The Washington State Cougars aim to continue their mildly surprising start to Pac-12 play when they take on the Stanford Cardinal tonight at Maples Pavilion.
The Cardinal continue what has been a bit of a soft landing for WSU to open the league season. The Cougs (9-6 overall, 2-1 Pac-12) won their first two games in league play against not-very-good UW and flat-out-bad Oregon State, before coming back to earth a little bit on Saturday against the now-No. 13 Oregon Ducks. And while road trips are never easy, the Cardinal fall squarely in the “not very good” category.
Head coach Jarod Haase, in his first year at Stanford, has failed so far to improve upon his predecessor, as the Cardinal are just 8-8 overall and 0-4 in the Pac-12. This current freefall — which includes a loss to Arizona State, a demolishing by Arizona and double-digit losses to USC and UCLA — has seen Stanford drop from No. 75 to No. 117 in kenpom.com’s rankings.
Because of that, it can be presumed that the Cardinal will be looking at this as a “get right” weekend with the Cougs and Huskies coming to town.
The Stanford defense is pretty good. However, the Cardinal’s biggest weapon is keeping opponents off the offensive glass and that’s actually great news for WSU, because the Cougars don’t rely at all on that for offense. (Frankly, they don’t even really try to offensive rebound unless it falls in their lap). The Cougs do, however, shoot pretty well and are skilled at getting to the free throw line, two areas where Stanford isn’t that great, defensively.
On the other end of the floor, the Stanford offense has been atrocious, and is scoring a meager 0.92 points per possession in conference play. (Division I average: 1.04.) Some of that obviously is their opponents, the last three of which are almost certainly going to land in the NCAA tournament, but still — this is a team that hasn’t shot the ball well all year, ranking 305th nationally in effective field goal percentage, a metric that weights and combines 3-point and 2-point shooting. From beyond the arc, the Cardinal rank 315th nationally, shooting just 31 percent.
About the only thing the Cardinal do well is get to the free throw line. Guess what? The Cougs are the eighth best team in the country at keeping their opponents away from there.
Frankly, this is a pretty darn good matchup for WSU. On offense, the Cougs should be able to continue to have some success scoring inside and getting to the free throw line. On defense, they should be able to continue to pack the paint — expect to see a lot of zone — and dare the Cardinal to make enough shots from the perimeter.
Kenpom.com predicts this to be 75-67 win for Stanford, with WSU winning just 22 percent of the time. I’ll be surprised if it’s not closer than that, and I won’t be surprised at all if WSU pulls out a road “upset.”