The Washington State Cougars host the Utah Utes on Wednesday night at Friel Court as both teams search for their first conference win of the season. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. PT and the game will be televised (shockingly, I know) on the Pac-12 Networks.
WSU is 313th in the country in adjusted tempo, while Utah is 338th. Ken Pomeroy's computer predicts this game to be at 57 possessions. The average college basketball game runs about 67 possessions. When these two teams clashed in Salt Lake City last season, it took overtime to reach 62 possessions. This is going to be a slow game, even slower than an average Dick Bennett-coached contest.
This year's edition might be even lower scoring than 2012. Last year both these teams were horrendous defensively, but somehow still limited each other to around one point per possession. Both teams are better this year defensively, so a low-to-mid 50s final score is highly possible.
Utah is easily the most improved team in the Pac-12, despite their ugly 0-4 conference record. Last year, the Utes finished the year 303rd (out of 345) in Kenpom's final rankings. This year, they come into the game at No. 122.
So how has Utah improved so much? Well, Larry Krystkowiak is a good coach, but his ability to add talent to this squad has been most important. The biggest addition is likely keep Utah's best incoming freshman in the state, Jordan Loveridge.
Loveridge has been solid while carrying a big burden for a freshman. He has played 78 percent of the minutes, taking 28 percent of the shots and using 25 percent of the possessions while he is on the floor. His shooting percentage isn't great (45.4 effective field goal percentage), but he limits turnovers and has an offensive rating of 103.8. That's high for a frosh with his rate of usage.
As a comparison, Klay Thompson took 28 percent of the shots and used 24 percent of the possessions in his freshman year, and could only manage an offensive rating of 97.0 (due in large part to his lack of free throw attempts).
DuBois is the key player to watch out of that transfer group. He can create plays, as evidenced by his 23.2 assist rate and 48.3 free throw rate. He also is an excellent shooter, hitting on 42 percent from beyond the arc and 83 percent from the foul line. He has struggled from the field since Pac-12 play began, but is still effective by drawing fouls and dishing out assists.
Jason Washburn will help defend Brock Motum. Washburn and his teammates didn't do a great job on Motum last year, as the Aussie poured in 27 points on 10-12 shooting in the losing effort. It was Utah's ability to frustrate all the other Cougars that made a difference.
Don't expect many offensive rebounds in this one. Utah is 27th nationally in defensive rebound percentage, while WSU is 78th. The Cougs are slightly above average in offensive rebounding, but don't expect many against the Utes.
Both teams have excelled on defense by rebounding (see above) and limiting two-point shooting. Each holds opponents to around 42 percent inside the arc. The numbers are oddly similar in how these teams have been successful on defense. It's like preventing easy shots and rebounding the misses is good or something!
So where do they differ? WSU forces far more turnovers, while Utah doesn't give up as many three-point attempts. The turnovers give the Cougs a slight advantage overall, and the Utes are exactly average when it comes to giving the ball away. I'm done trying to predict how teams will fare from three.
The strengths of Utah and WSU on offense line up with the strengths of each team's defense, so this might come down to which can exploit weaknesses. If the Cougars can get the Utes to turn the ball over more than usual (20.6 percent of the time), that could be the difference. Having the best player on the floor helps too, but Brock's 27 still ended with a loss last season.
Kenpom does predict a 59-53 win. As Samuel L. Jackson would say, "Hold on to your butts." But not really, because Velociraptors will look for a game where the people are much closer together, in an arena that isn't empty. Velociraptors are smart like that.
Also, you don't actually need to hold on to your butts, but I might recommend some reading material. You'll have plenty of time in between shots going up.