Washington State hosts the Stanford Cardinal tonight at 7pm in a game that will be the Cougars' first on their home court since December 18th. The last month has not been friendly to WSU, and the players and coaches will be very happy to play in front of the students again.
Stanford comes in at 15-3 and one of the favorites to win the Pac-12, as well as one of the few teams that may have a shot at an at-large bid. In their last game, they were able to blowout Colorado 84-64, scoring 1.26 points per possession.
The Cardinal may have a tough trip to Pullman, flying into Spokane and likely driving down in inclement weather. There will probably be delays and the day may feel a lot longer. Will that benefit the Cougs or will it make very little difference? Either way, it is a guarantee that the players and coaches aren't looking forward to the travel time.
Offense and Defense previews after the jump.OFFENSE
Another game, another team that can exploit the zone defense from the outside and in rebounding. The Cardinal are shooting 39% from three as a team and are pulling down 38% of available offensive rebounds.
Sophomore Aaron Bright has made a big leap in minutes, usage, and efficiency. He leads Stanford with a 117.4 offensive rating and is shooting 46% from three. For his height at 5-11, he also does very well inside the arc at 48%. Joining Bright in the backcourt is freshman Chasson Randle, who is shooting 41% from outside.
Anthony Brown made a strong first impression as a freshman last year, but has not fared as well this season. He has struggled the most has been from close range. A season ago he made nearly 50% of his two-points shots, this year that has dipped to 40%. Couple that with an increased turnover rate and Brown is contributing 11 less points for every hundred possessions he uses. Brown has decreased in every offensive category with an increased role.
In the frontcourt Josh Owens and Josh Huestis are both good finishers and solid offensive rebounders. They are shorter than Brock Motum and Charlie Enquist, but bring a little more strength and athleticism. This will likely be another frustrating day on the glass for the Cougars and their fans.
Stanford does have strengths in places that should give WSU trouble. Two numbers that may give the Cougs hope are the Cardinal's tendency to turn the ball over (21.6% of the time, 226 nationally) and their inability to make free throws, where they shoot just 66%. They may just shoot themselves in the foot, and that is something that the Cougars will probably need to win.
This has been, by far, the best defensive club that Johnny Dawkins has had in his four years as Stanford's head coach. The Cardinal are 27th in adjusted defensive efficiency and are performing well in nearly every major defensive category.
Opponents are shooting 45% on twos, just about 3% lower than the national average. Stanford has been fortunate in that their opponents have shot poorly from the line, as they have faced the 14th lowest shooting percentage in the country. Perhaps they should be fouling more, as they are holding opponents well below the national average in free throw rate (just 32 attempts per 100 field goals compared 37 on average). That's a joke, by the way.
Where the Cardinal are doing their best work (and once again where Coug fans should be worried) is on the defensive glass. Stanford is 32nd in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage. Huestis and Dwight Powell are the only above average rebounders on the team statistically, so everyone chips in on the boards. Don't expect many second chances for WSU, as they are 248th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.
Turnovers have also contributed to Stanford's defensive success. Opponents are giving the ball away on 23% of their possessions. At the pace WSU plays at, that would be fifteen turnovers a game. The Cardinal don't force many through steals, so staying away from bad passes out of bounds and offensive fouls could mean a low turnover number for the Cougs. They've been taking care of the ball better lately, this would be a bad time for them to revert back to their early season tendency towards unforced errors.
This will certainly be an uphill battle for the Cougars on both sides of the ball. Playing at home should help, and Kenpom.com predicts the score to be close at 68-65 in favor of Stanford. WSU showed on Sunday that they can still play stretches of good basketball against a conference opponent, but the question remains if they can put it together for a win. With the Bay Area schools coming to town, a 1-6 start is looking probable.