College basketball scheduling is an odd and difficult task, it seems. Filling out the 12 (or more) games before conference play is the challenge, and for WSU it often involves bringing unfamiliar schools from far away places to Pullman. Many times it appears there is no connection or reason behind these matchups, but when the Cougs take on UTSA on Saturday (Noon, Pac-12 Networks) there is a feel-good explanation behind the meeting,
Keon Lewis and Kaj-Bjorn Sherman are both seniors who come from the Seattle area. Lewis attended Chief Sealth, while Sherman played ball at Mercer Island. I reached out to UTSA's basketball SID, Jordan Korphage, and he says this type of road game is to give Lewis and Sherman and chance to play in front of loved ones:
We try to schedule an away game for upperclassmen. We have several players from Arizona, hence the Northern Arizona game on Wednesday, and then Keon and Kaj Sherman are both from Washington. Both will have family at the game today.
Tip of the hat to UTSA basketball. That's a really cool gesture, and with WSU basketball's current state, those family members are likely to see a competitive game on Saturday.
The Roadrunners have four offensively talented upperclassmen that won't leave the floor much on Saturday afternoon. Lewis is the playmaker - he struggles with his shot but is good at setting up teammates (25.8 assist rate), excellent at getting to the free throw line (80.8 free throw rate) and rarely turns the ball over (10.2 turnover rate).
Jeromie Hill is the top big for UTSA - and WSU fans will be familiar with his background. He hails from the same city in Australia (Cairns) and school (Australian Institute of Sport) as former WSU and current San Antonio Spurs big man Aron Baynes. I'm going to venture a guess and say they know each other.
Hill's game is much different than Baynes'. The senior is perimeter-oriented, having taking 22 3s on the year (hitting 10 of them) and posting just a 25.8 free throw rate. The good news for WSU is that the players it most often runs out at the 4 - Que Johnson and Junior Longrus - are probably more comfortable defending on the perimeter anyway.
Ryan Bowie is an efficient scorer who will primarily do his work on the catch-and-shoot, with 80 percent of his 3s and 60 percent of his 2s coming off of assists. Sherman is a 7-footer who does a lot of damage at the free throw line (79.3 free throw rate, 87 percent on free throws), but don't expect him to block many shots or grab an inordinate amount of rebounds.
Overall, UTSA plays at a fast pace, similar to Washington State. This should be a high-possession affair. The Roadrunners have been terrible defensively - 337th in adjusted defensive efficiency - so it will once again be up to the Cougs to just make open shots. They couldn't do that against Idaho, and it ended in a loss.
My guess is that UTSA, at least Lewis and Sherman, play just a little harder in front of family. The Cougs are going to need to knock down looks in this one, or they'll be staring at another non-conference home loss.