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More than you need to know about Beavs vs. Cougs

Washington State kicks off early Pac-12 play against Oregon State.

NCAA Basketball: Oregon State at Washington State preview Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars will get Pac-12 play going earlier than usual when they host the Oregon State Beavers on Wednesday night (7 pm PT, Pac-12 Networks). This early conference game isn’t pandemic-related, it was part of the Pac-12’s plan to move to a 20-game schedule and was set in stone long before the world went bizarro.

Thanks to unbalanced scheduling, WSU played Oregon State just once last season. That was Klay Day, when Klay Thompson and Steph Curry watched the Cougs upset the Beavers in front of a packed Beasley Coliseum crowd. This time around, there will be no Splash Brothers or fans in attendance.

Both teams come into this match-up with 2-0 records. The Cougs narrowly defeated Texas Southern before narrowly defeating Eastern Washington. The Beavers began the season with a non-conference game against a conference opponent, defeating Cal at home. Oregon State followed that up by pummeling the NAIA Northwest University Eagles..

One team’s unblemished record will fall. Let’s dig into the players and trends that will matter for the Beavs vs. Cougs.

When Oregon State has the ball...

The Beavers have typically focused on the interior offensively under Wayne Tinkle. Oregon State usually ranks in the lower half of 3-point attempts per field goal attempt nationally, and last year was 60th in percentage of shots taken at the rim.

Two players combined to take 48 percent of those close-range shots for the Beavs last year—Tres Tinkle and Kylor Kelley. Both have now graduated, and the elder Tinkle is relying on transfers to fill their shoes.

Nicholls State transfer Warith Alatishe steps into the younger Tinkle’s wing role, and he should see plenty of minutes and shots. Alatishe is far more interior focused than Tinkle, having taken just six 3-pointers out of 227 career field goal attempts at Nicholls State. It’s not all shots at the rim, however—he will take his share of 2-point jumpers.

Maurice Calloo is on his third school in three seasons, having started at Oklahoma State before taking a junior college season. At 6’10, he can stretch it out to the 3-point line, but will likely take the bulk of his shots near the hoop.

The headliner on offense for the Beavs, although buried in the fifth paragraph of this section, is Ethan Thompson. He will dominate the ball when Oregon State is in possession, taking a high percentage of the shots while also distributing for his teammates. Thompson has been primarily perimeter-oriented throughout his career, but may be asked to be more assertive to the basket as he is now the featured scoring threat.

Joining Thompson in the backcourt is sophomore Jarod Lucas, who amassed one of the more peculiar shot distributions you’ll find last year. Despite taking just over 6 percent of his shots at the rim, Lucas managed a very good 55.1 free throw rate (free throws per 100 field goal attempts). It was more of the same in the first game against Cal, where he got to the line seven times despite just taking over 80 percent of his field goal attempts on jump shots.

That sort of free throw rate is typically indicative of a player that slashes to the basket with frequency. Lucas is truly a statistical enigma.

Zach Reichle rounds out the primary guard rotation. He shoots more 3s than 2s, but also possesses an ability to get to the free throw line. If left alone outside, he can certainly do damage.

One more player to watch, especially on the offensive glass, is 6’8 junior college transfer Rodrigue Andela. He was effective in grabbing his own team’s misses against Cal, so WSU’s bigs will have to be aware of his place on the floor.

Overall, Oregon State’s tendency to the inside plays more into WSU’s own defensive strategy of forcing teams off the 3-point line. It’s likely that the Beavs will shoot very few 3-pointers in this game. To be successful, the Cougs will need to force more mid-range jumpers and defend the rim without fouling.

You may see more minutes from Volodymyr Markovetskyy in this one, especially if Efe Abogidi can’t stay out of foul trouble. WSU’s guards can help out by limiting penetration and making passes difficult—the Beavs flourish when they are moving the ball around.

When WSU has the ball...

After fielding two very good defenses in his first two seasons at Oregon State, Tinkle’s squads have struggled protecting their end in recent years. The 6’10 coach seems to like other tall guys, because he usually has shot blockers around in the paint to help alleviate some of the pressure on the rest of the team.

Kelley was one of the nation’s most prolific shot-blockers last season, so filling that void will be a big challenge. Roman Silva is a 7-footer that is adept at sending shots away, but it remains to be seen if he will see significant minutes or be more of a back-end of the rotation guy.

At 6’7, Altishe has the athleticism to challenge shots, but the primary rim protection duties will likely fall on Calloo. It’s safe to say overall it should be easier to finish around the rim this season than over the past two with Kelley patrolling the paint.

Even with Kelley, the Beavers were hardly dominant 2-point stoppers last season, allowing 50.4 percent on 2s in league games (11th out of 12). That, grouped with poor 3-point defense and a derth of forced turnovers, led to a last-place finish in conference play defensive efficiency.

The 2-point defense was still a weak spot in the opener against Cal—the Golden Bears hit 17 of 33 inside the arc. What doomed Cal was the 3-point shot, hitting just 6 of 25 from deep. Does that mean Oregon State is suddenly a good 3-point defense? Not likely, 3-point defense is incredibly finicky and hard to predict.

Something that has been predictable is Oregon State’s propensity to allow 3-point attempts. The Beavers have been consistently placed middle of the road nationally in 3-point attempts allowed per field goal attempt under Tinkle, so that means the Cougs will likely find long-range looks if they want them.

However, given WSU’s lack of demonstrated outside shooting so far this season, and Oregon State’s recently poor defense inside the arc, it may benefit Wazzu to venture into the paint. The two that seemed most up to that task against Eastern were Noah Williams and Andrej Jakimovski. Isaac Bonton is likely to go inside as well, and any player that does drive may find open looks or an open man to set up for an easy finish.

The Bottom Line

KenPom predicts a toss-up in this one, giving the Beavers the edge in 52 percent of predicted results with an average score of 70-69. That means a factor or two leaning slightly one way or the other can be the difference between a win or loss.

What could tilt the game in WSU’s favor? The easiest answer is 3-pointers. The Cougs are probably going to shoot more of them than the Beavers, probably a lot more in fact. If Wazzu can knock down outside shots at a respectable rate, that would certainly be a difference maker. They are due for some to fall, right?

If the 3-pointers are still not falling, the Cougs could find success inside. They should explore the interior, they might like what they find, particularly without a dominant shot-blocker protecting the paint.

Defensively, locating guys like Alatishe and Andela will be important to keep them off the offensive glass. Also, the Cougs will need to make sure there are plenty of rebound opportunities by contesting hard inside the arc. The Beavers want to get the ball in the paint, staying close, covering screens well, and preventing easy lay-ups will be important.

Find some edge in one or two of these factors, and we might just see the Cougs take down the Beavers—without Klay Thompson in the building this time.