WSU closes out the 2016-17 regular season tonight, and if you were hoping for a warm and fuzzy finish to the Pac-12 slate, or maybe just a little momentum heading into the Pac-12 tournament ... well, today’s game against No. 3 UCLA is highly unlikely to provide it.
It’s not just that the Bruins are very, very good. It’s that they are very, very good in the ways that WSU is very, very bad.
UCLA has the No. 1 ranked offense in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric and also lead the nation in points per game — nearly 92! That means the Bruins are both ruthless and relentless.
And they’ll be taking on the No. 217 defense in adjusted efficiency.
This played out in the first matchup, in Pullman, when UCLA scored a blistering 1.32 points per possession without even looking like they were trying all that hard. For context, the Cougs are allowing 1.16 points per possession in Pac-12 play ... and that’s 11th in the league. (And it’s only 0.002 ppp out of 12th.)
The truth is, if you’re watching this game tonight, you’re likely doing it just to get a look at how awesome that UCLA offense is. The Bruins are led by Lonzo Ball, who almost assuredly is a top three pick in next season’s NBA Draft. He’s unquestionably the most fun player college basketball — if you haven’t yet seen him play, all you need to know is that the most popular comparison for him is Jason Kidd.
He’s surrounded by a bunch of guys who can shoot and dunk, which means their transition offense is positively lethal. Any team that isn’t careful can get blitzed by a 10-0 run in about 60 seconds ... sort of like USC did in blazing out to a 19-6 lead against the Cougs on Thursday. And UCLA is much, much better than USC.
Even the Bruins’ defense — which was the most popular target of criticism early in the year — has been better of late, having held three of the last five opponents under 0.94 points per possession and having held Arizona to 1.09 ppp in a five-point win in Tucson.
All told, you can make a very good case for UCLA being the best team in the Pac-12 at the moment. And the Cougs are one of the last remaining obstacles between the Bruins and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Kenpom.com predicts a 95-72 win with WSU having just a 2 percent chance of an upset victory. Personally, I suggest watching the game like you used to watch Chip Kelly’s Oregon offenses — just appreciate the beauty of what the opponent is doing, rather than getting frustrated at your own teams inevitable futility.