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WSU vs. Arizona basketball: Preview and Game Thread

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The Cougs are long shots to pick up a victory in Tucson. (But hey, you never know!)

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Arizona
I believe I can fly!
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The WSU Cougars resume their (very one-sided) rivalry with Arizona tonight, in Tucson, looking to bring their Pac-12 record back to the .500 mark.

Unfortunately, Ken Pomeroy’s laptop only gives the Cougs about 2 percent chance to do so, as the Wildcats represent the best team WSU has faced all season — that includes Oregon — and they just got better by adding a former 5-star recruit back to the lineup.

To be frank, there really isn’t anything the Wildcats don’t do well on either side of the ball. Actually, I guess that’s not technically accurate, since they rank 205th in defensive turnover percentage, but that’s more a function of their pack line defensive philosophy than an actual ability to take the ball away from opponents.

Outside of that? They rank in the top 100 nationally in every other one of the Four Factors on offense and defense, most notably No. 22 in opponents’ effective field goal percentage and No. 32 in opponents’ ratio of free throw attempts. When you add in pretty good defensive rebounding, that’s why the Wildcats are No. 12 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency despite rarely taking the ball away.

For those of you who remember what that pack line looked like lo those many years ago now and wondered to yourself, “What would happen if someone ran the pack line with elite athletes?” tonight is your basketball porn.

Arizona is led by freshman big man Lauri Markkanen, who is 7 feet tall, has taken nearly as many 3s (96) as 2s (116), and has made 50 percent of his shots from both areas. When you add that in with shooting 83 percent on free throws and a minuscule turnover rate, you get the fifth-most efficient offensive player in the nation.

Of course, he’s not the only weapon; every other player in Arizona’s rotation has an above average offensive efficiency rating. (Actually, I lied again — Chance Comanche is very slightly below average.)

And the Wildcats just got back the guy many expected to be their leading player this year: Sophomore shooting guard Allonzo Trier, who had been suspended for taking a banned substance of an undisclosed variety. He couldn’t play until it was out of his system, and apparently that happened just before Arizona’s last game, a 96-85 win over UCLA. He scored 12 points with 7 rebound and 4 assists in 27 minutes.

Trier’s return means Arizona’s No. 23 ranking in adjusted offensive efficiency is likely to only go up.

Put bluntly? It’ll probably be a mild upset if the Cougs are able to even just maintain contact with the Wildcats into the second half. They just present so many challenges for WSU on both ends of the floor that it’s hard to think of even one area where the Cougs would have an advantage.

Remember: WSU had its second-best shooting performances of the year against Colorado and still needed overtime to hold off the Buffs, who are winless in Pac-12 play. It’s likely going to take that, combined with some kind of inexplicable offensive performance from the Wildcats, for the Cougs to have a shot in Tucson, where Arizona hasn’t lost in nearly a year.

But hey — you never know! That’s why it’s a 2 percent chance and not a zero percent chance.

Go Cougs!