The WSU Cougars are gunning for their first season sweep of UW since 2011, something would make one heck of a senior day gift to Josh Hawkinson and Ike Iroegbu — the only two four-year players on the roster, and two guys who haven’t had a whole lot else to hang their hats on, success-wise, during their careers.
It’s been a bizarre season for Washington, which began the year with NCAA tournament hopes behind the signing of five-star point guard Markelle Fultz. The Huskies are riding a nine-game losing streak, have won just two Pac-12 games, and have dropped all the way to No. 167 in kenpom.com’s efficiency rankings.
That’s still not actually lower than WSU (No. 198), but with the home court advantage, the Cougars are favored both by Vegas (anywhere from one to two points) and Pomeroy (his laptop has the Cougs at 56 percent to win the game).
It’s truly been a stunning fall for Lorenzo Romar, who has long had his coaching acumen questioned by fans, but has never endured a season like this at Montlake. Despite signing one of the top classes in the country after regaining his stranglehold on the Seattle high school scene, he’s had to endure very loud whispers about his job security.
Whether there’s any substance to the idea that his job is truly in jeopardy is questionable — he’s got what amounts to a lifetime contract that’s expensive to terminate, and most schools don’t just walk away from a top five recruiting class — but WSU certainly could add a lot of fuel to whatever smoldering fire there is with another win today.
It’d be especially sweet if Hawkinson, a Seattle-area native whose mom played basketball at UW, could have another big day against the coach who didn’t ever really consider recruiting him, and would provide quite the juxtaposition to Fultz.
For what it’s worth, Fultz has generally been as advertised; he missed a couple of games with an injury, but he has picked up right where he left off, dropping in 26 and 19 points in the last two games with 10 assists.
UPDATE: Fultz is out again.
Markelle Fultz will not play today at WSU. Same knee issue that kept him out earlier. UW will reevaluate his status next week.— Christian Caple (@ChristianCaple) February 27, 2017
It’s the rest of the team that has failed to pick up the slack, as the Huskies possess the second-worst per-possession scoring output in the Pac-12 during conference play. That should be nearly impossible to do with the talent Romar has assembled, which I suppose is why UW fans are practically fed up.
More often than not, the rest of the team stands around and waits for Fultz to do something — which he generally tries to do, as about every third UW possession ends with him either taking a shot, heading to the free throw line, or turning the ball over — and that’s precisely what cost the Huskies in the first matchup with WSU. Fultz simply ran out of gas.
The Huskies’ biggest offensive weakness is their shooting, where they’re dead last in the conference — even below dreadful Oregon State. They don’t really get to the free throw line much (although Fultz will definitely pick his spots), and when they do, they’re terrible there, too — only 60 percent in conference play.
They’re good at offensive rebounding, though, so if the Cougs are able to secure the likely plethora of long caroms off the rim, they’ll be in pretty good shape to continue to hold the Huskies down.
For what it’s worth, both David Crisp and Matisse Thybulle have demonstrated they can get hot from outside, but both are streaky. Thybulle, in particular, is mired in a long slump — he’s just 11 for his last 35 from deep. Noah Dickerson is probably the guy to keep an eye on; at 6-8 and 245 pounds, he’s a load inside, so watch for whether he can get Conor Clifford in some foul trouble.
Offensively, the Cougs should be able to put up a lot of points. The Huskies don’t really do anything well on the defensive end (except block an above average number of twos), but they did a particularly awful job guarding ball screens involving Hawkinson and Clifford in the first matchup. Expect to see a heavy dose of the double screens Jacob Thorpe wrote about here.
As mentioned above, kenpom.com gives the Cougs a 56 percent chance of winning this one, which amounts to a coin flip. The predicted score is 79-78 at 71 possessions, so it should be a fairly entertaining matchup no matter what.