We've turned the page to 2011, and with that comes a fresh start for the WSU basketball team.
Thank goodness, too, because the last three games have been a nightmare for the Cougs. A second half collapse against Butler, a second half collapse against UCLA, and a second half collapse followed by an almost comeback (yay?) against USC.
Rather than get into the specifics, though, of what caused the Cougars to have so much trouble over the last week of the year, I've decided to look at the big picture. I don't claim to be an expert on X's and O's, but with advanced stats we can track the general attributes that make a team good or bad.
The good news is that WSU is a good team. Kenpom's rankings put them at #36 and project an 11-7 conference record. Even with the opening sweep on the road. WSU ranks 41st in adjusted offensive efficiency and 35th in adjusted defensive efficiency. They aren't elite on either end of the floor, but they're good enough in both to where they can make some waves in conference play. If they play up to potential.
Looking at the four factors, WSU performs average, or above average in all four defensive categories. That's great, and it's an incredible turnaround from last season. WSU has some issues - and it's unclear whether they'll be a predominately zone team or man team. But for the most part the defense was sound in 2010. The offense is the 21st best team in the country in two areas: shooting (eFG%) and lack of turnovers (TO%). That's great as well.
Now the bad news. There are two problematic factors for WSU on offense, and they are two areas we really can't overlook any more. This weekend proved they are catching up with the team. One is free throw rate, where the Cougs rank 297th when it comes to scoring at the line. I see this improving dramatically: WSU was 29th (!) in this category last season, and still have several great foul-drawers on the roster. Reggie Moore was 26th nationally in individual free throw rate last season; he continues to get healthier. Klay Thompson, DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers were also all great at earning free throws last year. As a team we are due for some progression to the mean.
Offensive rebounding is the other key issue. WSU ranks 291st here, and rebounding was a key issue during WSU's second half collapse at UCLA. WSU only grabs 28.4% of the available offensive rebounds. Pittsburgh (Tops in the nation) grabs 47.4 percent, for comparison. The Cougs don't appear to be due for progression here. James Watson - who would have been a huge help in this area - is no longer with us. Marcus Capers is as good of an offensive rebounder as you can get from the guard position... but he's also a guard. Not to mention his shared minutes with Faisal Aden and Moore. DeAngelo Casto helps immensely, but he's about the only consistent threat - and he can't play a full 40 minutes every night.
This brings me to the title of my post. There's one player who currently leads the team in offensive rebounding percentage, and gives you the added bonus of having the fifth best free throw rate on the team. His minutes, however? Seventh best on the team, at 18.4 per game. In the last three games: he only logged 17 minutes versus Butler, 15 minutes at UCLA and a paltry eight last night at USC. He was never in foul trouble.
The player's name? Brock Motum.
There are a lot of complex issues with WSU right now. Mixed in with some bad luck of late, the result has been a three game losing streak that has many of us scratching our heads. There is still hope - like I said, WSU is a good team and hopefully that comes through down the stretch. Nevertheless, there is one easy fix WSU can make right now to get instantly better: give more minutes to Brock Motum. Casto will need to play 25-30 minutes every night barring foul trouble. Abe Lodwick is still necessary for his defensive rebounding, and should get 15-20 minutes or so each night. If they take up 40 to 50 of the 80 available minutes at the 4 and the 5, there is still more than enough time to get Brock 20 to 25 minutes on any given night. And he can make a positive impact for the Cougars if he's given the chance. He has an offensive rating so far of 125.6 (not sustainable, but fun), commits few turnovers and should have a high ceiling on defense.
Ken Bone's new year's resolution? It should be finding more playing time for Motum.