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WSU Basketball: Thoughts on the team after a pair of dominant wins

Myself, Kyle Sherwood and Craig Powers clean out the inbox again, roundtable style, to offer up some cursory thoughts on the Cougars after they dispatched Eastern Washington and Utah Valley with the quickness.


Kyle: You guys watched the game on tv, while I was in the arena distracted by the Marquess letter, so I may have to verify some things with you. My initial observation:

(and also to get this out of the way, all questions from here forward begin with "I know it's only Eastern, but...")

That was the first time I had seen the Cougs play perimeter defense since probably Bill Clinton's first term. How excited were you to see every three pointer contested? Is this something we should continue to enjoy? My initial thought was once we see some guards who are more willing to try and drive on someone defending them so close, this could hurt us, but they would have to contend with Brock, Big DJ and Junior in the paint, so Bone may be trying to work a big-play defense (we may allow a couple layups, but we're going to force turnovers in the process) into his scheme. Thoughts?

Jeff: You weren't the only one distracted by the Marquess Wilson news. There are myriad reasons why people are mad at him, but me? I was just annoyed as heck that I had to work on coverage of that letter rather than giving my full attention to that gorgeous performance on the court.

From a team perspective, the defense is most certainly the thing that stuck out the most to me. They were aggressive on the perimeter in a way I don't think we've ever seen in the Ken Bone era. The interesting thing is that this is what Bone said he wanted to do from the outset, yet done very little over his first three seasons. I mentioned that the loss of Reggie Moore would likely result in improved defense, and it's hard not to wonder if this new get-after-it philosophy on the perimeter is tied to his absence.

How well do you think it will work against a team that isn't determined to shoot as many contested 3s as possible, though? Especially a Pac-12 type opponent?

Kyle: Yeah, I agree we definitely look a lot more aggressive on the perimeter, which I really admire Bone for deploying. A lot of teams that are only 7 deep like us would play conservatively and ride out foul trouble, but we seem to be doubling down on the intensity. I don't know if it's always going to work against teams more patient than Eastern and Utah Valley, but we're going to cause some turnovers and whether it works all the time or not, it's going to be damn fun to watch the entire time.

This team seems to be playing in mid-season form in mid-November, which is admittedly a little shocking to me. I know we all loved what we saw out of the team last year when everything finally clicked in the CBI, but I wasn't expecting everything to carry over immediately. Mike Ladd, Dexter Kernich-Drew and DJ Shelton all made huge steps forward last March and appear to have only gotten better over the past six months (sidebar, did you see Dexter's stop-turnaround-eight foot bank shot last night? That is a move he didn't have last year.)

Craig: Ladd is a completely different player without the wrist injury. He is more aggressive on both ends. His shooting stroke looks way better, and now the 36 percent he shot at Fresno State makes a heck of a lot more sense. He is a guy that score in a variety of ways and I definitely see him have some huge games when he gets hot.

People want to compare Shelton to Casto, but their offensive games are different. Casto would never be able to put the ball on the deck and drive the lane like Shelton has in the first two games. He added a spin and and up-and-under move over the summer and he looks so much more polished.

On the other end, D.J. seems to have taken the intensity and ability to read the ball off the rim that he had on offense last year and applied it to the defensive glass. Add in the extra bulk and he has the chance to be a force, even against Pac-12 competition.

I definitely noticed that DKD turn-around jumper. Last season it was all threes or dunks, and he rarely took a mid-range shot. I'm not sure if he didn't have that move last year, or if he was never called upon to use it.

Something that is making a difference for all these guys is the increased ball movement in the offense. WSU would go long stretches where it just waited for Reggie Moore to drive the lane and make something happen in recent times. WIth Moore gone, the offense flows differently and more guys seem to have the confidence to take shots.

No longer are the Cougs playing 2 or 3-on-5 on the offensive end, and that makes them a heck a lot more fun to watch.

Moore certainly had the ability to take over a game and get to the rim at will, and there will certainly be a point in the year that WSU will miss that, but we know that those sorts of games become more and more infrequent after Reggie's freshman year. Overall, I'm starting to believe that this team won't just see a defensive improvement with him gone, but offensive as well.

Kyle: I think you and I were joking about it in the UVU gamethread where Casto's lone post move was pivoting enough times to hopefully get his man out of position and if it didn't work, bowl over him and hope for a foul call (in Casto's defense, this was ridiculously effective for three years). DJ has a range of post moves and has no problem facing the basket, either.

The offense so far is really everything I've wanted to see from a Ken Bone offense: Players that have no problem moving the ball (and moving without the ball) and all five players on the court can hit a 12 foot jumper. It's a dangerous combination, regardless of opponent.

Jeff: I hate to throw out the c-word, but I'm going to do it anyway: This team just looks like it has a chemistry that's been missing under Bone. From the moment he arrived on campus, there's always been a big gun the team deferred to -- first Klay Thompson, then Moore. In fairness, that also seemed to be because Bone wanted to funnel the ball through those guys.

To me, this looks like a team that's relieved to not have to do that anymore. They share the ball. They play off each others' strengths. And they don't seem to care who gets the credit, which is an amazing place for a team to be. There will be times this year where, as Craig mentioned, they'll need someone to take over. The question is, who does that? I tend to think, for as good as Royce Woolridge has been, that we've only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he's capable of doing.

Kyle: This e-mail thread might be the lone spot in the universe where "chemistry" is "the c-word."

Since you brought up Royce, let's talk about the chemistry with our two new contributors: Royce and new Cougcenter Legend Junior Longrus. We were told from some reliable people last year that Royce, not Reggie, was the best ball-handler on the team, and I think we kind of dismissed that out of hand because decision making skills aside, Reggie has terrific handles. But I'm a firm believer now and find Royce is the perfect blend of distributor for an offense that doesn't need a sole playmaker, but could also put the ball on the floor and draw a foul when called upon.

And what more to say about Junior.... I want cameras on him at all times. I need gifs for everything. Gifs of blocking three pointers, gifs of tomahawk jams, gifs of studying in the library, gifs of dancing at frat parties, gifs of picking out french fries in the Roto, If the Cougar Basketball team starts a cult this year, Junior Longrus will lead us!

Craig: Love the role that Woolridge is taking on so far this season. He took just three shots against UVU, but also dished out six assists. Nuss and I were talking about him during the game, and he is absolutely picking his spots to score, but for the most part seems happy being the distributor.

So, in other words, he is one of those elusive "true" point guards. Strange from a guy who we more-or-less expected to be more of a scorer than passer. I'm so impressed with the way he has embraced the role.

As for Longrus, I was encouraged to see that he was the first big off the bench against Utah Valley, and no Wil DiIorio. No offense to Wil, but he is absolutely not going to cut it down low against most of the teams on WSU's schedule.

Junior has the size and bulk to avoid getting shoved around inside, and he has quick hops and long arms that allow him to block shots. He may not be more than a catch-and-dunk guy on offense, but you can't ask for much more from a freshman big.

With Junior, WSU might just have three legit Pac-12 bigs. Along with the current recruiting class, I might be inclined to believe Bone can recruit more than just wings.

Jeff: I think that's the thing for me - Brian and I had a lengthy email exchange of our own during the offseason lamenting how it just didn't seem like Ken Bone had a real plan. For the first time, I think I can see the plan coming together, and it's not a minute too late. I don't know that I'm totally convinced yet that this is completely sustainable, but I really, really like some of the things I'm seeing.

To wrap this up, are you guys concerned at all about the "portability" of this? In other words, is this new found thing going to play on the road at Pepperdine on Friday?

Kyle: I think we're set up well to succeed this week. If we had spent the last two games shooting 25 threes per night, I'd be concerned with sightlines playing in a bandbox Friday and an NBA-sized arena Monday, but we moved the ball well enough to take high percentage shots and will be effective. I'm interested to see how this team plays from behind, so Monday should tell us a lot. As long as we continue to attack both ends of the floor, we're going to be fun to watch, win or lose. (That said, lets win rather than lose.)

Craig: I'm excited about how the team as looked, but I'm cautious about the next few games. Pepperdine isn't good, they are probably the worst team in the WCC, but WSU is their biggest non-conference home game and the crowd will be fired up.

Kansas will be tough. I don't expect a win, but I do look forward to evaluating these guys against a tough opponent. This next week should tell us a lot more about where this team is headed, and that is both terrifying and exciting at the same time.