front in the Pac-12, something even Bone intimated in Caple's story:

“That’s not to fault the guys in our program. Our guys work hard at it,” Bone said. “Almost every single day, we do rebounding, and our kids work really hard at rebounding. But sometimes, it’s like one of those situations where you can work on throwing an alley-oop to a 6-foot kid that can’t jump very well, and you can try and try and try all you want, but at the end of the day, it’s hard for that guy to get up and get it and dunk it."

The Cougars actually were doing a decent enough job in the nonconference schedule, and much of that had to do with some nice -- and unexpected -- production from Charlie Enquist and Brock Motum. But both have dropped off significantly in conference play: Enquist's overall defensive rebounding percentage is 22, yet in five Pac-12 games it's just 18, while Motum's overall percentage is 15, but just 12 in conference. It's reasonable to assume that the early season production had much to do with WSU's athletically limited opponents.

The most frustrating thing about rebounding is that as much as we want the team to be better at it, that's not likely to happen. Let's take Motum, for example.

If you've been around here for long, you know that I cautioned people against expecting big rebounding improvements out of Motum. The comment I heard most often after last season was, "Get some weight on Motum, and he'll get way better on the boards!" Yet, after putting on even more weight, his defensive rebounding percentage in conference games is up just one from conference games a year ago, and his offensive percentage is up just two.

Now, I'm willing to admit that I'm drawing conclusions to some degree off of just five games, so small sample size and all that -- especially considering his overall percentages were on track to be much better after nonconference play. But I think it's clear that he hasn't transformed into some dominant rebounder with the added bulk. Heck, he's still not even an adequate rebounder at this point.

This isn't to bash on Motum. His offensive production largely offsets his rebounding deficiencies, and for that, I'm thankful. This is more to say what most people who study basketball know: Rebounding seems to be an innate skill akin to floor vision. Guys can improve incrementally, but you rarely see giant jumps in rebounding percentages across years the way you do with shooting percentages.

Either you've got the ability to go get a ball or you don't, and the Cougars' various front court players just don't. Motum doesn't seem to be able to read a rebound, and struggles to box out players of equal stature. Enquist is still all knees and elbows against more athletic opponents. Abe Lodwick tries hard -- and is a better jumper than he's given credit for -- but the reality is he's still a puffed up guard. And D.J. Shelton seems simply lost when it comes to getting a body on someone.

Can the Cougars get better? Of course they can -- there's no excuse for what happened on Saturday. But I just don't know how much better it's possible for them to get until reinforcements arrive next year.

If I was the coach, I'd play the toughness angle to the hilt to try and squeeze just a few more rebounds out of those guys. There's no reason for Lodwick, Enquist and Shelton to not use all 15 of their fouls, and at least six of them should come from fighting for rebounds -- over the back, elbowing guys, whatever. They've got to get in there and fight. As one of my favorite coaches, Frank Martin, likes to say: The refs won't call them all.

It's a culture that has to be cultivated in practice. I don't know if it can be changed now, but it's worth a shot.

*Maybe 700 words still qualifies as a long treatise. I dunno. Whatever.

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