clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A few thoughts on WSU basketball’s latest debacle

Ernieball was on full display against the USC Trojans.

Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars lost again, this time to the USC Trojans, but this time by only nine points, which is the closest loss they’ve suffered in their eight Pac-12 defeats, and that somehow makes this seem like progress, even thought it’s actually not.

PJ covered the nuts and bolts (with the proper amount of snark) over here, and I’ve got a few (brief) thoughts of my own to add.


Craig Powers and I — did you know we have a podcast? — joke a lot about “Ernieball,” which is simply defined as having a team that (a) doesn’t really do anything on offense other than shoot reasonably well, and (b) is conspicuously atrocious on defense.

It’s a formula that’s doomed from the start, and last night was another great example of that. This team is so bad that being within single digits in the second half somehow felt like the Cougs were kinda sorta in it, but the reality is that they weren’t — for the game, WSU gave up 93 points (their third time allowing 90-plus in conference play), and they were never going to score 94.’s win probability only ever got as high as 12% for the Cougars in the second half, and was only about 3% when they pulled within nine points with five minutes to play.

You see me reference “points per possession” a lot, but I know most of you don’t spend a lot of time in the world of basketball efficiency, and those numbers don’t generally mean much. So let me try to see if I can do this in a way that’s easy to understand.

  • In eight Pac-12 games leading up to last night, USC had scored 1.04 points per possession.
  • Last night, the Trojans scored 1.29 points per possession.
  • Since the game was 72 possessions long, WSU allowed USC to score 18 more points than its average output.

Of course, this is an ongoing issue. Last night was the fourth consecutive game the Cougars have allowed 1.29 points per possession or greater; WSU is now allowing 1.26 points per game against everyone in the Pac-12 not named Cal. This, in a league where the median trip down the floor results in the offense scoring 1.04 points.

Meanwhile, the Cougars scored 1.17 points per possession — pretty darned good against USC, which had allowed around 1.01 in conference play. It was built on some excellent volume three-point shooting in the second half, and it’s a performance that certainly should have been enough to win with the addition of any kind of competence on defense.

And yet, I’ll bet you can guess what bothered Ernie the most after a game in which his team was 14-of-41 from three-point range.

“I thought we had some great looks. Forty-one 3s, I’d like to get that every night because I thought about 30 of them were wide open, and probably didn’t shoot it at a good enough clip.”


Viont’e Daniels plays six minutes

Look, I’m not going to sit here and lament the lack of playing time for a one-dimensional shooting guard, but I will point out that Ernie’s explanation for it is ridiculous:

Daniels played 30-plus minutes in seven of the team’s first eight games before missing four games with a concussion. I’m old enough to remember when Kent told us that the loss of Daniels was a factor in the team’s non-conference struggles. And now the team is ... better?


Why not just say “we can only have one short guard on the floor at a time who can’t create his own shot or shoot it over the defense”?

The source of the rebounding woes

Jeff Pollard started his 17th game of the year last night at center. He played 22 minutes and grabbed one offensive rebound and one defensive rebound. Those numbers are right in line with his Pac-12 averages, and when we translate his defensive rebounding to a rate-based stat, he’s grabbing less than 9 percent of opponents’ misses — despite being 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds.

For context of how awful that is, consider he ranks behind the following players in defensive rebounding percentage:

  • Robert Franks (6-foot-7, 22 percent)
  • Isaiah Wade (6-7, 20 percent)
  • CJ Elleby (6-6, 17 percent)
  • Aljaz Kunc (6-8, 16 percent)
  • Carter Skaggs (6-5, 11 percent)
  • Marvin Cannon (6-5, 10 percent)
  • Viont’e Daniels (6-2, 9 percent)

Pollard is barely ahead of point guard Ahmed Ali, who is rebounding 7 percent of opponents’ misses, despite being 10 inches taller and a lot closer to the basket when shots go up.

It’s long past time to for Pollard to flip-flop minutes with Wade. Yes, Wade is a significantly undersized frontcourt player — he’s only 215 pounds — but since the defense stinks with or without that size in the middle, it’s probably better to play a guy who can secure a defensive rebound in the rare event that the other team actually misses a shot; one of the contributing factors to the terrible defense comes from giving up the fourth-most offensive rebounds in Pac-12 play.

Play some damn man-to-man

For some reason, the Pac-12 has become a league rife with zone defenses. I’m a firm believer in the idea of zone being for cowards, although I can respect what the Syracuse/UW matchup zone does with its scheme and personnel. (It’s got a lot of man-to-man principles, anyway.)

WSU, of course, plays lots of zone — which, of course, the Cougars are awful at. Interestingly, they made their move in the second half last night when they switched to man-to-man — it took USC quite a while to figure out how it wanted to attack it.

Here’s a brief case for playing more man-to-man.

One of the things Ernie says in the video above is that WSU benefited from Drick Bernstine leading the break last year. I think that’s extremely debatable, but if Ernie believes it, why not try something like that this year, which would allow WSU to potentially play the positionless man-to-man defense that is en vogue in the NBA right now?

Why not try a lineup of Cannon/Elleby/Kunc/Franks/Wade and let Elleby lead the break? Elleby’s turnover rate is much lower than Bernstine’s was, his assist rate is about the same, and Elleby is waaaaaaaaay more of a threat to score than Bernstine ever was. And with five dudes who are between 6-5 and 6-8, maybe they can just switch everything on defense and try to create some confusion that way?

Creativity is far from Ernie’s strong suit, but hey — I’m nothing if not solution oriented.

And even if Ernie won’t get creative, it’s practically unbelievable that it could be any worse than the terrible zones they run, and it might give them a chance to rebound just a little better.