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WSU vs. UW basketball: Preview and game thread

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Both teams would love nothing more than to start Pac-12 play 1-0.

NCAA Basketball: Nevada at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Washington State and Washington might be off to disappointing starts — combined record: 14-10 — but tonight’s Pac-12 conference opener represents an opportunity for each team to hit the reset button and move to 1-0 in the “new” season.

(At least, that’s what they’ll each be telling themselves!)

Tip off is set for 5:30 p.m. PST from Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle and the game will be broadcast on ESPNU. It can also be streamed online via WatchESPN.com.

The biggest difference between the Cougars and the Huskies is that one of the teams was supposed to be pretty good, owing to Lorenzo Romar’s wooing of top five recruit Markelle Fultz.

The 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard has held up his end of the bargain, showing why his stay at UW will be a short one on his way to being picked near the top of the 2017 NBA Draft; he’s averaging 22 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. He plays the most minutes on the team and virtually every possession runs through his hands when he’s on the floor, which is the biggest reason why the Washington offense is rated 39th nationally in adjusted efficiency.

The other reason is that UW has been the best 3-point shooting team in the country this season: The Huskies are hitting 43 percent of their attempts. Again, that’s as a team.

You know how many Cougs are individually shooting 43 percent from 3-point range? No, not zero, you pessimist. One — Malachi Flynn. Washington has three, as Fultz, David Crisp and Matisse Thybulle can each destroy you beyond the arc.

The Cougs allow their opponents to shoot a lot of 3s — 40 percent of opponents’ field goals are from distance, one of the highest marks in the country — so there’s a good chance WSU ends up playing the basketball version of Russian Roulette. Maybe they allowed a ton of 3-pointers because they didn’t fear their opponents’ shooting ability. We shall see.

And, as Romar’s teams generally do, these Huskies also will destroy you on the offensive glass: They’re collecting 38 percent of their own misses, 19th most in the country. The Cougs have been really good in that regard, even against their more athletic opponents. Continuing that will be key.

The good news for WSU is that while the Huskies’ offense is explosive, their defense is downright dreadful, rating even worse in adjusted efficiency than WSU’s defense. UW doesn’t take the ball away much, and they allow their opponents to get to the free throw line with far more regularity than they should.

If the Cougs don’t sabotage themselves, there are points to be had.

Kenpom.com forecasts this to be an 88-76 victory for UW, a result that would be expected 86 percent of the time.