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What to Watch in WSU vs. Alcorn State

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The Cougs start their season against the Alcorn State Braves, here are some things to watch.

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Oregon Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

WSU is set to take on Alcorn State in their home opener today and it should be the start of a fun season for the Cougs. Alcorn State might be the worst team in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, but you can never truly discount an early season game. Even if WSU is clearly the superior squad, there is some interest to be had here and some storylines to follow.

Alcorn State Braves

The Braves are not a particularly established team that will be visiting the Palouse. Head Coach Landon Bussie is entering his second season as a head coach and he will have to handle a team in a bit of tumult. The team only returns two major players from last year and is otherwise made up of transfers and freshman.

Alcorn State is a team with not a lot to prove and not a lot to lose and it makes them an interesting team early in the season. Bussie is an unproven head coach who is known to try and junk things up on both ends and it could make for an interesting early matchup for WSU.

Offense:

Alcorn State Synergy Offensive Efficieny

It is pretty clear from looking at this breakdown that the Braves are not a very good offensive team. They are small and athletic and that makes it seem like they’d be an up-tempo, transition team. However, they were only in the 2nd percentile in transition offense and the tape backs up that lack of effectiveness in that realm. They played frequently in transition (19.1% of shot attempts came in transition) but they rarely converted those opportunities.

Here, it is easy to see how sloppy they look when given a transition opportunity;

When in the halfcourt, they have two basic sets meant to take advantage of the fact they are a guard heavy team. Even with the transfers, the roster build of this team is very guard heavy with a focus on ball-handlers and slashers.

The first set they tend to run is a weave. It’s a simple action that gets their guards moving as is meant to create a hole to attack downhill. The set is all about getting the defense in rotation and forcing them to make a mistake without creating risk of a turnover.

The other set they like to run is a horns look. They generally play with two undersized bigs who operate across from each other on either the block or the elbow. The set is textbook and run as expected, where the bigs screen across away from the ball and then either screen the ball or dive. It is not a particularly effective set, as shown by their 9th percentile efficiency with the pick and roll ball-handler.

The offense in general is just sloppy and a lot of possessions end up looking like the one below.

The Alcorn State offense is going to really struggle to score against the elite WSU defense. Their only effective form of offense is with post-ups, but the Cougs are great at guarding post-ups, especially considering how undersized the bigs are for the Braves. The Braves are not going to truly challenge the Cougs on the defensive end unless the roster shifts have really boosted the talent for the Braves.

Defense:

Alcorn State Synergy Defensive Efficiency

The Braves defense is slightly more impressive than their offense, but the word that applies here is inconsistent. Again, the transition struggles really standout. This is partially because of the amount of turnovers Alcorn State commits, but it is also because of the play-type classifications caused by their press.

The press is a consistent weapon for Alcorn State and they like to go to early in games. It is a variable press, where the traps come at different places on the court and sometimes don’t come at all. Either way, the purpose is to pressure offenses, cause turnovers, and junk up the game to make up for talent deficits. You can see here both the good and bad of the press in one possession.

In the halfcourt, they still like to force turnovers and pressure guards. They consistently blitz ball-screens. This was not particularly effective for them as they ranked in the 43rd percentile guarding P&R ball-handlers and the 1st percentile when guarding the roll man. This should make for an interesting test for the Cougs’ guards and bigs, but one they should handle.

Players to Watch-

The Braves top returner is 6’3 guard Oddyst Walker. Walker is a speedy guard who averaged 8 points per game last season, but had real struggles with efficiency and decision making. He had a 49.7% true shooting and worse than a 1:2 assist turnover. He did shoot 35% from three, but he might struggle to create against the Cougs.

Rider transfer and former JUCO player Dontrell McQuarter is the likely starting big for Alcorn State. McQuarter is not much of a shooter or scorer, but he is a very good athlete who can move and could be dangerous when blitzing those screens.

The final player to watch is Keondre Montgomery. Montgomery might be the most interesting player on this roster. He was a well-regarded recruit who spent a year at Mississippi State where he mostly rode the bench. He is a good athlete at 6’7, but he has more ball skills than McQuarter or the other bigs on this roster. He could potentially challenge the Coug wing defenders a bit as a driver.

Washington State Cougars:

Players to Watch-

Dishon Jackson should be the most physically imposing player on the court on the 9th and that should go a long way. He has worked a lot on his body and his jumper in the offseason and he could show both off in this game. He could dominate down low and maybe stretch it out to three throughout the game.

Michael Flowers and Tyrell Roberts are the presumed top two guards in the rotation this season. They each have similar games, providing a veteran presence at the PG spot with a nice jumper, but it is a bit unclear as to how much they’ll play. Both could have to handle pressure from the press and the blitz and that is a good test for them early in the season.

Mouhamed Gueye will be making his NCAA debut and it could be a big night for him. Whether or not shots fall is always a question, but what his shot chart looks like at the end of the game and where he plays defensively is the major thing to watch with Gueye. If he is really bombing from three, it could make for a different outlook going forward, whether they are dropping or not.

What to Watch For-

The main thing to watch for the Cougs in this game is what the rotations will look like. There is still a question about who the starting guard will be, what the wing rotation will look like, and how the bench shakes out.

Kyle Smith should have some leeway to play around in this game and put different lineups out there. Getting a glimpse at what the lineups could look like glowing forward will be interesting to see. Who starts between Flowers and Roberts, which lineups each play with, and which fringe rotation players get early run will be the main takeaway from this game.

The play on the floor is less likely to give major takeaways. The Cougs should simply be the more skilled team in this game. The shooting, passing, and defense is all several steps ahead of Alcorn State. However, the Braves do like to make things messy and the young WSU squad will have to show their continued growth in composure and maturity throughout the game. Avoiding sloppy turnovers and playing within their offense will be key for the Cougs.

Question of the Game:

Will Dishon Jackson hit a three pointer?