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It’s Officially Cougar Basketball Season

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WSU is set for conference play.

NCAA Basketball: Oregon State at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning. I hope everyone who celebrates such things had a wonderful Christmas, full of fun, food and great gifts. Yours truly did just fine on the present front, and I think the kids are just about finished opening presents after three days. But now Christmas is in the rearview mirror, along with something that bore a slight resemblance to a football “season,” which means Washington State Cougars Basketball is ready to take center stage.

But before we talk about this season, there was an interesting Seattle Times article that briefly recalled WSU’s national championship victory back in March, when they soundly defeated the Colorado Buffaloes.

As the final seconds ticked down on the massive scoreboard of Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, the combination of guilt from earned money lost and the anger at the Colorado Buffaloes for throwing out a stinker of a performance in the first round of the 2019-20 Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament – a 82-68 drubbing by the Washington State Cougars — left me irritated and itching to find a fast way to make that money back.

Not sure if a 10-point underdog has ever won a championship game by double digits before, but I’ll be damn if the Cougs didn’t pull ‘er off. But enough about last season.

As you’re aware, Kyle Smith’s Cougars are a perfect 8-0, though having watched the Cougs play a few times, they are far, far from perfect in terms of where they need to be to compete for a place near the top of the conference. One of those eight victories came against the Oregon State Beavers, giving the Cougs a leg up as conference play begins in earnest with a game against the Arizona State Sun Devils and sideline class act Bobby Hurley on New Year’s Eve.

Despite the 8-0 record, the folks who rank all the teams are largely unimpressed, which is fair given that WSU hasn’t exactly faced a murder’s row of opponents thus far (not totally their fault, as their national title game rematch against the Colorado Buffaloes was canceled). According to Ken Pomeroy, the Cougs rank #130 currently, and the best win they have came against EWU, who is ranked one spot above them. Their next best win came against Oregon State who, oddly enough, sits directly below the Cougs at 131.

ESPN’s BPI rankings think even less of WSU, ranking them 157th. Now, I know these rankings are largely meaningless, especially this early in the season, but that ranking of 157 is good for 12th among Pac-12 teams. Yes, that means that even the 1-6 garbage barge of a team known as the Washington Huskies, who have lost four times by 14 points or more, including a 15-point beatdown at the hands of UC Riverside, are viewed as a better team (they sit at 124). Ok then.

Next weekend brings a significant step up in competition, as the aforementioned Sun Devils rank #56 in KenPom and #52 in BPI, while the Arizona Wildcats are 47/58. Not exactly the 1984 Big East, but certainly more talented players than the likes of Portland State and Prairie View A&M can roll out there. After the home weekend, the Cougs hit the road for four straight to the Bay Area and Los Angeles schools, so getting at least one of these two will be pretty important.

While I won’t attempt to break down the roster - there are roughly 25 people on the staff who could give you more insight - there are a few takes I can throw out there, having seen roughly two games’-worth of action. As a team, WSU really really needs to minimize the scoring droughts that always seem to plague them. While their defense can often help mitigate the potential damage, a step up in competition will probably not allow for a 5-6 minute stretch of missed shots if the Cougs want to be competitive.

On the personnel front, if there’s one thing that feels like the key to the season, it’s consistency at point guard. Starter Isaac Bonton has been borderline maddening so far this season, and WSU needs him to steady the ship when things start to get sideways. The only problem with that is the fact that Bonton is often responsible for said sideways maneuvers in the form of flailing drives to the basket, completely unnecessary heat checks and unforced turnovers.

There is a rub, though. Over here in NATO land, working with our Allies can induce a huge amount of frustration due to myriad issues, both cultural and militarily. However, as the saying goes, the only thing worse than fighting with the Allies is fighting without them. It seems like WSU’s point guard situation is quite similar. As frustrating as it is to watch Bonton run the offense, things can get even worse when he’s not out there. I think the ship has sailed as far as his game is concerned, but even a modicum of improvement in consistency would be a welcome sight.

For the first time in what seems like forever, WSU has a young big man whose ceiling is barely visible. It’s hard to fully express the amount of excitement I have for Efe Abogidi’s potential. He has a raw post game - to be expected - but you can clearly see flashes, and he’s good for at least a couple “leap from your seat” dunks or blocks every game. The funny part is that his most exciting play this season may have come on a missed shot/horrifying fall against Northwestern State. Even both announcers nearly lost their minds as Efe flew through the air before getting fouled/just missing a thunderous dunk. As awesome as that dunk would have been, the great part was that he stepped to the line and showed some touch, nailing both free throws.

Elsewhere, Noah Williams (whose head we hope is ok) looks like he’s ready to take his game to another level, and along with Abogidi will form a solid nucleus for the next couple seasons. If he can show consistency from medium range, that will go a long way toward freeing up the space near the basket for Abogidi and the other big men. Speaking of those other big men, hopefully Dishon Jackson can improve as the season goes along, and form a solid 1-2 punch with Efe. Watching that Northwestern State game, it looked like Jackson was trying to run around in wet cement. Everything he did seemed to be slower than the rest of the players, including his foul shots, which reached Karl Malone levels of elapsed prep time. Jackson was a highly-rated recruit, so clearly the potential is there.

tl;dr I’m excited for WSU’s potential, especially because they have a very good coach at the helm. I don’t know if this will be the year that the Cougs shoot up the standings, but it seems like it’s just a matter of time, especially since highly-touted recruit Jefferson Koulibaly is out with an injury. Still, there are enough pieces in place to make this an interesting season.

