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Preview: WSU vs. Cal

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The Cougars might win this one!

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Colorado
Marvin Cannon
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

You probably are aware that the Washington State Cougars have gotten off to a horrible start in Pac-12 play — they’ve been outscored by an average of 23 points in their three games — but you might not be aware that tonight’s opponent is in roughly the same spot: The California Golden Bears are 0-4 in league and their best result is a nine-point loss to the USC Trojans.

Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. from Beasley Coliseum, with the game to be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks. You can also stream it via your favorite device at Pac-12.com or through the Pac-12 Now app.

It’s not overly dramatic to say this is WSU’s best chance for a win for the rest of the season. Kenpom.com rates the Cougs as a five-point favorite, and it’s the only game for the remainder of the year in which WSU is favored to win.

The biggest thing for WSU is that Robert Franks is supposed to play. His absence has been referenced repeatedly as a major reason for the current skid, and while I’m not sure his presence would have made a difference in the actual outcomes of games where the margins were 18, 32, and 18, he certainly will be a big addition against a beatable team like Cal. The offense has suffered immensely in his absence, with the Cougs scoring just 0.94 points per possession in Pac-12 play; for context, the next-worst team is Cal at 0.99 and the median in the Pac-12 is 1.07.

If all those numbers turned your mind to mush, just know this: In a 70-possession game, 1.07 is 75 points and 0.94 is 66 points — basically, nine points a game is the difference between the Cougs without Franks and a middling Pac-12 offense.

Of course, the flip side is that the Cougs have allowed 85, 92, and 88 points in their three Pac-12 games (an absurd 1.26 ppp allowed), and it’s debatable how much Franks has to do with that. Still, that’s less of a concern if we’re just focusing on Cal, because the Golden Bears’ defense has somehow been worse than WSU’s on the whole of the season.

If Franks wasn’t playing, I’d probably like Cal to win. But Franks’ offense should give WSU a major boost in what is likely to be a shootout — even though these two things are bad, they’re bad in an aesthetically pleasing way: There will be lots of open shots and both teams can shoot competently. It will probably be a fun game to watch. And it might be the last one for a while.