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NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament First Round - Washington State vs California

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What to Watch For: Scouting WSU vs Oregon

It’s the battle of the 4 and 5 seeds as WSU looks to go on a Cinderella run!

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Washington State looks to build some momentum for a Cinderella run in Vegas with a win against Oregon. The Cougs split the season series with the Ducks, but Oregon won the point differential and they are lightly favored in this one. Still, WSU has won 7-straight and their offense seems to be really humming.

The game tips off from Vegas at 2:30 PM PST and can be watched on the Pac-12 Network.

Oregon Ducks

Offense:

Oregon has been the 2nd best offense in the Pac-12 according to Kenpom’s Adjusted Efficiency metric. They are shooting 54.4% from two this season, which points to how effective they have been finishing at the rim both in the post and on drives. They are also an excellent offensive rebounding team, ranking 2nd in the conference there. They do struggle with turnovers -7th in the conference- and they don’t get to the line a ton -8th in free throw rate- but their two-point shooting has lifted their offense considerably and it’s even scarier for a poor rim-protecting team like WSU. The Ducks are shooting only 32.6% from deep, but they can’t really be left open from three because they have a couple guys who are streaky and they become deadly if they get hot.

Oregon runs a lot of pick-and-roll and they will vary how they run. They will mix in a lot of Spain and North actions to shift defenses, but they want the ball in the hands of their best playmakers and they like to create mismatches for isolations as well. For more on the Ducks’ offensive sets and schemes, read here.

Defense:

Oregon has been one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12 this season, ranking 9th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Some of their struggles on that end has been bad luck, as opponents are shooting 35.4% from outside despite the Ducks ranking 3rd in the conference in opponent three-point rate, but they do tend to give good looks to good shooters at times and their swarming perimeter D can be beaten with quick ball-movement. The Ducks are about average as a rim-protecting team thanks to their deep drop coverage. However, Oregon has proven that they will switch up that drop coverage if the matchup calls for it. They started hard-hedging and trapping against WSU and it worked to get them out of their rhythm. The Ducks rank 9th in opponent turnover rate, but they’re 3rd in defensive rebound rate and 4th in opponent free throw rate. Oregon is an exploitable defense, but they still have legit size and athleticism. The Cougs will need to be diligent about getting into their sets and sticking to their game to win this one.

Players to Watch

N’Faly Dante has been one of the most efficient post-scorers in the Pac-12, and he is always at the top of opponents’ scouting reports. The senior is averaging 13 points per game on 62.3% and he’s an excellent finisher near the rim. The strategy for guarding him tends to be fronting- deny him catches, make him work hard to get any space, and force Oregon’s guards to throw risky passes. WSU is one of the best teams in the country at fronting the post, and they’ve limited Dante’s touches well in earlier games.

Jermaine Couisnard is the wildcard for the Ducks. He can go 2-17 and shoot Oregon out of games, or he can drop 30 on efficient shooting and take over as a bucket-getter. The Cougs will need to be tight to him at all times, give him no space to catch and shoot, and force him to try and beat WSU’s best defenders 1-on-1. It will be interesting to see who matches up on him, but they’ll need to contain Couisnard to win this game.

Will Richardson has only scored in double digits once in his last six games, but he’s still a deadly point guard on both ends of the ball. Plus, his pick-and-roll playmaking can change the geography of the court. WSU tends to put their best defender Richardson, but Couisnard’s scoring ability might change that. Whoever is guarding him will have to make sure he can’t get open shots off the catch and contain his drives.

Washington State Cougars

Players to Watch

TJ Bamba has been a star down the season’s stretch, but he struggled a bit the last time WSU played Oregon. Bamba scored only 11 points on 5-17 shooting and 1-6 from deep. As great as Bamba is, he does sometimes struggle with like-sized athletes, and Oregon has the bodies to throw at him. However, he is on an impressive hot stretch and it does feel like he found that extra gear. Some of his struggle against Oregon was simply not hitting outside shots- but he was still getting to the rim, competing on defense, and creating lanes for himself as a driver. He should have some chances to create mid-range shots against Oregon’s drop, but if they mix it up and throw a hard hedge at him again, he has proven he can adjust to that and make plays as needed. The Cougs can go as far as Bamba can take them and they will need him in this one.

Mouhamed Gueye has the biggest matchup of all in this one and he is going to be vital on both ends. Gueye is going to have the quickness advantage and he was able to use that to score an efficient 18 points in the last meeting between these two teams. He was also effective in pulling off post-fronts and forcing Dante into double teams in their last meeting. Dante only scored 10 points in their last meeting, and Gueye was able to make his life hard without fouling. Gueye will need to recreate that two-way effectiveness in this game.

Andrej Jakimovski is one of the swing pieces for WSU in any given game. He is always going to bring defensive effectiveness in help rotations and strong rebounding on both ends, but the shot seems to wax and wane game by game. When he is hitting his outside shots, WSU’s offense is humming and their actions become hard to guard, but when he is missing, everything becomes a little tighter for the Cougs. He will also have to keep his decision-making under control, as he can struggle with turnover against more athletic teams. The 31-tooth wonder is a huge key for WSU in every game, but he will have to be extra on point in this one.

What to Watch For

Containing the stars is the key for any basketball game, but it is specifically big for the Cougs in this one. Oregon’s trio of Dante, Richardson, and Couisnard can each be deadly on their own, and they’re great playing off of each other. WSU’s game plan against them will need to be on point. This likely means fronting Dante in the post, high-catching and potentially switching everything in order to contain Couisnard and Richardson on drives. WSU plays a very tall lineup and Gueye’s movement skills make switching possible and it might be the optimal strategy today.

WSU won their last game against Oregon because they generated and made a lot of outside shots. Oregon is usually solid at running teams off the line, but WSU took 23 threes and shot 39.1% on those shots. WSU is generally excellent at generating open looks from deep, even when the scouting report is to run them off the line. The Cougs’ shooters will need to be aggressive taking those shots and, hopefully, they are falling as well.

Question of the Game

Will WSU hold Oregon below 50% from the field?

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