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WSU vs. OSU basketball: Preview and game thread

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Spokane, here we come!

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

If the WSU Cougars can beat the Oregon State Beavers tonight in Spokane they’ll remain in first place in the Pac-12.

Bet you didn’t see that coming!

OK, so it would just be at 2-0. But still — some of us were wondering if a winless conference season was possible after a lackluster non-conference record. Beyond that being off the table, the Cougs can double their Pac-12 win total from last season with a win tonight against a very beatable Oregon State team that has had all sorts of terrible luck.

The Beavers were in the NCAA tournament last season, but all-Pac-12 first teamer Gary Payton II took his two conference defensive player of the year trophies to the NBA, a couple of other seniors graduated, and a couple of other players didn’t return — notably, Malcom Duvivier, who left for “personal reasons” — and all of a sudden, the Beavers became very, very young.

Then, the season started, and they became very, very injured. Tres Tinkle — coach Wayne Tinkle’s son — and Stephen Thompson were supposed to be super sophs leading the rebuild effort; instead, they have played just 15 games combined this season. Tinkle remains sidelined with a broken wrist (this, after having significant offseason foot surgery), while Thompson is only just now rounding into form (scoring 24 and 25 points in consecutive games against USC and UCLA).

Additionally, Cheikh N'diaye — the only senior on the roster — remains out with a shoulder injury, and junior college reserve forward Keondre Dew has been suspended by Tinkle ... for the third time.

Even with all that working against them, the Beavers put up a heck of a fight against the No. 4 Bruins on Friday in Corvallis. OSU fell behind by 11 shortly before halftime, but rallied back in the second half to close within two at 47-45 with just over 10 minutes to play. The Bruins outscored them 29-18 over the final 10 minutes, though, and that was that.

This matchup will be the polar opposite of the one in which WSU found itself against UW. The OSU offense is, by any measure you want to use, patently awful. Beyond that, the Beavers play slooooooooooooow — their average offensive possession length is 18.6 seconds, 316th longest nationally.

This game is not going to be easy on the eyes. But the WSU defense, which has played pretty well for long stretches as of late, could have itself a nice night against an offense that’s ranked 306th nationally in adjusted efficiency — and if the Cougs play their cards right, it could fuel the transition offense they covet.

The Beavers don’t shoot very well, but it’s actually an abysmal turnover percentage that really hurts them — they rank nearly dead last in the entire country, giving the ball away on roughly one out of every four possessions. Half of those turnovers are steals.

Now, in a weird contrast, WSU’s defense has been one of the worst teams in the country at taking the ball away. However, the Cougs did come up with seven steals against Washington and the opportunity to gamble a little bit on defense tonight will certainly be there. It could pay off big time if WSU wants to go that route.

Or, they could just sit back and wait for OSU to throw the ball to them!

OSU’s main source of offense comes from getting to the free throw line, but the Cougs have been one of the best teams in the conference at preventing that. Continue that, and get some steals, and it could be a long night for the Beavers.

The WSU offense is actually similar to OSU in that regard — getting to the line is important for the Cougs. The only difference is that the Beavers gladly oblige opponents with fouls. The Cougs will need to be judiciously aggressive, however, as OSU forward Drew Eubanks is an excellent shot blocker, and the anchor of a defense that defends 2-pointers really well.

Transition offense off of steals probably really is going to be the Cougars’ best scoring strategy.

Kenpom.com projects the Cougs to win 23 of the time by an average margin of 67-62.

And while you’re waiting for tipoff, you can watch the highlights from the win over UW: