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K1ay Day: Previewing WSU vs. OSU (plus how to watch it)

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The Cougars have a tough matchup to come away with a win on this celebratory day.

Washington State v Washington Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The buzz around Pullman today is undoubtedly the anticipation of Klay Thompson’s number being retired at halftime of the Pac-12 game between the Washington State Cougars and Oregon State Beavers. That is, after all, why a near-sell out crowd is expected at Beasley Coliseum — to welcome the best player in program history Back Home.

However, there is, in fact, an actual game to be played between the Cougs and the Beavs, tipping off at 1 p.m. The hometown boys have a stiff challenge if they’re going to give “K1ay Day” a happy ending. Let’s preview it!

Oregon State is 12-5 overall but just 2-3 in the Pac-12, just like WSU. Wayne Tinkle’s crew features one of the top offenses in the conference — 18th nationally in opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency and 2nd in the Pac-12 in league games with an impressive 1.09 points per possession.

That’s largely due to what is arguably the best one-two punch in the conference: Tres Tinkle and Ethan Thompson, the 2nd and 10th leading scorers in the Pac-12 at 19.6 and 16.2 points per game, respectively. But what’s more impressive is that both do it with superior efficiency.

Tinkle, in particular, can beat defenses from anywhere on the floor. He prefers to do most of his work from inside the arc, where the 6-foot-7 wing is hitting 52% of his twos and getting to the line with regularity — nearly 50% of his 2-points shots come at the rim, according to hoop-math.com. However, he’s also hit 44% of his 81 3-pointers.

The soft spot in his game appears to be 2-point jumpers; he’s hitting just 33% of those, so you can bet the WSU game plan will be to try and force him to shoot from the midrange area. Of course, that’s easier said than done, since there’s a reason why Tinkle is still so efficient despite this weakness: Like any great scorer, he’s great at getting to spots where he can do maximum damage.

Thompson isn’t quite as easy to figure out. The 6-foot-5 point guard is deadly from everywhere, shooting 62% at the rim, 54% on 2-point jumpers and 36% on 3s.

The good news for WSU, though, is that the Beavers have tended to struggle offensively on the road. Here are their offensive efficiencies in their last four road games — bear in mind 1.01 ppp would be considered an average performance:

This is obviously great news for WSU, particularly because the Cougars have played inspired defense at home, having not allowed greater than 0.93 ppp in their three Pac-12 games at Beasley. That includes holding the Oregon Ducks — who rank higher than the Beavers in opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency — to just 0.91 ppp in Thursday’s 72-61 upset. In fact, the Cougars haven’t allowed any opponent to score greater than 0.95 ppp in Beasley Coliseum since Nebraska Omaha did it back in late November.

Holding down the Beavers is probably going to come down to two things for WSU’s defense: 2-point defense and turnovers. The Beavers excel at scoring inside and getting to the line, while the Cougars’ defense has been the worst in Pac-12 games at defending inside the arc, so they’re extremely reliant on turnovers. However, taking care of the ball is perhaps what the Beavers do best. Can the Cougars impose their will? Here’s to guessing Kyle Smith will elect to stay with his lineup change from Thursday in which freshman Noah Williams replaced Jaz Kunc to make the Cougars a little more active on the perimeter.

Of course, it could all be for naught if the WSU offense doesn’t show up, and that’s been ... hit and miss, to put it kindly. CJ Elleby is the talisman, and he had a huge day against the Ducks, scoring 25 points and grabbing 14 rebounds (six offensive). When he’s scoring efficiently, WSU has a chance to beat anyone because of the defense they play. When he’s not, well, there just aren’t a lot of other dependable scoring options outside of Isaac Bonton, who runs hot and cold (to put it kindly).

The (literal) biggest thing WSU will have to contend with is 7-foot center Kylor Kelley, one of the country’s premier shot blockers. He rejects more than 16% of opponents’ 2-pointers when he’s on the floor, the third-best rate in the nation. The next closest in the Pac-12 is Onyeka Okongwu at 11%. The Cougars, who aren’t the biggest bunch, get their shots blocked a lot; will they be able to get any easy buckets in the lane today? That probably will also be a major factor.

Despite that interior presence, the Beavers trot out just an average Division I defense (143rd in adjusted defensive efficiency) and have been one of the worst in Pac-12 play (11th, 1.09 ppp allowed). There will be points to be had.

One thing is certain: The Cougars will have a chance to show out for a crowd that will be completely amped up for Thompson’s jersey retirement. It’s safe to say this will be the biggest and most electric crowd to fill Beasley Coliseum in more than a decade; heck, even Klay’s final game, an epic overtime win over Northwester in the NIT, only drew 5,900 people. Kenpom.com predicts a OSU to win the game 60% of the time by an average score of 73-70, but you can bet this one is going to have a different feel for a WSU team that has more often played in front of crowds numbering in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

How To Watch

Pac-12 Network also is going to carry the halftime number retirement ceremony live.