Basketball

Ryan Divish witnessed, and lost money on, final full game of men’s basketball season | The Seattle Times
The Mariners' beat reporter watched Washington State beat Colorado in the final game of the first round of the Pac-12 men's tournament in Las Vegas.

On the women’s side of things, the Cougars are off to a solid start, and may be fielding their best team in quite a few years. The Pac-12 competition is much stiffer at the top than the men’s side, however, and the Cougar women will have to play at a high level to string together some wins.

Washington State women off to a surprising start with win over ranked Oregon State, near-upset of Oregon | The Spokesman-Review
She’s won an NCAA title and an Olympic gold medal, which means Kamie Ethridge seldom feels the need to talk about moral victories.

This Week in Parenting

Like many other houses, Team Kendall celebrated Christmas this week. As previously noted, the kids have been on a virus-extended Christmas break, and the weather over here hasn’t exactly been amenable to outside play. Fortunately, Mrs. Kendall occupied the run up to Christmas by having them assist in the making of Christmas cookies, which we passed out among the neighbors.

For yet another Christmas, the boys got far more than they need and/or deserve, and even they couldn’t find something to complain about, which is the definition of a Christmas miracle. Another reward for them about living over here is that they get like three Christmases for the price of one. They open from us in the morning, then they open gifts from their Indiana grandparents during a mid-afternoon video call, then they open a third round of gifts from their grandparents and aunt/uncle in Spokane. Such a rough existence.

Among their gifts was a Disney+ subscription, and I have a feeling that they’d have been ok with that if we hadn’t gotten them anything else. The best part was that the 12 year-old immediately dove into the Simpsons. I don’t know if he did it because he wanted to or because he assumed that mom and dad would object, but I think it’s cool that he wants to watch such a transcendent program.

Among other gifts the 12 year-old got (and one of the few he actually asked for) were two Nerf-style grenades. I’d never heard of them, but they’re pretty damn cool and quite powerful. We had another family over on Christmas night, and they have two younger daughters (one of whom wore a dress that was 95% glitter which is now covering every inch of my house and oh did I mention that it’s effing impossible to clean up?).

Anyway, one of the girls was standing in the entry way when the 12 year-old decided to lob a grenade her way. He shouted “Frag out!” before he threw it, probably the result of extensive documentary/movie viewing. Well that clearly wasn’t sufficient warning, as the girl screamed and cried upon the grenade’s detonation. When Mrs. Kendall and I decried his lack of manners and judgment, he responded with, “But I yelled ‘frag out’ before I threw it!” Yes, I replied, because shouting “frag out” to a seven year-old My Little Pony devotee is definitely going to take hold at a moment’s notice.

Among the other thousands of presents was the Risk board game. I’ve never played it, and the family sat down to work our way through it on Saturday afternoon. It has definitely been a learning experience, but it’s been quite enjoyable (we’re still in the middle of the game). I always egg the boys on, urging them to attack attack attack. The nine year-old has the same philosophy, which might be why he is perilously thin across the board currently.

The 12 year-old is fond of attacking his brother’s territory, but one such attack went awry when the younger brother got the better dice roll. This prompted the nine year-old to declare in a perfectly deadpan tone, “You just got kicked outta the club.” As hard as I tried, I could not contain my laughter. He won’t cop to where he learned that phrase, but the fact that he used it at such an opportune time still has me laughing.

Stranger in a Strange Land.

As I mentioned, we handed out cookies to a few of our German neighbors. One family had just finished dinner when we knocked, and I asked what they’d eaten. “Butterball” was the answer. I had to chuckle. The husband mentioned that they’d had their next door American neighbor hook them up with a turkey from the base commissary because the German turkeys aren’t sufficient for a family dinner. Hooray hormones! I told him that I could help him out with his turkey needs in the future, for a fee of course. Kidding, maybe.

Incidentally, this guy is such a fan of America that he named his daughter after Lisa Simpson and he has a poster of Statler and Waldorf in his garage bar. When we went over to have a couple drinks with him last summer, he was playing music from his phone. Garth Brooks was on, and he asked, “I love Garth Brooks. You have heard of him?” Yes, I replied, we had indeed heard of him.

Beer

Best beer I had this week: It wasn’t the General Patton beer I saved for December 26 (the day Patton broke through to Bastogne), unfortunately. So I’ll go with an oldie/goodie beer I brought back from Spokane this summer. I’d been saving my Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA for a special occasion, and Christmas Eve provided the opportunity to consume the 18% ABV bottle of deliciousness.

The 20 Best Beers We Drank in 2020 • Hop Culture
As part of our end of year award series, we picked out the twenty best craft beers we drank in 2020. Our number one pick is Oodelallie from Yeast of Eden.

Non-Sports

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A Riveting ISIS Story, Told in a Times Podcast, Falls Apart - The New York Times
A Canadian’s gruesome account as an Islamic State executioner in Syria, which was the subject of the “Caliphate” podcast by The New York Times, was fabricated, officials say.