The Washington State Cougars take on the Utah Valley Wolverines on Wednesday night in Beasley Coliseum. The game takes place at 7 p.m. PT and will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks. The Wolverines are the best the Great West has to offer, and will be moving to the WAC next season.
Utah Valley has split its first two games, with a victory over North Carolina A&T and a loss to IUPUI. The Wolverines finished the 2011-12 season with a 20-13 recorded after falling to Weber State in the CIT. UVU lost several key players from that team, but has returned enough to stay at the top of the Great West. One of those returners is benefitting from the extra chances he now has as the team's primary rebounder.
Ben Aird is a role player in terms of usage, but he is leading the team in scoring and has been Utah Valley's most efficient offensive player. His rebounding numbers have shot up this season with the departure of Geddes Robinson. Grabbing 30 percent of the opposing team's misses is absurd, and that number will take a dip. But even in a two-game sample size, it is still impressive.
To get an idea of how these two teams will match up, let's take a look at the four factors.
Utah Valley has been at their best inside the arc through two games, due in large part to Aird. The Cougars will likely negate some of that, as they are much bigger and more athletic in the frontcourt than UVU has seen so far.
WSU knocked down 62 percent of their twos against a smaller Eastern team, and that is likely to happen again against UVU. Motum will take the bulk of the shots while he is in the game, and he was tremendously efficient against EWU. He should be able to do the same sort of damage against the Wolverines.
On the outside, Utah Valley head coach Dick Hunsaker's son, Holton Hunsaker, is not afraid to pull the trigger. He shot 170 threes last year, and has already put up 12 in two games. He hit just 31 percent last year, but his 87 percent on free throws says he has the ability to known down shots when open.
Three-point shooting might go slightly in WSU's favor, but Utah Valley will huck up more long-range shots. That could give the Wolverines an opportunity to stay in the game should they get hot.
There are two guys that have rebounded exceptionally well on the defensive end for Utah Valley, the aforementioned Aird and Oklahoma transfer Nick Thompson. Both are grabbing over 30 percent and could make it hard for the Cougs to snare extra opportunities.
The Wolverines have been an excellent defensive rebounding team under coach Hunsaker, and that shouldn't change this year. Look for Aird and Thompson to lock down the glass.
UVU isn't a team that will crash the boards on the offensive end. Combine that with the size and strength advantage WSU will have, and there probably won't be many second chances for the Wolverines either.
With the graduation of primary option Isiah Williams, who used 25 percent of the possessions while giving it away just 16 percent of the time, the Wolverines will find it a little harder to avoid turnovers this season. Hunsaker is much more turnover prone, and is getting more touches as a senior.
The Cougars aren't likely to force the Wolverines into many mistakes. WSU doesn't have many guys that can provide ball pressure and force errors.
As for when Wazzu has possession, the combination of Royce Woolridge and Mike Ladd bringing the ball worked out pretty well against the Eags. It is only one game, but Reggie Moore was giving the ball away at a high rate in the non-conference last year, and the team in general seemed to be careless with the ball against inferior competition. Limiting turnovers, or at least cutting down on them, against EWU was a positive sign.
Turnovers shouldn't be a huge factor in this game, as both teams will likely be about average in taking care of the ball and won't force the other into many difficult situations.
Just like last season, free throws will be an area in which WSU can consistently have a distinct advantage over the competition. The Cougs posted an awesome 75 free throw rate against the Eags. Shelton and Motum are foul magnets, and that isn't going to change any time soon.
Utah Valley hasn't given up many free throws so far this year, but they haven't made many trips to the line themselves. Look for WSU to build a big advantage on the charity stripe.
KenPom has the Cougs at a 91 percent probability to win this game with a predicted score of 71-57 on 63 possessions. WSU has big advantages in size, athleticism, and overall talent. Look for the Cougars to cruise to an easy victory on Wednesday night.