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OPEN BASKETBALL GAME THREAD: No. 7 WSU at No. 2 St. Mary's

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8 PM PDT -- McKeon Pavilion

Kenpom.com prediction: St. Mary's wins 58-57 (58 possesions, 52 percent confidence)

PROBABLE STARTERS

WSU Cougars Ht. Wt. Pos. Yr. PPG RPG APG
Taylor Rochestie 6-1 193 G Sr. 12.7 3.8 4.6
Klay Thompson 6-6 187 G Fr. 11.5 4.4 1.8
Marcus Capers 6-4 172 G Fr. 1.5 2.2 1.3
Caleb Forrest 6-8 223 F Sr. 5.8 3.2 0.5
Aron Baynes 6-10 250 C Sr. 11.7 6.8 0.5
St. Mary's Gaels Ht. Wt. Pos. Yr. PPG RPG APG
Patrick Mills 6-0 180 G So. 17.8 2.6 3.7
Mickey McConnell 6-0 185 G So. 5.8 1.3 2.3
Wayne Hunter 6-4 210 G Jr. 6.4 2.2 0.9
Diamon Simpson 6-7 240 F Sr. 13.8 10.5 0.7
Omar Samhan 6-11 260 C Jr. 14.2 9.4 1.7

First things first: This is a game the Cougs are going to win on defense. Period.

And while all the buzz about tonight is going to surround super guard Patty Mills -- you'd think the guy was a lock for a top 5 NBA pick with how much man love has been thrown the guy's way this week -- I'll go ahead and go against those ever-so-knowledgable ESPN announcers and tell you that Mills will not decide the outcome of this game.

Think about it for a second. How many times can you think of that the Cougs lost a game this year because of their inability to contain guards? A few? (UCLA and Cal come to mind.) How about the number of times the Cougs lost to a team with a star guard but otherwise mediocre supporting perimeter cast? I can't even think of one, and that includes two wins against the team with the best guard in college basketball, ASU.

No, more pressing issues in losses have been turnovers and subsequent poor transition defense (which won't be a problem tonight) and difficulty keeping opposing big men off the glass. That's the key tonight.

St. Mary's is one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the country, and that's not just a reflection of the weaker competition they've faced. They've got a couple of legitimate big men in Samhan and Simpson, and their effective height -- a measurement by Pomeroy that is determined in large part by a team's height up front -- is actually better than the Cougs'.

A lot is being made by some of you of the Baynes/Samhan matchup, I think because Baynes is obviously our most talented big man. But for the minutes Baynes and Samhan are on the floor together (which should be just about even, since both play in about 70 percent of their team's minutes) that matchup will essentially be a wash, as they are remarkably similar in just about every statistical way:

Size ORtg eFG% OR% DR% Blk%
Baynes 6-11/250 114.1 58.1 9.4 23.6 5.5
Samhan 6-11/260 118.5 56.7 14.7 20.9 6.6

Samhan is a fairly accomplished offensive rebounder, but I have a hard time believing he'll be able to approach those numbers with Baynes boxing him out. Both will get some points, but neither will be abusing the other.

Because of this, the wildcard here is really Diamon Simpson. Simpson isn't all that tall, but he is beefy and a very good rebounder (remind you of anyone?). He's not all that efficient as a scorer -- just 50.3 eFG%, which is really low for a big man -- but he's got a pretty good 109.6 offensive rating. How does he do it? He's remarkably good at drawing fouls -- 44th nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, and 11th nationally in free throw rate. He probably draws a lot of those fouls on putbacks. So it seems to me that if you can force him into tougher shots without fouling him and can keep him off the glass, you can limit his effectiveness.

That's why this game is really going to come down, on the defensive end, to how well Caleb Forrest plays. We've already established that the Cougs are going to need Forrest on his "A" offensive game, and they're going to need him at his best on defense, too. Forrest is a notoriously below-average defensive rebounder (just 10.6 percent) who desipite his excellent effort struggles to box out more physical opponents. Unless he gets in foul trouble, Forrest is going to see major minutes tonight. Can he at least somewhat neutralize Simpson?

Obviously, DeAngelo Casto could be a great weapon here -- he's proven to be an excellent rebounder. The problem is, he's either a positive or negative force when he's on the floor; there's just no in between. If he wants to help tonight, he'll have to play under control -- which he hasn't done in about three games. He's trying to block everything in sight right now, and if he consistently leaves his man to stop penetration, Simpson will absolutely destroy us.

It's pretty safe to say that this is the best pair of rebounders the Cougs have faced all year, and it's going to take a complete effort from the front line -- and even from the guards crashing down to keep these two off the glass. Nobody else is much of a rebounding threat, so If we can do that, we're golden.