Washington State travels to Tuscon this evening to take on Arizona at 7:30pm Pacific Time. The game will be televised nationally on FSN , which means ROOT Sports NW for those in Washington.
The Cougars come off their most successful weekend of the season, sweeping two of the conference's top teams in Stanford and California. Faisal Aden had his best two-game stretch as a Coug, scoring 57 points and winning conference and national player of the week awards.
Arizona missed an opportunity to keep pace with the Pac-12 leaders after falling in the last minute to Colorado on Saturday. They currently sit one game ahead of WSU at 4-3 in league play.
The road has not been kind to WSU all season. The Cougs are 3-9 away from Friel Court, including embarrassing losses to UC Riverside and Utah. Two of those wins came in front of WSU-friendly crowds, so including the neutral site games is doing them a favor. Arizona has had a relatively easy home schedule, losing just twice at the McKale Center. Those two losses did come against San Diego State and Oregon, so they aren't exactly invulnerable at home.
Offense and Defense previews after the jump.OFFENSE
The offensive preview usually starts with shooting but there is one important aspect of Arizona that may come as a relief: They don't care all that much about crashing the offensive glass. Below is an estimation of the average Coug fan's reaction to this news (and an accurate representation of the leaping ability of the WSU frontline).
There are still players that can cause trouble on the offensive glass - specifically Solomon Hill and Jesse Perry - but Sean Miller won't be sending extra men in towards the boards to procure a second-chance opportunity. Miller's Xavier teams did well in offensive rebounding, but that hasn't been the case at Arizona, where the Wildcats were little more than average last year with rebound machine Derrick Williams in the lineup.
Arizona doesn't stand out in any particular statistical category on offense. They are a decent shooting team, with a 51 eFG%, and they are a little above average at taking care of the basketball with a 20 TO%. Three-point shooting and getting to the free throw line may be their biggest strengths and are very important to their overall offensive production. The Wildcats have scored 46% of their points via two-point baskets, which is the 310th lowest number in the country.
The most dangerous three-point threats are Kyle Fogg and Nick Johnson (as well as Brendon Lavender, who plays a small percentage of the minutes). Fogg is having his best year from beyond the arc, knocking down 43% of his threes so far. Johnson is hitting on 36%. As a team, Arizona shoots the 64th most threes (relative to total field goal attempts). Expect lots of jumpers.
There are a number of guys who can attack the rim and get to the foul line for the Wildcats. Josiah Turner leads the team with 73 free throws for every 100 field goal attempts. Hill, Fogg, and Perry are all very adept at drawing fouls. The Cougars have been decent at keeping opponents off the free throw line for the whole season, but have had a harder time in conference. Expect frequent fouls, but not necessarily foul trouble, as Arizona plays at one of the slowest paces in the Pac-12.
This offensive match-up isn't as imposing on paper as the last few games have been. The Wildcats aren't set up to exploit WSU's biggest weakness, defensive rebounding, and that is a plus. Arizona also lacks a lot of height inside, so this may be Abe Lodwick's chance to start. It is unlikely that Charlie Enquist would be able to do well against UA's athletic front line.
The Cougars will need a strong defensive effort, as points may be hard to come by on offense.
Arizona has been the most efficient defensive team in Pac-12 play. They are holding opponents just a hair under 0.9 points per possession. They were able to hold Oregon State, one of the conference's best offense's. to just around one point per trip.
The Wildcats hold down opponents primarily in two ways: locking down the outside and securing misses. Opponents have shot just 27% from three this season, good for 7th lowest in the country. The opposition has only grabbed 29% of available offensive rebounds, which is 54th nationally.
As impressive as those numbers are, they don't spell doom for the Cougar offense. Teams have shot 56% of their field goal attempts from inside the arc against Arizona, and UA has been only average in defending the two. WSU has had great success from inside, hitting 53% of two-point attempts on the season. If Aden continues his trend of attacking the basket, then Wazzu will rely even less on the three than they have been.
The Cougars have not done much in offensive rebounding for success this season, so being limited there will not throw them off their game.
Even if the match-up looks favorable for the Cougs, Arizona is still a good defensive team. Don't take this analysis to mean the WSU will run all over the Wildcats. They won't. Arizona is not going to give up easy buckets. KenPom predicts this as a 70-62 Arizona victory with 78% confidence.