The Washington State Cougars will attempt to go undefeated in non-conference play when facing the Northwestern State Demons on Wednesday afternoon in Pullman (2 pm PT, Pac-12 Networks). This is the final tune-up before the schedule gets much tougher in Pac-12 play.
The Demons are 1-9, coming off two consecutive losses to Gonzaga. This will be their third game in three days and fifth in six days. To give credit where credit is due, last night’s 17-point loss to Gonzaga is probably among Northwestern State’s best performances of the season. So, despite the rough schedule, the team is still giving maximum effort.
Let’s look at the players and trends that will impact the Cougs vs. Demons.
When Northwestern State has the ball...
Northwestern State Head coach Mike McConathy has been at the school since 1999, and in that time, his squads have often been among the fastest tempo teams in the country. This year is no different, as the Demons are 28th in adjusted tempo.
This season, that tempo hasn’t been driven by quick offense—Northwestern State is 141st in average offensive possession length. But given that the Demons often float around the top 50 in that metric, previous opponents may influence slowing those possessions. In fact, Northwestern State just scored 61 in a half on Gonzaga, and you don’t do that without quick offense.
Given that, expect the Demons to push the ball at every opportunity. They keep legs fresh with all that running by substituting heavily. McConathy uses his bench more than anybody in the country—with 49 percent of total minutes played by subs.
All that running doesn’t necessarily mean attacking the basket. Northwestern State shoots about 36 percent of its shots from beyond the arc, while under 30 percent are at the rim. Additionally, the Demons are 306th in free throw rate (and typically fall in the middle of the pack in that metric).
In terms of offensive rebounding, Northwestern State hasn’t been great in that area so far, but given its historical trends, you’d expect them to send numbers to the glass. WSU will have to be aware of crashing bigs and guards. The most dangerous player on the offensive glass is Kendal Coleman, who is grabbing an impressive 14.1 percent of his teammates’ misses while he is on the floor.
Of course, if you can prevent them from shooting in the first place, you don’t have to worry about offensive rebounds. The Demons have been very loose with the ball under McConathy, and are given it away on nearly 22 percent of possessions this season.
Many players rotate in and out, so it’s hard to say exactly who will have an impact. However, Jamaure Gregg leads the team in both possessions used and shots taken, so he’s a good bet. Gregg has been perimeter-oriented this season after being far more likely to go inside a year ago. That may be a product of schedule—the Demons have played many bigger teams, and he might just be forced to shoot jumpers more often. He’s a decent outside shooter, so he can’t be ignored there.
Trenton Massner is a combo guard that will either shoot a 3-pointer or seek to get a shot at the rim. Only about 20 percent of his shots have come in the midrange. He’s joined in the backcourt by Jairus Roberson, a dangerous long-range shooter who takes the bulk of his shots from beyond the arc. WSU will need to keep him located at all times.
There are many more players that could impact. The Demons really do play a lot of people. Roberson leads the team in minute percentage, having played 60 percent of available minutes. For comparison, WSU’s Noah Williams has played almost 78 percent of minutes while Isaac Bonton has played 72 percent (and that includes missing an entire game).
To have success defensively, WSU will need to find 3-point shooters and chase them off the line. The Demons struggle to finish inside (41 percent on 2s), and making them put the ball on the deck could lead to turnovers.
When WSU has the ball...
Despite facing some of the country's shortest defensive possessions, the Demons aren’t a heavy pressing, ultra-aggressive squad. At least, that doesn’t bear out in their turnover numbers—just 310 nationally in turnover percentage against. They do get a decent amount of steals, though, so WSU does need to be careful with the ball.
The Demons are small overall, and that shows in their 2-point defense. Northwestern State has allowed opponents to shoot nearly 58 percent on 2s, including 65 percent at the rim. Opponents shoot many close shots, too—42.7 percent of field goal attempts are near the basket.
Getting the ball into Efe Abogidi, Volodymyr Markovetskyy, and attacking the basket with wings and guards, could prove fruitful for the Cougs. That could also lead to some offensive rebound opportunities. However, given Northwestern State’s propensity to run, chasing second chances could be dangerous for the defense.
The Bottom Line
There will be extended periods during this game where it feels frantic because Northwestern State pushes the pace on both ends of the floor. Getting back on defense will be important. Perhaps just letting the bigs handle the offensive glass while guards track transition runners will be best.
Shutting down the 3-point line would take away a weapon for Northwestern State, one that they would absolutely need to come away with the upset. Pushing them inside, where bigs can bother shots and collect misses, would help.
Given the tight schedule, you’d expect the Demons to be gassed. However, McConathy has managed minutes well, so he should have relatively fresh legs on the floor. They’ll need those fresh legs to play the attacking offensive style they prefer.
KenPom predicts WSU to win 88 percent of simulations, with an average score of 78-66. If the Cougs can avoid careless turnovers, be successful in the paint, and limit transition, they should be able to come out with a win.