The Washington State Cougars notched their first conference win of the season on Sunday against Utah, and they'll go for No. 2 on Wednesday night in Maples Pavilion (7 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks). The Stanford Cardinal also got off to a slow start in Pac-12 play and also notched their first league win on Sunday with an upset of Oregon in Eugene.
WSU comes into this game as underdogs again, as they will for most of the remaining Pac-12 schedule. The Cougars would win 15 times out of 100 games according to KenPom.com's numbers.
When WSU has it
If the Cougars are to challenge Stanford, they should hope to continue the good fortune that Pac-12 Cardinal opponents have had from beyond the arc. Oregon, Oregon State and Cal combined to make 52 percent of 3-pointers.
Washington State has become less reliant on the 3 as the season has progressed and probably won't continue the trend. That's likely due to a number of factors, including DaVonte Lacy's injury and D.J. Shelton deciding to go inside more after a hitting just 8 of his first 42 attempts from downtown.
If Shelton, or any Cougar, goes inside, he'll have to deal with a formidable group of shot-blockers. Dwight Powell, Stefan Nastic and Josh Huestis have helped the Cardinal block nearly 14 percent of opponent 2s this season, 45th-best in the country.
But that aggressive approach has had predictable side effects for Stanford in Pac-12 play. Conference opponents are shooting a 51 free throws for every 100 field goal attempts. That's second to just the Cougars.
The Cougs have had a consistency low free throw rate against major competition throughout the season, but WSU was able to get to the line frequently against Utah. Even Dexter Kernich-Drew was driving to the basket, something he has rarely done in his Washington State career. But Utah may be one of the few Pac-12 teams that WSU can match up with athletically, and that likely had a major impact on its ability to get to the lane and draw fouls.
When Stanford has it
When Stanford has the ball, the Cougs will face a number of capable scorers. Guard Chasson Randle leads the way with excellent shooting numbers. The junior has hit 55 percent of his 2s and 43 percent of his 3s. Randle is versatile, he's shoots twice as many 2-pointers as 3s and gets to the free throw line frequently.
Anthony Brown joins Randle in the backcourt, and he's bounced back nicely from a season-ending injury in 2012. Brown has knocked down 53 percent of his 3s, 51 percent of his 2s and 81 percent of his free throws.
Overall, the Cardinal are a jump-shot heavy group. Just 34 percent of Stanford's field goal attempts come at the rim, 272nd nationally. That's good news for the Cougars, who have struggled to keep opponents away from the cup. WSU opponents are taking 42 percent of their shots at the rim.
It's interesting that Stanford's offensive approach is similar to its defensive approach--mostly 2-point jumpers, relatively few shots at the rim. One would think that a team wouldn't want to do the same thing on offense that it is trying to force others to do on defense. WSU had seen the same until this season, where it was letting opponents take plenty of shots behind the arc and doing the same when it had the ball.
So, you're telling me there's a chance?
Knocking down jump shots early is important for WSU. If Stanford has to overplay on the outside, WSU can take advantage by driving the lane and drawing contact. This is especially important for Que Johnson and Dexter Kernich-Drew.
It would help for Shelton, Royce Woolridge and Ike Iroegbu to be aggressive towards the basket. They all have the ability to beat defenders, and WSU needs them to take advantage of Stanford's aggressive bigs.
On defense, the Cougars have to continue what was successful last weekend--excellent halfcourt defense where everything was contended at the rim and WSU locked down the defensive glass. The Cougs can't be caught being lazy in transition, that's what cost them an upset over Colorado.
Stanford doesn't play at the Buffaloes' pace--CU takes 29 percent of its shots in transitio--so there won't be nearly as much pressure on the Cougs to get back.
Stanford 70, WSU 60 with 85 percent confidence
All stats in this preview come via kenpom.com and hoop-math.com.