The Washington State basketball team is coming off one of their most impressive three-game stretches of the season as they face the Pittsburgh Panthers for a best-of-three series that will decide the CBI Tournament Championship.
The Cougars may be without All-Pac-12 forward Brock Motum, as he sprained his ankle early in the semifinal game against Oregon State. If Motum is out, the Cougars will likely need special efforts again from guys like Reggie Moore and Abe Lodwick, who picked up the slack by having their best scoring games of the season last Wednesday. Some help from Mike Ladd and DaVonte Lacy wouldn't hurt either.
Christian Caple did the research to find out what many have suspected: Pitt will be the first team to play Washington State in Pullman as a member of the Big East conference. That, combined with Pitt's recent history under Jamie Dixon as a top-level program, should be enticing to WSU fans who can make the trip on a Monday night. Will it be enough to get a nice crowd in Beasley? Or will the fact that this is the CBI still keep people away?
Offense and Defense previews after the jump.
Pitt has been good on offense this season and that primarily has to do with their offensive rebounding. The Panthers are third in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 41.4% of their own misses. Ken Bone acknowledged their rebounding ability in his latest press conference, so expect it to be an area of focus for the Cougs. They have shown, especially in the second half of the season, that they can rebound well when it is a point of emphasis.
Pitt spreads it out quite a bit in terms of shots and production. The two most important offensive players are Tray Woodall and Ashton Gibbs. Woodall is called on to both score and distribute. He is a good shooter, knocking down 38% of his threes and 83% of his free throws. He also has the 11th best assist rate in the country, so the offense will go through him frequently.
Gibbs is the most voluminous shooter for the Panthers. He is primarily a catch-and-shoot guy, as he does not take frequent trips to the line (just a 22.9 free throw rate). His shooting percentages aren't particularly high, making 42% on twos and 34% on threes, but the fact that he takes over six threes a game shows that the coaching staff has faith in him, and he is likely to get hot at any time.
As for the rest, Nasir Robinson plays inside the arc, shooting 56% on twos and grabbing 12% of available offensive rebounds. He also shoots just 47% on free throws. Crashing the glass with Robinson will be 6-9 bigs Dante Taylor and Talib Zanna. The secondary outside threats are J.J. Moore and Lamar Patterson.
Pitt has a lot of weapons and is relentless on the offensive glass. This will certainly be a challenge for the Cougar defense. They rose to the occasion in Corvallis, putting together one of their best defensive performances of the year. They will need to do that again if they have any hope of slowing down the Panthers.
The Pitt defense has not been good, and they took a dive during conference play, where they gave up 1.06 points per possession. They were hurt by the early-season transfer of stud freshman Khem Birch, who was an enforcer in shot-blocking and in rebounding. Birch was blocking 14% of opponents' two-pointers while he was in the game. The next highest for the Panthers is Taylor at 4%.
Without the inside presence, Pittsburgh's two-point defense has suffered. Against Big East teams, they allowed 51% inside the arc. WSU has excelled from two-point range, but a lot of that success has to do with Motum. If he doesn't play, it will be tougher for the Cougs to exploit Pitt inside.
What the Panthers do best on defense is limit opponents' three-point attempts. They are 72nd nationally in free throw rate allowed. WSU has thrived on getting the the line, especially in their first two games of the CBI Tournament. Without Brock and against Pitt, they may have to find other ways to generate offense.
KenPom predicts a narrow Cougar victory in Pullman, 67-66 with 56% confidence. When they hit the road, the advantage turns to Pitt, who are predicted to win the second game 70-64 with 29% confidence.
Assuming each game is an independent event (which is obviously debatable, considering team adjustments) and we use cumulative probability, as they stand now the probability (using KenPom's numbers) of WSU sweeping the first two games is just 16%, while it is 31% likely for Pitt. The probability that WSU is able to win the two games on the road if they were to lose this first game in Pullman is just 8%. (As a side note, a friend and I will be able to drive down to Pittsburgh on Friday if the series makes it that far. The numbers say that is 53% likely).
Obviously getting this game is important to success, as it will be very difficult to sweep the Panthers on the road. Can WSU continue to play well, even if Motum is severely limited or can't play at all?