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Preview: WSU hosts Montana State in the Tri-Cities

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The Bobcats are bad.

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at California Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars’ quest to pile up wins with the easiest non-conference schedule possible continues tonight when they “host” the Montana State Bobcats at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

Tip off is scheduled for 4 p.m. PT and the game will be broadcast on Pac-12 Network. Greg Heister (play-by-play) and Dan Dickau (analyst) have the call, so have that mute button handy.

MSU (2-6) is ranked 314th out of 353 Division I teams by kenpom.com; the Bobcats are the fourth sub-300 team the Cougs have played this season. Points should be easy to come by for WSU (5-2), as Montana State carries the seventh-worst adjusted defensive efficiency in the country into the game.

Two key stats play right into WSU’s hands.

  1. The Bobcats turn the ball over a lot (339th percentage of possessions that end in TOs), and the Cougars have been good at forcing mistakes from those kinds of teams; and
  2. The Bobcats struggle to defend 2-pointers, while that’s been the strength of WSU’s offense.

As you might imagine, these two things are connected via the fast break.

Additionally, Montana State’s stats suggest the Bobcats play mostly zone; their opponents take and make a lot of threes. This, also, favors the Cougs, who are one of the most three-point happy teams in the country.

MSU’s most dangerous player is Tyler Hall. The 6-foot-5 senior wing takes 37 percent of the Bobcats’ shots when he’s on the floor, but he also assists on nearly 30 percent of his teammates’ makes. Everything is going to flow through him, but it’s unlikely he can do enough damage on his own to keep the game close.

On WSU’s end, I’ll be interested to see how CJ Elleby continues to develop.

Kenpom.com’s laptop projects us to win this matchup 84 percent of the time by an average margin of 11 points. I’d be pretty surprised if the final margin isn’t twice that due to the aforementioned matchup factors.