The Washington State Cougars visit the rival Washington Huskies in serious need of a win on Sunday evening (5 pm PT, Pac-12 Networks). This game looks a lot different than it did a couple of weeks ago after WSU has endured a long losing streak and the Huskies posted a surprising sweep of the mountain schools.
Let’s look at the players and trends that will impact the Cougs vs. Huskies.
When UW has the ball...
Washington has gone three-happy in Pac-12 play, shooting threes on 41 percent of its field goal attempts. Making those threes is what fueled their last two wins—going a combined 24-49 from distance against Utah and Colorado.
Even with that boost from the weekend, the Huskies are still just 6th in three-point percentage during league play and have hit 34 percent overall on the season.
Three-point shooting is largely unpredictable from game-to-game, but it would make sense to chase shooters off the line as much as possible for WSU against UW. The Huskies obviously want to shoot from deep, and it’s always a good idea to stop a team from doing what it wants to do. On that point, the Cougs have given up the second-lowest percentage of three-point attempts per field goal attempts in conference play.
The shooters to keep an eye on are Erik Stevenson, who takes half his shots from beyond the arc, and Jamal Bey, who has hit over half of his three-point attempts. Marcus Tsohonis can get hot off the bench, and Quade Green will take his fair share of 3s.
Green’s best work is in the midrange, however, through jumpers and floaters. He is the driver of UW’s offense, and slowing him down will often slow the Huskies down on the whole.
What Green doesn’t do is get to the free throw line much, and that’s true for most of Washington’s players. The Huskies are last in Pac-12 play in free throw attempts per field goal attempt. They also take just 28.5 percent of their shots at the rim, the 324th highest percentage in the country.
The two players that do take the majority of their shots inside are starting center Nate Roberts, and the sporadically used 7’4 Riley Sorn. Both are effective finishers but are largely role players when it comes to usage.
WSU should have enough to limit UW on the interior defensively when the Huskies take their rare trips inside. Contesting jump shots and then clearing the boards will be key for the Cougs.
When WSU has the ball...
Mike Hopkins is known for bringing over the Syracuse zone, and that is what Washington will primarily run defensively. Unlike typical 2-3 zones, the Huskies extend and don’t allow many 3-point shots. This means the middle of UW’s zone becomes the most exploitable area.
That middle has been exploited frequently in Pac-12 play, where UW is allowing the most points per possession in the conference and gives up almost 48 percent on 2s. Against all opponents this season, UW is allowing 2-point jumpers at the 7th-highest rate nationally. That’s typically a good strategy, but not when giving up 42 percent on those shots—312th in the country.
The Huskies have also not been particularly great at defending shots at the rim. Opposing teams shoot over 59 percent at the rim (199th). But what UW does well is limiting shots near the basket at all.
So, the midrange will be key for WSU. Noah Williams is a prime candidate to flourish in the high post against UW, and he also seems to really enjoy playing the Huskies, so look for him to make an impact.
The Bottom Line
UW has been playing better, or just getting insanely hot from deep. WSU has been playing worse, or just playing tougher competition and getting exposed.
KenPom pegs these teams as pretty much equal in quality on the balance, so based on homecourt his numbers give the edge to UW in 58 percent of simulations with an average score of 70-67.
For WSU to win and take down their hated rivals, it’s really about jump shooting on both ends. If the Cougs can limit UW’s shooters, the Huskies will struggle to find offense. If Wazzu can effectively hit midrange shots, they can beat UW’s zone in the way many teams have beat it so far this season.