While the rest of college basketball got underway earlier this week, the Washington State Cougars waited until today to finally get going — one of only five teams nationally who have yet to play their first game. They’ll take on Nicholls State in Beasley Coliseum at 4 p.m. PT. Pac-12 Networks has the broadcast, and Guy Haberman and Dan Belluomini will be on the call.
Since you’ve been paying attention to football, most of you probably had no idea the season was about to start. I mean, I’ll be honest: I forgot I had to write this until a couple of hours ago. You probably also don’t have much an idea of who’s on the team, or how good they’re supposed to be ... actually, you probably do know how (not) good they’re supposed to be. Which is probably why I’m writing this at halftime of the Seahawks.
Here’s a real quick preview based around not-at-all-made-up FAQs that definitely aren’t mostly recycled from last season’s quick preview.
How bad are the Cougars supposed to be?
Pretty bad! Kenpom.com projects WSU as the 179th best team in the country, with a projected overall record of 13-17 overall and 5-13 in the Pac-12 . That would be a slight improvement over the previous four seasons under Ernie Kent, in which the Cougars finished 186, 186, 193, and 186.
WOW. Why so bad?
Well, projections are a pretty standard formula:
How good was the team the year before? Not great, Bob! The Cougs somehow won the Wooden Legacy to move to 6-0 but went on to drop 19 of their final 25 games to finishing No. 186. The only conference team they beat that ranked in kenpom’s top 100 was Oregon. Thank god for Cal, which was somehow even more putrid than the Cougs.
How much production departs from the team? Not a lot in terms of overall production, which is probably why the Cougs are projected to be slightly better than last season. But the thing really keeping them from taking a big step forward in the projection is the departure of Malachi Flynn. He was one of WSU’s two best players last season, but the sophomore transferred to San Diego State and took a whole bunch of points and assists with him. The Cougs lost five other players in addition to Flynn, but only Drick Bernstine was a starter and his production was marginal. The others were bit players.
How many players return, how good are they, and how do they project? Well, Robert Franks is back. And that’s a very, very good thing. He’s a potential all-Pac-12 candidate who could be WSU’s first NBA draft pick since Klay Thompson. He should pile up lots of points as WSU’s go-to scorer. The rest of the roster is filled with players who had only modest production last season — guys such as Vionte Daniels, Carter Skaggs, Jeff Pollard and Arinze Chidom.
Who’s new and how good are they? Lots of players are new! However, almost all of them come from junior college, and the high school players Kent recruited weren’t highly regarded. Thus, the projections don’t think much of their ability to make a big impact this season.
Add it all up, and WSU is projected to be what it’s been for four years under Kent. Fifth verse, same as the first ... and second ... and third ... and fourth.
Enough already! Give me some reason for hope
That’s not a question, but whatever. Franks should be very good; with apologies to Brock Motum and DaVonte Lacy, he’s the most gifted scorer the Cougs have had since Thompson. Maybe he can carry them in ways that we don’t expect?
Additionally, Kent’s main talking point has been to call his team more “long” and “athletic” than it’s ever been in his tenure. Personally, I think that’s a bunch of baloney, but maybe he’s not actually trying to sell us snake oil this time.
Among the newcomers, freshmen CJ Elleby and Aljaz Kunc — who each play the wing — are probably the most interesting; they each can handle the ball and shoot it from deep. Juco transfer Ahmed Ali will probably have a couple of games where he goes crazy with some crafty scoring.
Can they be better than their projection?
Sure! It’s always possible the basketball team jumps up and surprises everyone the way the football team did. But that probably requires you to think that Kent is as good of a coach as Mike Leach. Surprising seasons from Leach and the Bennetts came about by developing a number of players in a culture of high expectations; Ernie Kent has had more of his recruits transfer (12) than he’s had stay in his program (10). That’s usually not a recipe for success.
But then again, maybe jucos are the new high major conference inefficiency, as Kent wants you to believe.