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Kent making an impact, but needs more talent

Ernie Kent deserves a lot of credit for regrouping his team after some particularly ugly losses. Now that Kent and his team have a better feel for one another, fans should expect to see increments of improvement over the course of the season. Still, WSU is way below the talent level needed to compete in the Pac-12.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The WSU men's basketball team will play its final out of conference road game Saturday night at Santa Clara where they will tip off with the Broncos at 7:00 pm. The Cougars were originally scheduled to play this weekend at KeyArena in Seattle against Hawaii. That didn't materialize for some reason, likely Hawaii's travel schedule, and the Cougs ended up picking up the road matchup against the Broncos. WSU last played Santa Clara in December 2011 and won handily at Beasley 93-55.

There isn't a lot of buzz around WSU basketball right now although the team has shown some signs of improvement in its last two outings. Nobody put  lofty expectations on Ernie Kent's first season. The few fans that did dare sneak a peak at some of the first few televised games witnessed humiliating losses against TCU, UC Santa Barbara, and Idaho. These losses had some thinking that the basketball program was in a similar place to where WSU football was from 2008 to 2010.

Wednesday night's loss to Gonzaga was a good showing for WSU. The Zags were able to maintain control pretty much throughout the contest, but the Cougs stood their ground and avoided the lopsidedness that many expected. One thing to note from the game was WSU's defensive effort to hold Kevin Pangos scoreless. Pangos had a 22.6 ppg career average against the Cougs entering the game.

The notably improved play of WSU in the past few games suggests that the "Ernie Kent effect" is starting to kick in. Inheriting a group of players without much success at the college level and molding these players to a new style of play was a tall task. To add to the early issues, Kent entered the season without a strong feel for the best chemistry he can put on the floor with the players he had to work with. The marked improvement of Josh Hawkinson as both a scorer and a rebounder has vastly helped out WSU this season. Kent has also locked on to a new guard combination with Ny Redding primarily running the point guard and Ike Iroegbu moving over to the wing.

Heading towards conference play, WSU only has four players, Hawkinson, Lacy, Iroegbu, and Redding, that are consistently playing well enough to be contributors for the upcoming conference schedule. Although capable of contributing, three of those four players are not going to start on the vast majority of Pac-12 teams. Nevertheless, they are four of the five starters that WSU will have to work with this season. The only hope of getting help off the bench is likely going to depend on whether Que Johnson can find a way to get on the floor and utilize the talent he has occasionally displayed in the past.

For WSU to win in the Pac-12, they need a roster that consists of at least eight or nine players that are Pac-12 level quality. Sitting at four right now, WSU doesn't have much of a chance to win a lot of games. One of those four, Lacy, will depart after this season. The good news is that the other three will likely be around for at least two more seasons. Kent is going to need at least a couple of players to contribute right away from his recently signed recruiting class. The two players coming in next year that will likely be the most ready to contribute are Derrien King and Renard Suggs, both JuCo transfers. The lone JuCo transfer that Kent brought in prior to this season, Aaron Cheatum, has only played in seven of nine WSU games for a total of 16.7% of total minutes played by the team. Kent is going to need much more than that from next season's newcomers.

Kent has the basketball acumen to get the a lot out of the players he has to work with. This year's team should see notable improvement over its first few games even if that improvement doesn't translate to many wins this season.The bigger question is whether or not Kent will eventually get the talent to match his coaching acumen to compete in the Pac-12 and make postseason tournaments.

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