If I was still a student in Pullman, I’d make sure to attend tonight’s game on the off chance something crazy historic happened.
Of course, it’s more likely that the No. 9 Arizona Wildcats — who are 18-4, have won six consecutive games, and sit on top of the Pac-12 standings — blow out the Washington State Cougars, losers of 11 of their past 14.
Tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m. PT at Beasley Coliseum, and it will be broadcast on Pac-12 Network and Pac-12.com (subscription required).
Kenpom.com is a little more bullish on the Cougs’ chances than you’d probably think; the website gives WSU a roughly 1-in-4 chance of winning the game and only forecasts a final margin of eight. That’s because the algorithm thinks the Wildcats aren’t as good as No. 9 in the country (they’re ranked No. 25), and it thinks the Cougars are a bit better than you probably do — it still thinks the wins over St. Mary’s and San Diego State are indicative of the team’s ability level.
To some degree, a close game isn’t far fetched. Anytime a team shoots the ball as well as the Cougars do — 38.6 percent from three, 46th nationally — and as frequently as they do (51 percent of their shots come from beyond the arc), the team has a puncher’s chance if they can catch fire while simultaneously getting the opponent on an off night offensively.
The problem is that “off night” thing. Arizona hasn’t had many of them! The Wildcats feature a the 11th ranked offensive in terms of adjusted efficiency via kenpom.com, and they’ve been the No. 2 team in Pac-12 play — scoring a whopping 1.14 points per possession. The Cougs, meanwhile, have given up a whopping 1.12 points per possession in Pac-12 play — 11th, just a hair ahead of Cal.
Washington and Cal are the only two opponents WSU has held under 1.10 points per possession. Arizona has scored more than 1.10 points per possession in about two thirds of its games, including six of its nine Pac-12 games.
Arizona is going to have to have a really, really off night. And there’s a really simple reason it hasn’t happened very often: Freshman Deandre Ayton, a 7-foot-1/260-pound monster who dominates all over the floor. He’s unstoppable around the basket, but he’ll also step out and hit a jumper. He cleans up the glass. He blocks shots.
He’s the best player in the Pac-12, and Ernie Kent has already conceded that WSU won’t stop him.
Complementing him is junior guard Allonzo Trier, who is a great finisher, gets to the free throw line, and is deadly from deep.
There are a bunch of other guys who are awesome, too, but I don’t want to bore you.
But, like I said ... puncher’s chance. These Wildcats aren’t as good defensively as Sean Miller’s teams usually are, so maybe the Cougs can hang around and win a shootout.