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Preview: WSU hosts Oregon for penultimate regular season game

The Ducks are not a very good matchup for WSU.

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Southern California
Expect a lot of this tonight.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The first time the Washington State Cougars and Oregon Ducks faced off this year, back near the end of January, WSU shot a ridiculous 77 percent in the first half. When you factor in that four of the makes were 3s, that works out to an absurd 86% effective field goal percentage — just a liiiiiiitle bit higher than their mark of 52% across all Pac-12 games.

Despite that — and despite finishing at 61% eFG, which is still awesome — they went on to lose by 20. Ernieball!

The Cougs will try and rekindle some of that first half magic tonight when they host the Ducks for the second game of the season series. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. PT and the game will be on FS1.

The oddest thing about WSU’s shooting in the first half of that game was that the Cougs primarily did their damage on two-pointers; for a team with Kenny Wooten swatting two-pointers into the 10th row at the 15th-best rate in the country, Oregon is oddly pedestrian at defending twos. While that’s been a problem spot for WSU all year — they’re making less than 50 percent of their two-pointers in conference play — they were able to hit 12-of-16 inside the arc while taking just six threes.

Of course, it all fell apart in the second half, as WSU reverted back to its perimeter-oriented attack and had a very difficult time making three-pointers. That is something that Oregon’s defense is very good at: They’re 22nd nationally in 3-point percentage against, despite allowing one of the highest ratios of 3-point attempts. Those two things do not generally go hand-in-hand, but it’s working for Oregon.

It might be because of the length that the Ducks can throw at teams on the perimeter: Their starting lineup runs 6-2/6-9/6-9/6-9/6-9. That’s not a typo. Their reserve guards are all 6-4 and taller. If there’s something that should concern us, it’s that — WSU’s best starting lineup runs 5-11/6-5/6-6/6-7*/6-9, with a downtick from Oregon’s athleticism in four of the five spots. The last time WSU ran into something approximating that kind of length, they walked off the floor with a 48-point loss.

*I don’t care what WSU says. Robert Franks is not 6-9.

Now, as we mentioned, Oregon isn’t nearly as good at defending the paint as the Stanford Cardinal. That means WSU will likely have to purpose to attack the basket, something they struggled to do in the second half in Eugene.

Something else that plagued WSU in that second half — which is something that has been an increasing bugaboo for a while now — is turnovers. The Cougars gave the ball away on a third of their possessions after the break, which is something the Ducks are very good at inducing.

Take care of the ball and get to the rim and it could be a good night scoring; Oregon also likes to reward aggression with trips to the foul line. Don’t do those things — miss a bunch of threes and give away steals with lazy perimeter passes — and it will probably be another long night.

Oregon’s offense has been inconsistent, which is weird, because you can usually count on Dana Altman rolling out an elite unit. Some of that surely has to do with the loss of superstar freshman Bol Bol; he only played eight games, but when a guy is going to be the sun around which other players orbit, sometimes you never really recover. Imagine if Robert Franks went out for the season before conference play — there would have been no recovering from that for WSU.

But it appears the Ducks are on an upswing at the moment, led by Payton Pritchard and Louis King. Pritchard is an expert at controlling the game flow, while King — a true freshman who was a top 20 prospect — has really come into his own as a high-volume scorer. Both players will be matchup nightmares for the Cougars.

As usual, it will be interesting to note WSU’s chosen defensive setup. Man-to-man might be problematic because of Oregon’s athleticism; zone might be problematic because it’s prone to offensive rebounding, which is a major weapon for the Ducks. If I were guessing, I’d guess Ernie will predominantly roll with the zone and take his chances with the 3-Point Lottery.

This might be the toughest game the Cougs have had in some time; Oregon is the second-highest Pac-12 team in the Pomeroy Rankings, whose simulations end with WSU victorious just 25 percent of the time. Still, this is the Pac-12, and even though the Ducks just got done thrashing Arizona and ASU, they could just as easily lay a turd in Pullman tonight.

One thing that should help WSU: Ernie said earlier this week that he expects one or two of his missing players to return after fielding a team of just eight players in the Bay Area. He didn’t specify which ones, but hopefully it includes Jeff Pollard. He’s a very limited player, but the dropoff from him to Davante Cooper is so severe that it’s crippling to the team on both ends of the floor.