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Syndication: Indianapolis Matt Kryger/IndyStar

What to Watch For: Previewing WSU vs Detroit Mercy

The leading scorer in college basketball comes to town

The Cougs finally return home to take on a solid Detroit Mercy team. After a rough week with two bad losses, the Cougs recovered against Eastern Washington and they look to build some momentum against the Titans.

Detroit is a team that is volatile, based mostly on the shot-making of their best players. They handedly beat good teams like Charlotte and Ohio, but they got creamed by Florida Atlantic and struggled against the zone defense of Bryant. Detroit can blow teams out if they are hitting shots, but their defense leaves them vulnerable.

The game tips off at 1:00 PM from Beasley Coliseum and can be watched on the Pac-12 networks.

Detroit Titans

Offense:

Detroit is a deadly offense when things are clicking. They rank 85th in Kenpom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, mostly due to their elite shooters and scorers. The Titans are a prolific shooting team, taking a high volume and making an insane 42%, which ranks 11th in the country. The rest of their offense is somewhat middling, but they don’t have any major deficiencies. They struggle to get to the line- 204th in free throw rate, they are only solid on the offensive boards- 166th in offensive rebound rat, and they are a poor passing team- 223rd in assist rate. Their offensive output relies a lot on their best shot-makers hitting shots and their ancillary players knocking down the open ones, but they can be deadly when they are.

The Titans’ offense is not all that complex. They have some basic sets to get guys going and early in games they might try to establish some rhythm with specific plays, but they mostly like to get the ball in the hands of their scorers and go from there.

Their top two guys are truly electric and the coach- who happens to be the star players’ father- knows he can let them cook and that will be efficient enough.

Most of their plays are like this, simple middle ball-screens or early drag screens in semi-transition to get the ball-handler a slight advantage that they can exploit. It tends to work, as noted by their solid efficiency. They are patient on offense, so they will often slow it down to make sure the guard has the look he wants, but the patience is not as a result of complexity.

The most consistent non-ball-screen set that Detroit goes to is a chest set. They are looking to create either a cheap cut to the basket or an advantageous isolation for the popping guard. This set is particularly effective because they play a stretch five who is willing to shoot when left open.

A lot of what extends Detroit’s possessions are the isolations themselves. They tend to lead to longer offensive possessions because they only occur in the half-court and they tend to force guards to hit multiple moves to get a clean shot.

Despite their slow pace statistically, the Titans will take shots in early offense if the look is good or one of their stars is hot. The two top dogs on this team have the freedom to push the pace or take shots early in the shot-clock if they are feeling confident.

Detroit is a team that shoots a lot from deep. They rank 85th in the nation in three-point attempt rate and they will hunt threes whenever possible. Whether it be in transition, on offensive rebounds, or off-the-bounce, the Titans will look to win from deep.

Finally, Detroit is more than used to teams zoning up to try and negate their star scorers’ iso games so they have a few effective sets to beat zones. Their go-tos are either simple high-lows or runner plays. Runners against a zone run the baseline from corner to corner, waiting for a wing defender to help middle and then spotting up open in the corner.

Defense:

The Titans are, to put it mildly, an exploitable defense. They rank 327th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, making them one of the 40 worst teams in the nation on that end of the ball. Their only real defensive strength is that they avoid fouling, ranking 65th in opponent free throw rate, but they are lousy at about everything else. They are 334th in offensive rebound rate, they let teams shoot well from deep and around the rim- 236th in effective field goal percentage, and they force almost no turnovers- 209th in takeaway rate. They are undersized, less athletic, and unaggressive on defense.

Detroit’s will hard hedge a lot of screens, occasionally switching if the guard begins to turn the corner but also recovering to the big if available. The hedge helps them cover for their lack of size in the frontcourt, but switching still makes them vulnerable.

Detroit will occasionally ice screens in the corner, looking to get traps or force pick-ups in a bad spot. They might avoid this against WSU because the size of the Cougs’ guards makes skip passes much easier, but this is a look that Detroit is comfortable with and they are willing to mix it up on D.

Detroit also does a lot of switching. They are aggressive with their switching, not going under and waiting for the guard to initiate the switch, instead stepping up to take away the three. Slips to the rim are the usual counter for switching like this.

A major reason for Detroit’s defensive issues is their lack of help instincts. They are consistently late on rotations or unaggressive in looking to create turnovers. Here, the post fronts for a solid two to three seconds and the low-man never shades over. Little mistakes like this are all over their film.

