The Washington State Cougars will look to continue their hot start as they visit the Pepperdine Waves on Friday night at 7 p.m. PT. The game provides an opportunity for a rare true road non-conference game for WSU, as the Waves and their fans are sure to be out in full force to see a Pac-12 opponent on their home court. The game is expected to be streamed live on Pepperdine's athletic site.
Pepperdine has dropped its first two games of the year, both on the road at Cal State Northridge and Cal. The Waves are picked by many to finish last in the West Coast Conference after losing some key contributors off last year's 10-19 squad.
With the loss of two important seniors, the Waves are left without a "star." There are a couple players who have taken the bulk of the shots, and one has been significantly more efficient.
Lorne Jackson missed last year due to injury, but has returned as the team's second-leading scorer through two games this season. Jackson has struggled mightily with his shot, with an atrocious 38.6 effective field goal percentage. However, he has made up for that by getting to the line frequently and knocking down his foul shots at a 90 percent clip.
Jackson will likely improve on his shooting performance as the season goes along. He posted a 51.5 eFG% as a junior, while still maintaining his solid free throw rate.
Aside from his shooting, Jackson is a playmaker for Pepperdine. He will drive the lane to draw fouls or dish to open teammates. That will provide a stark contrast from some of the three-happy guards the Cougs have faced in the first two games.
To see how these two team's match up, let's take a look at the four factors.
The Waves were among the worst shooting team's in the country last season, but have performed reasonably well in their first two games. Their 50.0 eFG% is buoyed by an impressive 37.5 percent on threes.
Jordan Baker and Nikolas Skouen have shot the ball well behind the arc. Baker has knocked down 5 of 8 attempts, while Skouen has hit 5 of 12. All but one of Skouen's field goal attempts have come from the outside.
WSU has the shooting advantage because they have been dominant in the paint and will likely continue that against Pepperdine.
The cause for concern comes from behind the arc. The Cougs are allowing opponents to shoot 40 percent from downtown. Much of that has come when the starters are off the floor, but Pepperdine does have a couple players that can hit from the outside.
Threes are the great equalizer, and the Waves may be looking to shoot a few extra to try and stay in the game.
Pepperdine has excelled on the offensive glass through the first two games, nabbing 40.5 percent of their own misses. The story has been different on the other end, where the Waves allow opponents to grab 36.5 percent. For the most part, Pepperdine's bigs don't get a ton of help on the defensive glass from the guards, which suggests that the Waves don't sent everyone to the rim.
The Cougars have been able to lock down the defensive glass through two games, and will have the size advantage at all positions on Friday. They should be able to control the boards on their defensive end, but their offensive glass is a different story.
WSU isn't grabbing many O-boards this year, so they aren't likely to take advantage of Pepperdine's weakness in that area. Overall. the Cougs have a slight advantage on the glass because of their superior athletes.
No need to dive too deep into this. Advantage Cougs.
WSU's guards have taken excellent care of the ball so far, highlighted by just five turnovers against Utah Valley on Wednesday. Pepperdine's primary ballhandlers are turnover machines.
Some person who writes Cougar basketball previews may have made a bold prediction that WSU would pull away from Utah Valley on the strength of free throws. They didn't, shooting just eight free throws total. Still, the Cougars have the personnel to get to the line with frequency, and that game should prove to be an anomaly.
Outside of Jackson, the Waves don't get to the free throw line much. They've also played terrible free throw defense, giving up an obscene 85.7 percent (it's a joke).
KenPom predicts this to be a WSU win with 82 percent confidence. The scored is predicted at 66-57 on just 60 possessions, so it should be a slow game.
Pepperdine will certainly come out fired up, and the Cougars had a long travel day to get to Malibu. Expect the Waves to make it a game early, before the Cougars pull away towards the end for the win.