The Cougs are coming off of a hard-fought loss against the top-20 USC Trojans and they look to bounce back with a big win over the Weber State Wildcats. The Cougs have struggled to maintain consistency on both ends, jumping back and forth from good defensively and good offensively from half to half. Playing against a team like the Wildcats, the Cougs will look to batten down the hatches on both ends and start to get in a rhythm.
Weber State enters the Palouse undefeated to this point. They have not played a particularly tough schedule, but only one of their wins has come in single digits (against the 3-6 Duquense Dukes) and head coach Randy Rahe has this team rolling. Their size at the guard position and sound defensive acumen will make them an interesting challenge for the 6-2 Cougs.
Weber State Wildcats
The Wildcats are best described as a very competent offense, but there is a question as to how much of these efficiency stats are reliable and how much is boosted by the weak competition they’ve played thus far—Kenpom.com ranks them 104th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Weber State relies a lot on their guards to take on the majority of the usage and they run a lot of pick-and-roll and isolations. They are a solid shooting and slashing team too, helping the spot-up numbers remain elite. They struggle to get their bigs involved and this makes the pick-and-roll finishing numbers really poor. A key for stopping their offense will be forcing them off the 3-point line and trying to get their guards to finish over the Cougs’ elite shot-blockers.
Weber State runs the majority of their sets out of 50 spacing, also known as 5-out. The bigs they play with are similar levels of shooters to many of Wazzu’s bigs, but they run a lot of dribble hand-offs. That tactic helps them keep the spacing because bigs cannot completely back-off and give up open pull-ups jumpers to their guards. Maintaining this spacing helps them create good looks inside and out.
The Wildcats run a lot of isolation plays with their guards that lead to jumpers. These plays work really well against the competition Weber State is used to, but it might be a different level when they are trying to iso against guys like Noah Williams, Mouhamed Gueye, and TJ Bamba.
Weber State’s go-to offensive set is a dribble handoff series, where a big will come to the top of the key and guards will move around him. The Wildcats can usually get some good downhill momentum here and their guards are all very sound decision-makers when passing out of drives.
Weber also runs a lot of weave actions to get the defense in motion. This is a particularly interesting play because they set up in pistol spacing but immediately pass out of that to get a clear side drag screen. This spacing manipulation keeps the defense guessing and makes help defenders set up out of position for the drive.
Much like its offense, Weber State’s defense is about passable and not much else. There are a lot of areas where they are solid and do exactly what is expected of them, but there are a few areas where they struggle. The spot-up number is a little below average at the 32nd percentile and this is because they are almost always bringing a corner help player to tag the roll. This leaves corner kick-outs wide open to guards that can make that pass. The post-up number is one that might be misleading, and they are yet to play a team with a real post threat but expect them to double on the dribble every time a post player gets it deep.
The Wildcats are a very fundamental team when their defense is in rotation, which is a positive, but it is a negative for them that they are in rotation so often. Here, they front the post and allow for the entry pass, forcing the low-man to come help and leaving the corner. The corner only has to make one more pass to get a good look.
Weber State is going to ice most drag screens on the wing and switch if the guard does not back it out. This should create opportunities for Washington State’s posts to have good advantages down low. Weber State will front in the post, so it will be a challenge to see if the Cougar guards can deliver those passes to the bigs at the right spot to take advantage of the mismatches.
The advantage of the Wildcats’ overhelping is that they create a solid amount of turnovers by overwhelming bigs and other decision-makers. They will take away the obvious passes to the roll man or cutters and make guards see the other passes. Bigs can get really sped up by their defense and mishandle the ball or make errant passes.
Finally, the 88th percentile in transition defense number is likely misleading. Again, they have not played teams with athletes like the Cougs and they continue their overhelping into transition scenarios. Here, a great look is created by drawing two defenders with a one-dribble drive and that is a shot that the Cougs should be able to take advantage of.
Players to Watch:
Koby McEwen is the Wildcats’ best player, and he does a lot for them on both ends. The 6’4 guard is their go-to isolation scorer and he often guards the opposing teams’ best guard as well. He navigates screens really well defensively, shoots the ball well, and he can get downhill. He is currently averaging 16.8 points per game on very good efficiency.
Dillon Jones is Weber State’s best wing, and he is also a very solid playmaker. He is second on the team in assists and he is probably the Wildcats’ best downhill attacker. He can get downhill quickly, and he does a good job manipulating the defense to create windows to score or pass.
Seikou Sisoho Jawara is Weber State’s best playmaker and shooter and the third go-to player on the roster. The Wildcats use Jawara as the pick-and-roll ball-handler very often and he is also a consistent threat off-the-ball as a shooter. Weber State is very top-heavy and the three players to watch do the majority of the work for the team on offense.
Washington State Cougars
Players to Watch:
Efe Abogidi has still yet to truly find his rhythm on either end. He hit a three against the trojans, but he has not been able to get it going completely as a roll man or a rim protector. He is suffering from Washington State’s guards’ lack of ability to get to the rim, force help, and leave him open in the dunker spot for lobs or dump-offs. Running more pick-and-rolls with Noah Williams could alleviate this issue and allow him to get himself going a little bit.
TJ Bamba has had a really solid season thus far this year. He had an impressive showing against USC, including a clutch three, and he has improved overall in every aspect of the game. He has turned himself into a really consistent spot-up shooter. The one thing we are still somewhat waiting to see is him turning his shift and athleticism into some more shot-making for himself. A team like Weber State could allow him to have a big scoring game if he gets the latitude to do it.
Michael Flowers has had a solid transition to playing at a higher level so far this season and it could really continue against Weber State. His jumper is legitimately impressive and he gets it off over a lot of difficult contests. He has the scoring down, but the next step he can take is really locking in on finding his roll-man consistently and not settling for so many tough mid-range jumpers.
What to Watch For:
The rotation is going to remain a huge question going forward. The three-guard lineups with Tyrell Roberts, Flowers, and Williams all on the floor leaves the Cougs at a major size disadvantage come Pac-12 play. Kyle Smith is known to make smart adjustments and the Cougs have a bevy of wings that could fill into the lineup and help increase the size on the floor.
Continuing the defensive energy will be a major key for the Cougs moving forwards. Against ASU and USC, the defensive intensity jumped out and they were really forcing those teams into tough shots. Continuing that energy and forcing teams to take tough shots in the lane against the Cougs’ elite shot blockers could make them a top defensive team in the country once again.
This game will be a major test for Noah Williams and Michael Flowers to continue to grow their chemistry. Flowers and Williams are both starting to establish themselves as the highest usage players on the roster and the focal points of the offense, but there has been a bit of “his turn, my turn” flow to the offense in recent games. Flowers understanding where to get Williams the ball and Williams learning how to move off of Flowers’ shooting gravity will be a major boost to the offense.
Question of the Game:
Will Efe Abogidi get his block percentage back up against Weber State?