The first unofficial game of the Ken Bone era is in the books, and so far, so good.
The new edition of the Cougars played as advertised: young, talented, small and more offensive-minded than in the past. What surprised me, pleasantly, was that the tempo wasn't overly fast, and the defense held on to many of the old school Bennett-era principles. That is: man-to-man defense with an emphasis on taking away anything inside.
One big difference, though, was a greater willingness to crash the offensive boards. Unlike Bennett ball, the Cougars weren't content with settling back on D as quickly as possible after a missed bucket. Tonight they were stronger following up on their shots, and while it led to a few fast break opportunities for the Warriors, it more often resulted in a second shot attempt for the Cougs (actually there probably would've been more than 8 offensive boards had the Cougs not made so many shots).
I had the feeling a few times that this should have been a bigger blowout than it was. Actually, it really should have with WSU missing seven of their nine free throw attempts in the second half. Still, the Cougs coasted for the better part of this game, and looked comfortable for the most part in the new system.
The big concern for the Cougs, literally and figuratively, is their size. This team is undersized, especially at the 4, where Bone started Abe Lodwick (!) and played, among others, Nikola Koprivica. Part of that was due to the head injury suffered by James Watson, where we still aren't sure if it is a big deal or not. The other part of it has to do with a lack of effectiveness from our actual "big" players (minus Casto). Regardless, this team gave up ten offensive rebounds to LCSC in the first half, which is just plain unacceptable against a team that small. One can only wonder what struggles this team may have underneath against teams with actually skilled bigs.
Now, some individual player comments:
- Klay Thompson: still Klay Thompson. Nothing to worry about here, and he seems to be more aware of getting to the basket and drawing contact. Which, honestly, is really the only thing keeping him from being an elite player nationally.
DeAngelo Casto: Casto is starting to play like a man among boys, which he absolutely should be against lower-tier competition like this. He netted a double-double, with 14 points, 11 boards and 3 blocks. His post moves have improved, he is getting a little better at facing up to the basket, and can get a occasional put-back or two.
- Reggie Moore: There is no newcomer I'm more excited about than Moore. He is just phenomenal. The biggest question mark coming into the season was who we could get to replace the outgoing Taylor Rochestie and Aron Baynes. Baynes doesn't have a replacement on this team, but Moore seems like he could be a perfect fit at point. Especially when this team only needs a distributor to set up our two scorers (Thompson, Casto). He's a brilliant passer, quick and athletic, and seems to already know he's just that good. He had eight assists to six points tonight: that's downright Weaveresque. He managed a couple dunks of the fast break, and assisted on two gorgeous alley-oops: one to Casto on the fast break, and another in traffic to Capers: easily the play of the night.
- Marcus Capers: Speaking of #0, he struggled tonight, outside of converting my favorite alley-oop. His shot is still far too flat, and he had a couple uncharacteristic defensive lapses. Still, I think he can be a solid starter for this team, and deserves the opportunity. His offense will come with time; for now we should be able to enjoy his defense and tremendous length (as Jay Bilas would say) in the backcourt.
- Nikola Koprivica: Remains one of the more frustrating players on the team, in that one second he's making a beautiful cut to the basket for a lay-in, and the next he's blowing the same type of shot on a 3-on-1 break. Still, his passing is good, his defense is still sound, and his experience will be key at times when we need someone off the bench to settle us down.
- Abe Lodwick: Started at the four, which is fine against smaller teams but scares the heck out of me going into Pac-10 play. He hit a three, grabbed a board, but was otherwise unremarkable in his 12 minutes. We'll see what kind of role he develops on this team as the early season wears on.
- Xavier Thames: Thames has the potential to be at Reggie Moore's level within a year or so. He's another super-athletic guard who can shoot the ball, run the fast break and make a couple highlight reel plays. However, since he's like a Reggie Moore Lite (TM), I think his best use is off the bench as a more offense-oriented alternative to Capers.
- Brock Motum: Yikes. Kind of a rough debut for the Aussie, whom we really do need because of our lack of size in the frontcourt. He was mostly unremarkable, making his only two-point attempt and missing two threes. He reminds me of Fabian Boeke in that he's a Tony Bennett big-man recruit who often seems to play more like a guard than forward/center. We're going to need him as a forward/center, because right now we seem surprisingly stacked at guard.
- Mike Harthun: I shouldn't have put him so far down on this list, considering how well he played. In 22 minutes he hit five of six shots, grabbed three boards and never turned it over. More importantly, he looked comfortable doing it - something he rarely did in his limited game action last year. Harthun is another speedy guard that can aid us on the fast break, drain perimeter shots and take some of the pressure off Klay. I feel Harthun and Lodwick are interchangeable from a shooting standpoint - they will both have good nights, and they'll both have off nights. Bone's best bet is to ride the hot hand.
Charlie Enquist: Still the same old Charlie, he's going to be a help this year in that he at least has some experience at the 4. He still doesn't have the size or rebounding prowess of a Casto, but he's still pretty bouncy and brings that whole Caleb Forrest-type skillset to the table.
- Reserves: Late in the game Bone put out a lineup of Allen, Loewen, Bragg, Brown and Bjornstad. Of those, Allen is clearly the most likely to have an impact this year. He looks comfortable running the point and taking a shot in rhythm, which is probably how he ended up snatching ten minutes in tonight's game and still having a shot at cracking the rotation. Bjornstad is big, which we really really need. However his skills are still raw so he'd do just as well with a redshirt.
Overall, the 2009-2010 Cougars are young, skinny and a heck of a lot of fun to watch at times. Other times, a little more frustrating, like at the free throw line. Nevertheless the future looks brighter than ever. Bone's recruitment of Moore in particular is going to result in a huge payoff for us.
The regular season is only four days away. I can't wait.