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2011 NIT: Was Last Night A Preview Of Things To Come?

I alluded to this briefly last night on the recap, but given that I was sort of trying to capture the whole essence of the game, I didn't want to dwell too much on any one aspect of it.

But Todd Dybas frequent WSU freelancer Howie Stalwick's piece for (EDIT: I've been told there was a mistake made when the byline was added to the piece originally) went a little deeper into something that pretty much mirrored my line of thinking as Klay Thompson rotted on the bench in foul trouble in the first half. Namely: Holy crap, we might be in serious trouble next year:

Who knew that Washington State would learn all about life without Thompson when he was still in uniform?

Thompson never found any semblance of rhythm, drew three fouls in the first 10 minutes and finished with six points on 1-for-10 shooting. What, if any, impact that will have on Thompson's pending decision on turning pro or returning for his senior year remains to be seen.

Thompson and fellow junior DeAngelo Casto continue to contemplate the pros and cons of the pros and college. In other words, they haven't decided whether to bypass their senior year to go pro. ... Given that Thompson is one of the nation's leading scorers and Casto is WSU's only major impact player on the front line, the loss of one of both players could be fatal to the Cougars next season. 

While I don't care much for Dybas' Stalwick's over-the-top writing style* or his attempts at being clever through overused puns**, the overall message is spot on: This team needs more talent, and only Thompson and Casto sticking around will mitigate the time it's going to take for Bone to fix it.

*Example: Saying Casto "hates school" when no other reputable publication has reported that seems a little strong to me. (EDIT: Stalwick does spend a fair amount of time around the team, so maybe he knows something. But still ... never heard it put quite that way.) Also, "the Cougars may be destined to finish below Walla Walla Community College in the Pac-12 next season" is the sort of hyperbole that just seems unnecessary to me. We get it, they could be bad. Why not just say they could be comparable to this year's Arizona State? That actually communicates something of value.

**Example: "If Thompson and Casto depart ... well, the season will go up in smoke in an entirely different way." Really? An overused pun based on the most well-known pot smoking movie ever is really the best you can come up with? Trying hard to be clever is not very clever. (John Blanchette, please also take notes.)

I understand that things looked ugly without Thompson last night in part because the team wasn't expecting to play extended stretches without him -- there was no "how we're going to score on Wichita State without Klay Thompson" game plan. Obviously, next year's offense would look fundamentally different, and I trust Ken Bone to devise an offensive attack that can be reasonably effective, as he did most notably against UCLA without Reggie Moore and Thompson.

But strategy notwithstanding, removing the two best players from the program will leave major question marks about just how far the team's remaining talent can take them. Barring significant improvement from a number of players and immediate contributions from the newcomers, next year could be ugly.

My suggestion? Pray. For a lockout. For someone to give Casto one of those $500 handshakes.*** For anything that will convince these guys that sticking around the program will be the best thing for their careers. And then wait on pins and needles until May 8.