Man, what a rough one.
Washington State struggled mightily against University of Hawaii last night, leading to what might be the most frustrating loss of the Kyle Smith era.
They fell to Hawaii 62-51, barely cracking 50 and shooting a disgusting 30.5% from the field. The Cougs also only registered two total assists throughout the contest, a sign of an offense in decay.
WSU’s defense was also hard to watch at times. While holding a solid team to 62 points seems good, it is odd just how bad this team is at protecting the rim. Only 1 WSU player registered a block -Jabe Mullins- and Hawaii seemed to get whatever they wanted in the post.
It’s hard to characterize, in specific, what was so frustrating about the game beyond “they just didn’t score.” There’s definitely a lot more to it than that, but a lot of the frustration can be viewed through that lens.
I, along with many others, got caught up in the favor of last night’s loss and started trying to make declarations about Kyle Smith’s coaching and rationalizing such a loss with somewhat rash looks towards the future.
I think it’s important to break down what went wrong, what can be fixed, and what to actually expect from this team. However, it’s vital to take in the whole context when discussing something like that and it feels like it was overlooked in last night’s haze.
Still, after competing with a good team in UNLV and a great team like Baylor, it has been hard to wrap around why this team has struggled with the likes of George Washington and Hawaii.
1) Scheme Issues
There’s a lot, I mean a lot, wrong with this offense right now. They have no point guard, they have only two competent drivers- one of whom can’t pass, and their projected best player couldn’t score in the post against Big West bigs. However, it’s almost undeniable that a lot of the issues come back to the scheme.
For a little look back at what WSU usually likes to run, a look back at this might help.
Obviously last year’s offense had some tough moments, but it was mostly average or above and it’s clear WSU has struggled to adjust to a couple different things.
For one, Smith’s go to scheme is spread pick-and-roll. WSU currently lacks a real pick-and-roll playmaker and that has lead to our sets being incredibly inefficient.
For another, and I hate to harp on injuries once again, but missing both a real post-scorer and a 4 with real shooting gravity has ruined a lot of what WSU wants to do.
In the end though, as much as injuries have hurt this team and the talent isn’t ideal, the main issue is still absolutely the scheme. Smith has got to add some more creative sets and force purposeful ball-movement.
2) Empower Kymany Houinsou
Houinsou did not have a particularly good game against Hawaii, but it remains clear to me that this team’s upside rests mostly on his shoulders. He seems like the most likely to be an efficient pick-and-roll player, he should be a threat as a grab-and-go guy in the full-court, and his operation as a roll-man in specific scenarios unlocks a lot for this team.
There are going to be growing pains and the turnovers might be hard to watch, but WSU needs him to hit for things to work. Getting Jakimovski back healthy more consistently will do wonders for Houinsou offensively as well, as he desperately needs three good spacers to operate well.
3) Weird Silver Lining
If there’s one good thing about this loss to Hawaii, it’s that now WSU has an opportunity for a Quad 1 win against Utah State. If WSU somehow pulls off a win against the Aggies, then it’s almost worth it to have lost this game to Hawaii.
Previewing Utah State
You can read an in-depth breakdown of Utah State here.
In general, WSU has a good matchup here. The Cougs have played teams like Utah State well. The Aggies want to shoot a lot of threes but WSU is excellent at running players off the line.
WSU is certainly talented enough to beat Utah State and the defense should impress, but the question is going to come back to the offense. TJ Bamba and Houinsou will have advantageous isolation matchups and the Cougs should be able to generate threes, but it won’t matter if they look as lifeless as they did last night.
You can watch the game tomorrow, 12/25 at 3:30 PT! Go Cougs!