The Cougs and Zags are ready to renew their rivalry, this time Gonzaga comes in with what might be its best team ever.
The Washington State Cougars host the No. 10 Gonzaga Bulldogs at Friel Court Wednesday night. ESPNU will carry the game at 8 p.m. PT. The Zags are undefeated and ranked No. 7 on KenPom, while the Cougs are all the way down at No. 104.
Gonzaga brings a deep and rested group to Pullman, quite the contrast to WSU who relies heavily on its top six players. The Bulldogs are 52nd in the country in bench minutes, playing their starters just 62.8 percent of the time. The Cougars have their starters on the floor 72.7 percent of the minutes. If this comes down to a battle of attrition, the Zags will surely have the advantage.
Elias Harris is putting up some impressive numbers, and that has been a driving force behind Gonzaga's improvement.
Harris has been a key figure for the Zags since the moment he stepped on campus. He posted an offensive rating above 110 in each of his first three seasons, and has become even more efficient his senior year. That is a product of posting a career-low turnover rate coupled with a career-high free throw rate. He's also hitting 62 percent of his twos, which counteracts the 2 of 10 he has shot from beyond the arc.
Aside from his scoring presence, Harris has also become an excellent rebounder on both ends of the floor. He is grabbing 24 percent of opponents' misses, and 12 percent of Gonzaga's. He's blocking some shots and getting steals. Harris has been an all-around player for the Bulldogs.
To see how these two teams match up, let's take a look at the four factors.
The Zags are eighth in the country in effective field goal percentage, at nearly 57 percent. They've been good from three, hitting 36 percent, but their bread and butter has been inside the arc. Gonzaga is hitting 58 percent of their twos as a team.
Along with Harris, the Bulldogs' pair of seven footers definitely play a role in that high two-point percentage. Freshman Przemek Karnowski is hitting 69 percent, while junior Kelly Olynyk is knocking down 68 percent.
On the outside, Gary Bell (40 percent) and Kevin Pangos (39 percent), who hit nine threes against WSU last season, are the main sharpshooters. David Stockton (44 percent) can also bury a clean look, but doesn't shoot with as much frequency as Bell and Pangos.
As for the Cougars, they have been relying on Brock Motum more and more as the season has gone along. Motum now takes 38 percent of the shots while he is on the floor, seventh-most in the country. DaVonte Lacy may be back, so that will help alleviate some of the load on Motum. WSU will need guys like Royce Woolridge and Dexter Kernich-Drew to knock down their open shots for the Cougs to keep up.
Gonzaga has the obvious advantage in shooting. It's really not even close.
Both teams have been highly effective on the defensive glass. WSU is 18th nationally is defensive rebound percentage, while Gonzaga is 11th.
The Zags are far better at securing offensive rebounds, so WSU's ability to block out will be tested. The Bulldogs are snaring 40 percent of their own rare misses.
There is a silver lining here: If WSU is able to lock down the defensive glass, that will impact Gonzaga far more than if the Zags were to do the same to the Cougs. Washington State doesn't try hard for offensive rebounds, often electing to get back on defense instead of crashing, so taking out that aspect wouldn't affect their game much.
Still, Gonzaga's ability to clean the glass on both ends is impressive and they come out on top here.
Gonzaga is both good at taking care of the ball and forcing turnovers. The Cougars don't force many turnovers, and have been much better at avoiding giveaways at home.
Against Pepperdine, the Cougs did show that they can melt down and give away the ball in bunches. Otherwise, they have mostly been average or above average in the turnover department. Their inability to force giveaways will be the issue here, so the Zags get the nod again.
What was once a staple in the WSU offense has become a rarity. Free throws have been hard to come by for WSU in 2012. The Cougs are only shooting about 32 free throws for every 100 shots they take, compared to 44 last season.
The Zags have been able to get to the line at a better rate, shooting 42 freebies for every 100 field goals.
Each has done a nice job limiting the opposition from shooting free throws. Gonzaga and WSU are ranked 61st and 29th in free throw rate allowed.
The edge goes to the Bulldogs again, although this game may be light on free throws.
It's going to take a huge effort and some nice home cookin' for WSU to pull off the upset at Friel Court. The Zags have the advantage in all aspects, and KenPom predicts a 68-58 win with 16 percent confidence.