The Washington State Cougars will wrap up finals week when they host the Montana State Bobcats at Beasley Coliseum on Friday night (6 pm PT, Pac-12 Networks). The Cougs are still undefeated, and the Bobcats are likely to be their toughest test in the remaining non-conference schedule.
Montana State began its season with an impressive win over UNLV on the road and looks to be better than its current No. 189 KenPom ranking. Let’s dig into the players and trends that will impact the Cougs vs. Bobcats.
When Montana State has the ball...
The Bobcats are led on offense by 5’8 Xavier Bishop, a senior transfer from UMKC. While small in stature, he plays much bigger than his size. Bishop is an effective driver, and finished more than 51 percent of his shots around the basket as a junior. He’s also a good enough 3-point shooter to keep defenders honest.
Amin Adamu will see plenty of the ball. He does most of his work on 2-point jumpers, taking about one 3-pointer a game on average. He’s not big on getting to the rim, so expect to see him stop and pop from 15-feet regularly.
Montana State’s primary interior presence is Jubrile Belo. He works around the key, taking most of his shots at the rim and is the Bobcats’ main offensive rebounder. Borja Fernandez will also feature in the frontcourt—he’s more likely to float around the perimeter.
If Bishop is able to penetrate, he has a couple shooters in Nick Gazelas and Tyler Patterson who can make teams pay when left open. Gazeles has hit half of his 10 3-point attempts against Divison I opponents this season, while Patterson has yet to miss on six tries.
From a stylistic perspective, Montana State does not make much effort to track down offensive rebounds. So, if WSU can force tough looks, it’s likely to clean up on the glass. Generating those bad shots and misses will be a challenge, as the Bobcats have shot very well so far.
This certainly won’t be one of the fast-paced offenses that WSU has seen at times this season. Playing well against halfcourt sets, keeping Bishop out of the lane, and limiting 3-point attempts to avoid that lottery will be key for the Cougs’ success on defense.
When WSU has the ball...
Given that Montana State rarely sends more than one player to chase offensive rebounds, it’s tough to get out and run off of misses against them. That means WSU will be playing at a slower pace, and won’t be facing the pressure it saw against Portland State.
At the very least, WSU should take care of the ball better in this game. Montana State is not going to take risks very often on defense, and if the Cougs are sound with the basketball they should be able to limit turnovers.
The Bobcats did give up 3-point attempts at a high rate in head coach Danny Sprinkle’s first season but have limited them so far this year. That could be a function of the opponents that Montana State has played in two games, so there’s a chance WSU could find plenty of looks on the outside. It needs to start hitting them at a higher rate.
The interior could be a challenge for WSU, given the way these teams have trended. Anchored by Belo, the Bobcats were above average in 2-point defense last year and have been very good through two games in that area. Belo is a good shot blocker and rim protector. The Cougs have been dreadful on 2-pointers this season, much of that driven by Isaac Bonton’s struggles at the rim.
That 2-point defense doesn’t show that Montana State has given up plenty of offensive rebounds and free throws this season. The former had been a strength last season, while the latter wasn’t just about average. WSU could use its size advantage to cause some trouble on the offensive glass and maybe draw some fouls to get some easy points.
The Bottom Line
Montana State has enough offensive talent that WSU cannot afford to go completely cold on the offensive end. This will be a slower, lower possession game than others, so taking care of the basketball and hitting open looks in the halfcourt will be important.
WSU’s defense still could very well shut Montana State down, as it has all other offenses so far this season. However, with outside shooters and a guard that can penetrate, there is always a risk of falling on the wrong side of the 3-point lottery.
One wildcard: Bonton played his freshman season at Montana State. Maybe he feels like some revenge is in order. One would hope that his shots will fall at some point, and it could be tonight with that extra motivation of playing a former squad.*
*EDIT: No Bonton revenge game tonight. Looks like he is out.
KenPom predicts the Cougs to win in about two-thirds of simulations with an average score of 70-65. This won’t be an easy one for the Cougs, they’ll have to earn it. If they do, they have a good shot at getting through non-conference play without a loss.