The Washington State Cougars (9-5, 1-1) are gunning for their second-straight conference win when they host the rival Washington Huskies (10-4, 2-0) on Saturday (Noon, Pac-12 Networks). The Huskies are undefeated in conference play thanks to a pair of exciting home wins over UCLA and USC, the latter the product of a 20-point second-half comeback.
Both teams feature a large number of newcomers in their rotations, and don't look a whole lot like the teams that split last year with a three-point victory each. But both have veterans carrying the load in Josh Hawkinson for Washington State and Andrew Andrews for Washington.
The Huskies have been below-average offensively, especially when shooting the ball. UW's 46.6 effective field goal percentage ranks 275th nationally, and that comes against what KenPom.com says is just the 205th-best defensive schedule so far. Meanwhile, the Cougs are limiting opponents to the 94th-best defensive eFG% against a set of offenses ranked 222nd-most difficult.
Washington probably won't shoot well. But they have the ability to capitalize on one of WSU's major defensive weaknesses: Rebounding. Outside of Hawkinson, the Cougars are a below-average defensive rebounding team. UW, in classic Romar fashion, is among the most aggressive offensive rebounding teams in the country, pulling down their own misses at the 13th-best rate.
So, expect to see plenty of UW misses, and plenty of second chances. In other words, Coug fans should expect some frustration on that end. The good news? Even with all that offensive rebounding, UW is still just No. 179 in adjusted offensive efficiency.
When the Cougs are shooting, it will be strength vs. strength. WSU ranks 30th in eFG%, while UW is 20th in defensive eFG%. The hope for Wazzu is that it will take care of the ball as it did against UCLA, because Washington also ranks 20th in defensive turnover percentage.
Nuss wrote earlier this week on the impact that turnovers have on WSU's offensive efficiency. Avoiding them against Washington will be paramount.
Another reason WSU needs to make sure it gets shots up on as many possessions as possible? UW is a horrendous defensive rebounding team, among the worst in the country. The Huskies rank 338th out of 351 Division I basketball teams in defensive rebounding percentage.
Free throws could also play a factor. WSU doesn't get to the line much, 316th in free throw rate. UW does allow a lot of free throws, but it also gets to the line frequently itself. Expect a long game, especially since KenPom predicts a 79-possession contest (national average is around 70).
Overall, the key to a WSU win will likely be limiting turnovers on offense, because UW will give open looks and second chances. On defense, the Cougs need to mitigate UW's offensive rebounding barrage. If all goes to plan, KenPom predicts Wazzu to win 64 percent of the time, with an average score of 82-78 Cougs.