Washington State takes on Santa Clara this afternoon for one last game before finals week in Pullman today at 1:00 pm.. The Cougars are coming in having won three straight following their epic failure at the 76 Classic in Anaheim. The Broncos were also a part of that tournament, where they were able to get a surprise win over New Mexico before falling to Oklahoma in the second round. It ended up being a very successful for trip for Santa Clara, as they ended the tournament with another win over Villanova. Taking on three teams that are currently in the Kenpom top 60 and coming away with two wins is very impressive.
The Broncos have only played one true road game so far this season, an 89-56 loss to UC Santa Barbara. Don't let the name fool you there, the Gauchos are actually a pretty decent team this year. Santa Clara is ranked 132 by Pomeroy currently, with WSU at 94. The Cougars are predicted to win 75-68 with 73% confidence.
After the jump, a slightly more abbreviated preview than usual, as I've got finals. I say that now, we'll see how long it becomes.OFFENSE
The Broncos aren't a great shooting team overall, with a 47.2 eFG%. Much of that can be attributed to Kevin Foster. Foster is 10th in the nation in shot%, and he has struggled from the field so far this season with a 45.2 eFG%.
There are some guys that are dangerous from the outside for Santa Clara. Evan Roquemore and Raymond Cowels have both been very effective. Roquemore has knocked down 46.7% of his threes, while Cowels is at 40% on the year. Brandon Clark may be a wild card off the bench. He doesn't shoot much, but has hit 8 of his 15 three-point attempts so far this season.
Santa Clara shoots more threes per field goal attempt than almost anyone in the country. 45.6% of their shots have come from beyond the arc, sixth most nationally. So perimeter defense will be crucial, as the Broncos are only shooting 41.8% from two. The main guy to watch out for on the inside is Niyi Harrison. 6-9 John McArthur is also a big body who could give WSU some trouble.
They don't turn the ball over much as a team, and that allows them to overcome some of their shooting problems. This also could be a product of their willingness to take the outside shot rather than pushing it inside towards the basket. Foster uses the most possessions and has been good at taking care of the ball, giving it away only 12.9% of the time. On the flipside, Roquemore has been much more careless with a 27.0 TO rate. Overall, the Broncos have just a 17.0 TO rate, making them 26th best in the country.
On the offensive glass, don't expect Santa Clara to be a huge threat. They are 208th in the country in OR%, gathering 31.8% of their own misses. Harrison is the best in this department, with an 11.5 OR%. None of the guards seem to crash the glass much, as they have very low offensive rebounding rates.
Free throws are an area where the Broncos have succeeded. They have posted an above average 40.7 free throw rate as a team, and are hitting 73.6% of their attempts. The two bigs, Harrison and McArthur, do a very good job at drawing fouls, as they ranked 143rd and 189th respectively in free throw rate. Roquemore is the best guard at getting to the line, with a 53.6 FTR. He is almost automatic when he gets there, hitting 34 of his 37 attempts so far this season.
Washington State will have to defend the outside in the match-up. Expect to see a lot of three-point attempts, especially from Foster, Roquemore, and Cowels. The big men also provide a challenge, as they have some good size. Brock Motum and Charlie Enquist struggled with the physicality of the Idaho front line, so that may be an issue again.
Santa Clara has been very tough on opposing offenses inside the three-point line. They are limiting their competition to 41.5% on twos. This has allowed them to be 89th overall in defensive eFG%. Nobody on the team is an imposing shot blocker, so they contain opponents with solid defense. Opponents take a high amount of three-point attempts, so it is likely that the Broncos are packing the lane and mixing some zone into their scheme.
They don't tend to force many turnovers, which again plays to the idea that they pack the inside. Santa Clara is 326th nationally in defensive turnover percentage. I feel like a broken record here, but that hasn't seemed to matter for WSU. They will still turn the ball over on their own.
The Broncos are a below average defense rebounding team, allowing opponents to grab 33.6% of their misses. McArthur seems to be the problem, as he only gathers 11.2% of opponent misses. A bad number for a player of his size. Motum and Enquist have shown a decent ability to pull down offensive boards, and there will be opportunities here.
Free throws have killed Santa Clara. Their 46.4 defensive free throw rate puts them at 299th nationally. That has been compounded by their opponents' ability to shoot them really well, hitting 78.3%. The Cougs will definitely be able to take advantage of their weakness in allowing the competition to get to the line, but they will most likely lower their free throw percentage against.
WSU has relied heavily on their ability to make two-point shots, and Santa Clara will make that tough. Getting to the free throw line and crashing the offensive glass will be very important for the Cougs to be successful on the offensive end.
Overall, this isn't a terrible match-up for WSU as long as they can play solid perimeter defense. They've been able to do that recently, as their opponents' three-point field goal percentage has plummeted and is now to the point where it's just about average.The Cougars' guards are bigger, so hopefully they can be a bother and make the shots more difficult on the outside.
This won't be a game that WSU runs away with, and Santa Clara has shown the ability to compete with major-conference teams so far this season. The outside shooting should have Coug fans worried. We'll be back in a little bit with the game thread, stream information, and hopefully an injury update.