The Washington State men’s basketball team begins its 2021-2022 campaign against the Alcorn State Braves on Tuesday (Noon PT, Pac-12 Networks). This WSU squad is facing the highest expectations of any in over a decade, and Alcorn State provides a soft launchpad.
The Braves are projected at No. 341 by KenPom.com and No. 342 by Bart Torvik. That’s out of a 358 Division 1 men’s basketball teams. Washington State is currently projected at No. 63 by KenPom and No. 56 by Torvik. Safe to say, the numbers predict a big opening day win for Wazzu.
When Alcorn State has the ball...
As Bryce Hendricks detailed in his preview, Alcorn struggles mightily to execute on offense. Last season, the Braves finished 313th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency. They were among the worst teams in the country at shooting 3s and 2s. Alcorn grabbed a decent number of offensive rebounds, and shot a solid number of free throws, but that’s with the caveat of playing against KenPom’s 338th most difficult defensive schedule.
To make matters worse, Landon Bussie’s squad lost it’s best offensive player, Troymain Crosby to graduation, and it doesn’t look like anyone on the team has the ability to touch his 105 offensive rating on more than 30% usage.
The most likely returning player to grab some of that usage is 5’10 point guard Byron Joshua. That’s not necessarily a good thing for Alcorn—his 30% turnover rate and poor free-throw shooting led to an abysmal 78.9 offensive rating as a freshman.
By midseason, it’s likely that Mississippi State transfer Keondre Montgomery will take the reigns on offense. The former high-3-star recruit has good size at the guard position, and can match-up well both physically and athletically against Washington State. He didn’t start in Alcorn’s opening exhibition, but he ended up leading the team in minutes, shots, points, and rebounds.
Marco Morency, a transfer from ULM, and returnee Dominic Brewton may also see time in the backcourt.
Another transfer, Dontrelle Mcquarter from Rider, will also see plenty of offensive opportunity. At his last stop, he primarily played inside the arc as a guard, focusing mostly on shots at the rim and 2-point jumpers. He rarely ventures outside and is now listed as a 6’7 center for Alcorn.
Joining Mcquarter in the frontcourt will be yet another transfer—Lenell Henry from Prairie View A&M. Henry is a solid piece—he won’t be a focal point but he finishes well around the basket (69% at the rim last season, according to hoop-math.com), and he’s a talented offensive rebounder. At 6’8, 215, he’ll be outsized by WSU’s frontline, but he does have athleticism.
When WSU has the ball...
Alcorn’s defense is almost entirely predicated on forcing turnovers. Last season, the Braves finished 31st in forced turnover percentage, with opponents giving it away 22% of the time. The two key cogs in that turnover party are back—Joshua and fellow guard Oddyst Walker are adept at stealing the ball.
The issue for Bussie’s squad is that when they didn’t force a turnover, they were absolutely shredded, particularly in the paint. Last season, the Braves allowed teams to shoot a whopping 66% at the rim. Henry may help that, he posted an impressive blocked shot rate at Prairie View.
Still, Henry is going to give up multiple inches and many pounds to WSU’s frontcourt. He may find it harder to protect the rim on the Coug bigs. However, he is a threat as a secondary defender should Washington State’s guards attack the basket.
With Henry as Alcorn’s biggest rotation player, look for Wazzu to go inside early and often.
The Bottom Line
There are going to be a lot of new faces to start the game on both sides. WSU will feature three newcomers in its starting lineup, while Alcorn State has transfers all over its rotation. It’s possible this game could be very sloppy at the outset.
Trimming down turnovers will be key for WSU to take a leap this season, and Alcorn does provide a nice test in that department. The Braves are going to pressure and look for steals—if WSU can avoid those, they will likely have an easy offensive day and also prevent Alcorn’s offense from getting cheap baskets.
It’s likely the Braves will struggle to score in the halfcourt offense. WSU will make life difficult at the rim, and Alcorn just doesn’t have many shooters on the outside to capitalize on the Cougs’ small frontcourt.
Pomeroy predicts an 84-58 Wazzu win with 99% confidence, while Torvik as 82-60 with 97% confidence. WSU should cruise and ideally lots of players will see minutes.