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WSU vs. UW: Preview, TV info, game thread

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Ernie Kent has promised changes. What will they be?

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Utah Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars have traveled over the mountains to take on the Washington Huskies in the second of two (scheduled) meetings this season between the rivals.

Tip off is set for 5 p.m. PT, and the game will be on your TV via ESPNU, on your computer via WatchESPN.com, or on your handheld device via the ESPN app.

Following last Sunday’s loss to the Utah Utes that dropped the Cougars to 3-10 over their 13 games since a 6-0 start that included the Wooden Legacy tournament championship, WSU coach Ernie Kent lamented his team’s commitment to defense and promised changes.

“Get back to playing D?” Now that’s an interesting comment.

While it’s not untrue that Colorado missed a lot of shots as the Cougs closed a 26-point deficit to five points over the course of eight minutes, one could argue that they “got back in it”* with a rare display of hot shooting that included a plethora of threes made at a rate that we’ll only see once or twice a season. It was not a defensive lineup that led the charge against the Buffs; it was mostly the lineup of the same great shooters who played such terrible defense that Colorado was able to both get out to a 26-point lead, then follow the Cougs’ run with a 12-0 run of their own — which featured only three missed shots — to put the game away.

*One also could argue that they never actually were “back in it,” given that kenpom.com’s win probability model still gave them only a 15 percent chance to win the game at that point, and they would go on to lose by nine. But I digress.

Here’s the thing: The Cougs have been so profoundly awful on defense throughout Kent’s tenure at WSU — they rank 207th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency this season and have not finished above 188 in the previous three seasons — it seems to me there really are only a limited number of conclusions one can reach about Kent and his defensive philosophy:

  • Kent is absurdly inept at coaching defense.
  • He actually just doesn’t care about defense, so he doesn’t coach it with anything more than a passing nod, either because it’s just magically going to happen or because it’s just primarily about effort.

I don’t actually know which of those it is. But I do know that Kent committing to make changes for the defense’s sake is .... curious. In his career at both WSU and Oregon, he’s never displayed a proclivity for choosing defense over offense — from Tajuan Porter to Carter Skaggs, this is a pretty firm track record.

Additionally, his options on this front are pretty limited. Let’s look at the starting lineup:

  • Malachi Flynn: As the point guard and one of the team’s two primary scorers, he’s not seeing a change in minutes no matter how many layups he gives up.
  • Robert Franks: As the other primary scorer, he’s not seeing a change in minutes.
  • Drick Bernstine: As Kent’s chosen trigger man for the fast break, the team’s best defensive rebounder, and primary post defender, he’s not seeing a change in minutes.
  • Viont’e Daniels: He actually plays defense, and he shoots 3s at a high rate. He’s not going anywhere.

That leaves one option: The 3/wing spot that has mostly rotated between Milan Acquaah, Kwinton Hinson and Skaggs. All have gotten a shot at proving they deserve heavy minutes, and all have flaws that have limited their ability to do that.

That means whatever happens is probably going to happen there, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if you see redshirt freshman Arinze Chidom reintroduced to the rotation — and maybe even pick up the start. He’s mostly been used when Kent wants to go to a junky 1-3-1 zone, but his length at 6-foot-9 could provide some usefulness at other times, also. Additionally, he’s a competent three-point shooter.

Personally, I’d love to see a starting lineup that features Chidom stepping in for Hinson/Acquaah/Skaggs and sees him play 20 minutes.

Another move could be playing Jeff Pollard and Bernstine at the same time with Franks on the wing, but I’d be surprised if that happened much, given that would leave WSU with just three shooters on the floor.

Point is, Kent just doesn’t have a lot of options, short of dramatically changing his M.O. And if we’ve learned anything over the last four seasons, it’s that Kent really doesn’t do that sort of thing when it comes to defensive commitment.

Oh, and by the way: Kenpom.com predicts the Cougs to win this matchup roughly one-in-four times, losing by an average margin of 77-70. WSU lost the first matchup with the Huskies in Pullman, 70-65.

Go Cougs!