When playing against good shooting teams, the Titans will go into a prevent defense. This is where they will switch off-ball screens as well as on-ball screens in order to prevent open shots. This defense will have leaks that can be exploited, but it forces teams to beat them one-on-one a lot.

Detroit will occasionally zone up as well, which I would expect to see against WSU. The zone is a bit sloppy but it does slow teams down, which is sometimes all Detroit needs to win.

Detroit is a bad rebounding team and that is something WSU should look to exploit. There are worries with the potency of Detroit’s offense that not having enough guys back could lead to too many open looks, but there are a lot of points to be had on the offensive glass.

At the end of the day, Detroit is just a poor defense and if WSU has a bad offensive game against, then the alarm bells should start to ring. They make a lot of little mistakes and there are a lot of opportunities for easy buckets against them.

Players to Watch:

Antoine Davis is the current leading career scorer in all of college basketball and he is vying for the number one spot. He gets his buckets all over the floor, knocking down shots from deep off the dribble, on spot-ups, and off tough movement. He can get into the mid-range and create space for jumpers and his touch on floaters is borderline inhuman. He is a consummate scorer and he is the primary driver of Detroit’s success.

Jayden Stone is a transfer from Grand Canyon, by way of Australia, and the wing has popped in the early season. His athleticism and shooting make him a deadly weapon in transition and he has been uber-efficient to start the year. He is the second scorer on this team, comfortable attacking off of Davis’ gravity and forcing defenses to split their attention.

Damezi Anderson is the starting big-man for the Titans and he brings an interesting skillset. The fifth-year senior started his career at Indiana and has bounced around a couple times. He can stretch the floor from the five-spot, as well as make some plays off the bounce. He can get busy on the boards and he brings a physical presence on screens. His overall physicality and skillset make this team sing on offense.

Washington State Cougars

Players to Watch

Jabe Mullins had his breakout game against the Eagles and he seems like he could feel the Tyrell Roberts role if he continues a similar level of play. Some of the shot-making is unsustainable, but seeing him play with that level of confidence was great. He still missed a couple shots he should make, but perhaps the increased confidence will help him hit those shots. His ability to hit movement threes is a major potential benefit to WSU’s offense and hopefully he continues that against Detroit.

TJ Bamba showed off his athletic pop against the Eagles, with a couple excellent drives and a huge baseline dunk. His defense also looked great, slowing down Eastern’s best scorers in the first half and he will be asked, along with Dylan Darling, to slow down elite scorers once again. He will also have a chance to score a lot too, as Detroit’s switching defense should create a lot of mismatches. Bamba is WSU’s best iso-scorer and he will need to create for himself when guarded by lesser defenders.

Mouhamed Gueye and Justin Powell are the two linchpins of this team and it is no coincidence that they played well in WSU’s two wins and poorly in their two losses. The pick-and-roll between the two should be the bread and butter for WSU’s offense and they should continue to play with confidence. It felt like they both understood that they needed to step-up and they showed out against Eastern, playing a lot more aggressively and being efficient as both scorers and decision-makers.

What to Watch For:

Shooting consistency is something to monitor for this team. Conceivably, this is an elite shooting team with multiple high-level shooters and some other solid shooters flanking them. Not having Andrej Jakimovski has hurt the eliteness of the shooting, but Powell, Mullins, and Bamba are all great spacers and most have showed it. However, the game-to-game variance has hurt the Cougs. In WSU’s two wins, they have shot 45% or better from deep and in their two losses they have shot 33% or worse. The ancillary players have struggled to shoot, with DJ Rodman not hitting a three since the opener, Gueye hitting his first three in the Eastern game, and guys like Darling, Houinsou, and Rosario all struggling to hit efficiently. WSU will need their secondary players to step up from deep in the absence of Jakimovski because outlier bad shooting days kill the offense and make competing with opponents difficult.

The overall hustle of this team has been somewhat lacking through the early portion of the season and it shows up on both ends. Gueye started to change the overall vibe with some excellent, aggressive rebounds and defensive efforts, but there were still plenty of frustrating moments in the win against Eastern. This team, as talented as they are, is not good enough to overcome them consistently getting out-hustled. They need to cut out the little mental mistakes that lead to wide open shots on defense and they need to continue their improvements on the offensive glass against Detroit.

Question of the Game:

Will the Cougs hold Antoine Davis to below average efficiency?

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