Eastern Washington is going to play host to a pair of college basketball rivalries tonight. In one, a pair of prestigious programs — one of which is ranked in the top 10 — are renewing their basketball rivalry on ESPN2.
The other features a pair of teams ranked 200 or worse by kenpom.com who each lost to San Jose State. At home.
IT’S TIME FOR WSU-IDAHO Y’ALL!!
This epic Battle for the Palouse will tip off at 7 p.m. PT and will be broadcast on Pac-12 Network.
Ernie Kent has suffered many indignities in his brief time as WSU coach, but perhaps the biggest has been his two-game losing streak to the Vandals — 78-74 last year in Moscow, and 77-71 the year before in Pullman. I don’t know if Idaho has ever beaten WSU three times in a row at anything ever, but I’m fairly confident that it hasn’t happened in any sport recently.
This is the chance that Kent has: To avoid being known as the guy who lost 17 straight games and the guy who lost to Idaho three times in three tries. (And counting.)
Idaho doesn’t do anything particularly well except for play exceedingly slow, largely due to a defense that will make the offense work but ultimately still generally allow them to score. That contrast in styles is probably the most interesting aspect of this matchup, and there’s a good chance that WSU — which obviously prefers to get out and run — will have to win this one in the halfcourt.
How this game is officiated could go a long way toward deciding how watchable this is. Both WSU and Idaho rely on trips to the free throw line to power their offense, but only Idaho is terrible at keeping opponents off the free throw line.
If the officials decide to call this one tight — and it’s traditionally a physical contest between two teams that know each other well, thanks to proximity — it’ll probably be a pretty close game with about 60 free throws. If they’re a bit looser? It’s probably advantage WSU, which generally does a better job keeping opponents away from the charity stripe.
To that end, keep an eye on both Ike Iroegbu and Malachi Flynn, who possess the two highest free throw rates on the team and are the primary ball handlers. If they’re aggressive to the rim while taking care of the ball, that would bode well for the Cougs to snap their two-game losing streak to the Vandals.