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Tenacious D: The secret to the Cougs' early success

Apply Murphy's Law to the first half of yesterday's basketball game against Fairleigh Dickinson.

Everything that could go wrong for WSU, did.

FDU's zone defense was slowing the normally dominant Aron Baynes. The Cougars had 14 points in the first ten minutes, and were on the way to shooting 39.3% from the field. They hit only one of seven three-point attempts. Klay Thompson was shooting - he just wasn't connecting, going 1 for 6 with only a lay-in to his credit. The officiating took "let 'em play" quite literally, calling only two fouls on the visiting Knights.

And yet, after all that, the Cougars had an 11 point lead. They were in control the whole half, and ultimately the entire game.

Holding the other guys to fifteen first-half points will do that for you.

How is it, that the 2008 version of the Cougars - a team that boasts ten players that hadn't yet played a second of NCAA basketball - could come out hardly missing a beat defensively from last year's Sweet Sixteen squad?

Let's break it down:

Team Defense: Can a team that lost one of the best defensive players in the nation still stifle the opposition? Well, when your system is so solid that all you have to do is find the parts to fit it - yes. And that's exactly what Tony did - bringing in a recruiting class that meshes so well with the defensive mindset of Bennett Ball. Hard nosed man-to-man defense, with the occasional double team on the low post to make sure the Knights' inside game didn't get going. The Cougars have done about as good a job as anyone at making sure perimeter shots are contested. FDU's best player statistically, Sean Baptiste, finished with a 3 for 13 evening. FDU shot 21.6% for the game.

Taylor Rochestie: Running the point isn't the only thing Taylor does well. His on-ball defense of Cameron Tyler was superb - especially when Tyler would attempt to isolate against Rochestie and drive for a basket as the shot clock wound down. The most athletic guard on the FDU team was shut down by one of the most athletic in the Pac-10.Tyler finished 1 of 8 from the floor.

Aron Baynes: The slimmed down Baynes is so far everything we could've hoped for. He's more mobile. He avoids silly fouls and keeps his hands straight up. His footwork appears to be improved from last season.

One of my favorite things about Baynes is how he works so hard in the off-season to improve himself, even when he's already a great player. That, and the new mustache.

Daven Harmeling: I'll reassess this when Baylor and Gonzaga come to town, but against these undersized mid-major opponents, Harmeling is a good fit defensively at power forward. He was able to help Baynes on the double-team and looks like he has found a nice role for himself - one that doesn't involve being the sixth man.

Block Party: Ivory Clark would be proud. Klay Thompson adds, to steal from Jay Bilas, "tremendous length". He had 3 blocks last night, including one of those healthy Greg Oden type blocks where he tipped it right to himself. DeAngelo Casto has lived up to his billing, with six blocks so far on the year. Even Abe Lodwick (remember, he could do this in high school too) swatted a shot away. Opponents miss 100% of the shots that don't make it to the basket.

Nikola Koprivica: I've been gushing a lot about the kid from Sport Grammar School lately, but it's for good reason. Not only has he already upped his three-point percentage from 14% to 57% this year, his knee looks good enough to make him a force defensively. Last year, when Tony lined him up against Jerryd Bayless, we knew the ball coach had faith in his abilities. Hopefully Koprivica works hard and improves even more as the season rolls along. He could be our best chance at finding someone comparable defensively to Kyle Weaver. A tough thing to find, indeed.

Now, the tricky part: Can the Cougs keep this up against BCS conference opponents? Well, we won't know for sure until the later rounds of the Legends Classic.

Perhaps the more interesting question is: can they give up less points per game than the football team?


And now, to debut my new favorite postgame feature: Win probability [and other fun stuff] chart!