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WSU vs. Oregon basketball: Cougs face another tough interior defense

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WSU faces a foe on Thursday that looks very similar to its last opponent.

Joseph Young leads the Ducks on offense.
Joseph Young leads the Ducks on offense.
Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars play host to an Oregon team on Thursday (8 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks) that shares many of the same strengths, especially defensively, with the Washington team WSU just beat last Saturday. The Ducks possess the same strong shot-blocking prowess as the Huskies, but the difference has come in how that has affected opposing offenses.

Freshman Jordan Bell has sent away nearly 15 percent of 2-pointers while on the floor this season. But that hasn't deterred opposing teams from going inside - 39.4 percent of Oregon opponents' shots have come at the rim, 83rd most (compare that to UW, which has faced the 20th-fewest shots at the rim).

Maybe its the nature of their primary shot-blocker being only 6'7 (Bell's height) that has teams unafraid to go inside on the Ducks, or maybe it's Oregon that is doing a purposeful job of pushing the offense to its strength (but I doubt many teams want to push the opposition towards layups).

A look at the stats show that maybe opponents should be exercising a little more caution inside.  Oregon is swatting 20 percent of attempts at the rim, 8th-most nationally. With all those shots being sent back, opponents are shooting just 47 percent at the rim, 8th-lowest.

It seems that it would be beneficial for WSU to venture outside the paint and away from the Ducks' defensive strength. Oregon has been average in defending 2-point and 3-point jumpers

But remember, a bad percentage on layups is generally better than a good percentage on mid-range jumpers. The Cougs have found success in going at the rim during conference play. Free throws have been a big part of WSU's offensive improvement of late, so it shouldn't give up on attacking the paint entirely.

When Oregon has the ball, WSU will have an eye on senior Joseph Young. He leads the team usage, shot rate and assist rate. Young has been effective in his opportunities, posting a 110.2 offensive rating while hitting just over half of his 2s and 36 percent of his 3s.

Young will stay on the perimeter mostly. He goes to the free throw line relatively infrequently and has taken more 3s than 2s this season.

Elgin Cook is the primary inside threat. He draws fouls at a high rate, but struggles to finish away from the basket. Cook is hitting two-thirds of his shots at the rim, but just 6 of his 37 2-point jumpers.

Interestingly enough, the Ducks are taking shots at the rim at the 83rd-highest rate in the country (the same ranking as the percentage of shots at the rim they are allowing). Does that stat mean anything? Probably not, but it is weird, nonetheless.

Overall, it'll be mostly 3s and layups for the Ducks. They aren't looking to take many 2-point jumpers - 280th lowest by percentage. There shouldn't be many free throws, either. Oregon 29.6 free throw rate puts is 324th nationally.

That may be where WSU can find an advantage. Oregon has been just about average overall at sending opponents to the line - but in three conference games it has been the worst in the league while allowing 50 free throw attempts for every 100 shots the opposition takes. The Cougs have been the best in Pac-12 play so far at getting to the free throw line, buoyed by two strong performances in that category in the Bay Area.

Washington was able to keep WSU off the line for the most part in a free-flowing game, but the Huskies have done that to most opponents this season.

That UW-WSU game was also low on turnovers. Oregon in Pullman should be much of the same, as neither defense forces many mistakes. Many who tuned in enjoyed watching the Huskies and Cougs. This match-up should be more of the same, as we'll see another fast-paced team with similar strengths and strong offensive guard play.

Will the Cougs come out on top for a third-straight Pac-12 win? After a couple victories have boosted their standing, KenPom gives them a 41 percent shot. Oregon is still the better team, but at least WSU's recent play gives hope for an exciting game.

All stats come from KenPom.com and hoop-math.com.