While Washington State's last two opponents specialized in stingy interior defense, the Cougars will face one of the best (and bizarre) 3-point defenses on Saturday evening (6 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks). Oregon State has excelled at shutting down outside jumpers, while also allowing opponents to shoot a lot of outside jumpers. It defies common sense, but it's why the Beavers have been better than expected in head coach Wayne Tinkle's first season.
Ken Pomeroy has studied 3-point defense extensively, and the only conclusion he could come up with is that the best way to ensure a good 3-point defense is not allow the other team to shoot from beyond the arc. This makes sense from a practical standpoint - teams usually shoot more 3s when they are getting more open looks (see most of WSU's defenses under Ken Bone). Open looks means better percentages.
But Oregon State's Division I opponents are shooting 3s on a whopping 43 percent of shots (fifth-highest nationally), and hitting on just 28 percent (12th-lowest nationally).
The Beavers employ a zone, so it's not surprising that the opposition is shooting so many 3s. To hold teams to such a low percentage - and that percentage remains largely unchanged against Pac-12 opponents - must mean they close out really, really well.
WSU likes the three a little more than average, but that has changed a bit in league play. Instead, the Cougs have attacked the basket more to earn more free throws - and that's an area where Oregon State is vulnerable. The Beavers are 11th in conference play in free throws per field goal attempt allowed, and 319th nationally.
That means the Beavs foul a lot - especially since they play at a slow pace, meaning there are less possessions to pick up fouls and get into the bonus. They are among the worst in the country at sending opponents to the foul line while also being among the slowest teams.
The block and steal numbers bear out OSU's aggression. The Beavers are 27th and 28th nationally in steal percentage and block percentage respectively. Oregon State has forced a high percentage of turnovers overall, so WSU's ability to take care of the basketball - something it has done well - will be tested.
When it has the ball, Oregon State has looked to get inside much of the season. The Beavers have taken 44 percent of their field goal attempts at the rim (26th most). That's mitigated somewhat by the loss of Victor Robbins (suspended), who is OSU's best attacking guard and best scorer overall.
Robbins first game out was against Washington, and Oregon state took just 12 percent of its shots at the rim. Some of that can be attributed to the Huskies, who limit inside attempts as well as anyone, but that's still well below even what Husky opponents typically do.
The Beavs may struggle if they are unable to get in the paint. The only consistently good long-range shooter on the team is Olaf Schaftenaar. Oregon State must have recognized that, because Shaftenaar led the team in field goal attempts against UW, and he is typically been a role player.
If Oregon State can't find the range, it will be looking to crash the offensive glass, particularly with Daniel Gomis and Gary Payton II. WSU has been mostly good at rebounding defensively in Pac-12 play, save for one half against Oregon. Many of those issues came on missed jumpers, so that's a match-up to keep on eye on.
Overall, this game won't be the up-and-down fun that we saw when WSU played Washington and Oregon. The Beavers will slow the game down on both ends - they have the longest offensive possessions and third-longest defensive possessions in Pac-12 play.
WSU will find looks on the outside, but judging by the Beavers numbers, they will be guarded. The Cougars need to pass on the temptation to hoist the 3 and force the issue a little bit to draw some fouls - Oregon State will foul and that will lead to some easy points at the free throw line.
KenPom has this at nearly a toss-up with WSU's homecourt advantage built in. Does the loss of Robbins swing that in Washington State's favor? Oregon State has had a game to that adjust at this point, so that will help, but he is still the most talented scorer on the roster and it's good news for the Cougars that he is out.
After a hot start, 4-1 is there for the taking if the Cougs can adjust to the zone on offense and protect the middle on defense.