The Washington State Cougars look to get back in the win column today as they take on UTEP at 3 p.m. PT from Beasley Coliseum.
WSU is coming off a surprising loss to Idaho earlier in the week, which was the Cougars' first road came of the season. The Cougs have improved their defense this season, but if that game was the only one you had watched this season, you'd hardly know it -- the Vandals achieved the highest effective field goal percentage against the Cougs this season, as well as the second-lowest turnover percentage, highest offensive rebounding percentage and highest free throw rate.
It all added up to a season worst 1.11 points per possession, which also was (by far) Idaho's best performance against a Division I opponent. Nobody else had exceeded 1.0 against the Cougars -- including Gonzaga.
Which is why today is important for WSU. While the four-point loss to Idaho had a little bit of a fluky feel to it -- the Vandals hit 9-of-15 3s, despite coming into the game as a thoroughly mediocre team from behind the arc -- it could feel like more than that if the Cougars don't come up with a stronger performance today against the Miners, who are no pushover.
UTEP currently rates as about the same quality as WSU by kenpom.com's system, and the Miners present a nice little test to see where WSU really is.
Like any Tim Floyd-coached team, they are tough on defense. But what's interesting is that UTEP is playing at a high pace this season, despite having an objectively poor offense -- their offense ranks 252nd nationally in adjusted efficiency, yet they are 13th fastest nationally in average length of offensive possession. Typically, teams slow down when they have a hard time making shots.
UTEP's strength is making 2s, which will put WSU's defense to the test -- the Miners don't get a lot of shots blocked, either. It's going to be an interesting challenge for WSU. Additionally, a big part of WSU's improved defense has been stealing the ball, yet UTEP doesn't give it away much. Strength on strength today.
One thing you won't have to worry about today? UTEP doesn't crash the offensive glass. Like, at all. So that should mitigate some of what caused issues against Idaho.
An interesting part of UTEP's defense is that they'll let you shoot a lot of 3s. Can WSU shoot well enough to take advantage of that?
This would be a nice win for WSU if the Cougs can get it.