The Washington State Cougars will play their penultimate non-conference game of the year when they face the Prairie View A&M Panthers on Monday afternoon (4 pm PT, Pac-12 Networks). The Cougs are coming off their best performance of the season, a 28-point trouncing of Montana State that extended their undefeated record to 6-0.
The Panthers are the second SWAC team on WSU’s schedule after the Cougs opened up with a narrow victory over Texas Southern. Prairie View A&M brings a 1-2 record to Pullman but has not played a game since Nov. 29th.
Let’s dig into the players and trends that will impact the Cougs vs. Panthers.
When Prairie View A&M has the ball...
The Panthers have traditionally been a fast-paced offense under head coach Byron Smith, with the 56th-lowest average possession length a season ago. If you check highlights against Louisville, you’d see Prairie View attempting to push the ball at every chance. Still, that game was held to 61 possessions, so it is certainly possible to slow them down.
WSU can slow them down, as the Cougs aren’t typically aggressive in offensive rebounding and often send players back to prevent transition. Doing that and forcing Prairie View to set up in the halfcourt will help.
Whether in transition or set plays, the Panthers' offense will be led by penetrating guard Faite Williams. The junior put up an impressive free throw late last year, rarely shoots 3-pointers, and uses the drive to set up his teammates—he’s got a top-10 assist rate nationally through three games.
If Williams can get in the lane, he’ll be looking to dish to sophomore Jeremiah Gambrell on the outside. Gambrell shoots most of his shots from behind the arc—he’s hit 35 percent of 26 attempts so far.
D’Rell Roberts has good size (6’7) at the wing position, and he shoots roughly half his shots from beyond the arc. So far, the 3-pointer has been a good weapon for him, hitting 5 of 12. At the four, Jawaun Daniels can stretch it out beyond the 3-point line.
The biggest player in the rotation for Prairie View is 6’8 Lenell Henry. That hasn’t stopped Prairie View from attacking the offensive glass, so WSU will have to be disciplined with boxouts.
One wild card is Nebraska transfer Cam Mack, who has yet to play this season. I can’t find whether or not he’ll be able to go in this game. He is likely to be a focal point offensively if he does play.
Overall, stopping penetration will be key for WSU. The Panthers seem to be best when Williams gets into the lane. Stop that, and prevent fast-break opportunities, and Prairie View should struggle offensively.
When WSU has the ball...
The Panthers defend the interior poorly, allowing 57.6 percent on 2-pointers. They’ve been well north of 50 percent allowed inside the arc in each of Smith’s seasons. Having small lineups make it tough to defend inside, and the only shot-blocking presence appears to be 6’8 Jerroda Briscoe off the bench.
WSU did very well using its size to score against Montana State, and going big again could bring offensive success in this matchup.
The Cougs could also use their size to grab a few offensive rebounds without too much effort. Prairie View A&M seems to focus on starting the break with guards, leaving their bigs to grab rebounds alone. None of the bigs have been particularly good at that so far this season. Efe Abogidi and the crew could find some success on second chances.
One thing Prairie View does well is generating turnovers, particularly through steals. The Panthers have a lot of guys who get steals and are 10th nationally in steal rate. WSU’s ballhandlers will need to be cautious and strong with the ball against pressuring defense.
The Bottom Line
KenPom predicts WSU to win in 86 percent of simulations with an average score of 71-59. The Cougs will likely shut down what Prairie View A&M does offensively. If they can get back on defense and get good on-ball coverage on Williams, they can force tough shots. When that happens, preventing offensive rebounds will be key.
If WSU can put forth another solid offensive effort, the Cougs should win this one going away. Limiting turnovers and finishing inside the arc, particularly in the paint, will be important.