The Washington State Cougars tip off Pac-12 play Thursday night with the toughest game on the schedule -- a visit to Tuscon to take on the undefeated and top-ranked Arizona Wildcats (7 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks). The Cougs will be doing so without leading scorer DaVonte Lacy (who is minus one appendix since Saturday), taking the likelihood of an upset from "when pigs fly" to "when pigs prove to be safer, better pilots of commercial jets than humans."
More on the Cougs
More on the Cougs
WSU looked fine in its first game without Lacy, but that was thanks in large part to playing a physically outmatched Mississippi Valley State. The Cougs will be the team on the short end of the athleticism stick in their Pac-12 opener.
When a team is as good as the Wildcats -- No. 13 in adjusted offensive efficncy and No. 6 in adjusted defensive efficiency -- there are plenty of "strengths." This space will be reserved for what Arizona is best at -- controlling the paint.
For many teams, rebounding success is tied to philosophy, and typically the style a team plays dictates that it will be good at rebounding one end or the other. Contrast Lorenzo Romar and Tony Bennett as an example: Romar's teams have traditionally been excellent on the offensive glass, but less so on the defensive end (when Jon Brockman isn't around, that is).
Why? Because Romar's attacking style means sending more to the offensive glass in lieu of getting back to prevent transition buckets, and sending less to the defensive glass in hopes of a chance to leak out for an easy bucket. On the flipside, Bennett's teams eschew the offensive glass to prevent transition, and value grabbing a defensive board over the chance at numbers going the other way.
And then you have this season's Arizona team, which is among the nation's rebounding leaders on both ends of the floor. The Wildcats are grabbing 41 percent of their own misses (seventh nationally) and grabbing 75 percent of opponents' misses (10th nationally).
There have been plenty of opponent misses to grab, too. Arizona is holding opponents to less than 41 percent on 2-pointers, good for seventh-best in the country. For this game, WSU's tendency to hoist 3s is certainly a benefit, because the Cougars shouldn't expect much at the rim against a stifling Wildcat defense.
There aren't many "chinks in the armor" for Sean Miller's squad. Free throw shooting has been subpar -- the Wildcats are hitting on just 67 percent from the charity stripe.
Arizona isn't likely to force many turnovers on defense, either. The Wildcats are 173rd in defensive turnover percentage and 221st in steal percentage. The Cougars should be able to get shots up--even if they are heavily guarded.
Arizona 72, WSU 56 with 95 percent confidence (Remember -- the laptop doesn't know DaVonte Lacy won't be playing, so the probability of a Washington State win is probably even lower).
UPDATE: WSU will be without another backcourt player against Arizona, per the Spokesman-Review's Jacob Thorpe:
Along with Lacy, starter Dexter Kernich-Drew will be unavailable for #WSU because of a concussion sustained either in practice or last game.— Jacob Thorpe (@JacobThorpeSR) January 3, 2014