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What to Watch For: WSU vs. Winthrop

The Cougs are set to take on the Winthrop Eagles at Beasley Coliseum tonight, and they will face a solid offense

Grace Hollars/IndyStar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Washington State is coming off a dominating victory in the Battle of the Palouse and they have a lot of momentum as they return home for a game against the Winthrop Eagles. The Cougs have been a great defensive team to this point and they will face another solid offensive squad with Winthrop.

The game tips off at 6 p.m. PT and will be broadcast on Pac-12 Network and Pac-12.com.

Winthrop is known for their multiple offensive initiators that can handle the ball and their big man in the post. Their offense is versatile and makes defenses react to their multiple avenues of attack.

Winthrop Eagles

Offense

Winthrop 2021-22 Synergy Offensive Efficiency

Winthrop is a solid offense, but not a complex one. They like to win in the post early (while DJ Burns Jr. has his legs) and then they will use their athletic drivers and shooters. They are a solid shooting team with a lot of ball-handlers who can attack closeouts. They excel off the drive and kick and that is why they’re in the 97th percentile in spot-up situations.

The Eagles run a lot around Burns, who is the traditional, lumbering, post-up big man with good touch and a bully ball mindset. They’re not super fancy when getting into these post-ups either; here, they run a simple clear-out and get the post touch they want.

They also like to get a lot of early offense looks before the defense is set. These don’t always show up as transition plays, but it does get them good looks early in the shot-clock. More specifically, they run a lot when Burns is off the court they have a more athletic, smaller center on the court. They sometimes get paint touches off these plays, but they often end up in good looks from three as well.

Winthrop runs a 4-out offense, with three to four ball-handlers on the floor at all times. This lessens the number of creative sets they need to run and allows for more power to be put in the hands of the players. They sometimes start plays with a high pick-and-roll, then there is a kick-out, and from there, it is a series of drives and passes until the defense makes a mistake.

Defense

Winthrop 2021-22 Synergy Defensive Efficiency

The Winthrop defense is pretty mediocre. They have some strengths, but they struggle to protect the rim and they are overzealous, which leads to good looks for the opposing offense. Their closeouts are generally unbalanced and that’s what leads to their egregious 2nd percentile ranking in spot-up situations. They allow really easy straight line drives or side step threes and, because that is the most numerous play type they face, it really drags down their overall defense.

When Burns is on the court, the Winthrop defense really struggles to play to their ceiling. He is an easy blow-by on the perimeter and he isn’t much of a rim protector on the front line. This is partially why, despite his offensive production, he only plays 20 minutes per game.

When Burns is off the court, Winthrop plays an aggressive, swarming defense. They chase guards over screens, play passing lanes, and make getting easy shots difficult. The like to bring the big out to the level with a hard-hedge and then recover back. Sometimes they don’t recover and just double the guard.

Winthrop will occasionally bring out a press that is meant to slow the other team down. They’re not always trying to create a turnover, but they are trying to make the other team uncomfortable. They use their athleticism well put opposing guards into tough spots.

Players to Watch

Burns entered the season as Winthrop’s clear top player. He looked the part of that guy in the first two games of the season, but he struggled against Middle Tennessee and he didn’t start against Vanderbilt. His defensive struggles have been notable and playing only 13 minutes against Vanderbilt is a bad sign. It will be interesting to see how much he plays and if he can take advantage of his strength against Efe Abogidi or Mouhamed Gueye.

Patrick Good is a transfer from East Tennessee State who has taken a solid step forward for the Eagles this season. He is one of Winthrop’s best shooters and he does a lot for their offense. As the starting point guard, he is a solid game manager and their go-to entry passer to Burns in the post.

Cory Hightower is the closest thing this team has to an NBA prospect. Hightower is a very good shooter who can slash to the paint too. At 6’7, that is a valuable skillset and he looks to be taking a step forward from his past season at Western Carolina. He could very much be Winthrop’s best player and he could be a challenge to guard for the Cougs.

Washington State Cougars

Players to Watch

TJ Bamba has had a really solid start to the season and he has been incredibly fun to watch. Against Winthrop, he could have a big game using his athleticism to get the rim against the Eagles’ lack of rim protection. Bamba, behind only Noah Williams, is the most consistent threat on the Cougs to get to the rim and that is a major key for beating Winthrop.

Jefferson Koulibaly had an impressive game against the Idaho Vandals, and his energy was palpable. He was a hound on-ball, hit some shots, and brought all the energy the Cougs needed. Kyle Smith might need Koulibaly’s point of attack defense against the multiple ball-handler attack of Winthrop.

Tyrell Roberts struggled again against Idaho and there is beginning to be some question as to what level of player he can be. When the shot isn’t falling, he is not a major positive for WSU on either end. He is a very talented shooter and the shot should fall, but he has to prove he can do more than shoot if he wants to keep his place in the starting lineup.

What to Watch For

The point of attack defense was stifling against the Vandals, and it will need to be that good again against the Eagles. Koulibaly and Mouhamed Gueye were the real standouts and they should each look to recapture that effectiveness. Gueye is particularly important defensively because he will once again be tasked with guarding a smaller, perimeter shooter that he might have to chase around screens. Keeping the perimeter D up and forcing drivers into Abogidi’s shot-blocking will be huge.

The strength of Burns could effect the rotations in this game. If Abogidi can successfully take advantage of his speed against the slow-footed Burns on offense and he can handle his strength on defense, then Abogidi should play his normal minutes. However, Smith might have to work to match Dishon Jackson with DJ Burns to match strength for strength if Abogidi looks outmatched.

There is still a worry that the starting line-up only has two shooters as of now. At some point, one of Williams, Gueye, or Abogidi is going to have to extend their range to three or the spacing is going to become compromised. There is a world where all three can shoot and that drastically changes the geometry of the floor for the Cougs. Hopefully, one of the three starts their range extension against the Eagles.

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