The Cougs return to Spokane today, this time to take on the Boise State Broncos. The Cougs are in the midst of a potential bounce back. They won their last game against Northern Colorado by a good margin, and this helped them regain some momentum after dropping two straight. The Cougs look to continue that against a fellow Northwest school.
The game tips off at 5 p.m. PT from Spokane Arena with Pac-12 Networks on the broadcast. You also can find the game at pac-12.com (with a cable subscription).
The Broncos are 8-4, but they have only played one high major team so far this season (Ole Miss). They are a hard team to get a great read on because some of their losses have been very bad, but they have had some impressive wins as well. They have some very solid efficiency stats, but they lack a go-to guy and they struggle against teams that can space them out and defend their big wings.
Boise State Broncos
The Boise State Broncos are an average-to-below average offense in most categories. They are good in spot-up situations because they move the ball well and get the ball to either good shooters or good drivers who can finish the looks they are given. They play a high percentage of their plays in transition, but they are pretty average at converting those looks because they rarely generate transition threes. Their main struggle is in the pick-and-roll, as they lack consistent ball-handlers who can take advantage of those possessions.
Boise State uses their big wings and forwards to initiate most of their sets. Abu Kigab and Emmanuel Akot bring the ball up a lot and this helps make their offense easier. Simply by being taller and being able to handle the ball, they draw more attention as they drive and can make passes easier than smaller guards. They are also willing to make move the ball-around the perimeter to get good looks for their few good shooters.
There is a double-edged sword that comes with playing both of these wing initiators. They are better passes and draw more attention as drivers, but both are fairly unwilling shooters, and it can compromise the spacing. Here is an especially egregious example, as Kigab passes up the open look so he can drive right into three defenders in the paint.
The spacing can make sets beyond a normal pick-and-roll really difficult for the Broncos. Here, they try to run a 50 set with the big at the top of the key, but Tulsa zones up and collapses to anyone who touches the paint.
To try and compensate for this lack of spacing, Boise State implements a lot of off-ball movement. They back-cut whenever an off-ball defender turns their back in the corner and they force defenders to pay attention even if they don’t have to watch them as shooters.
The Broncos also will use a lot of off-ball screens to keep defenders occupied. Here, they use a cross screen to create an easy post look. Had the defenders sold out to the post, there would likely be a solid skip pass to the opposite wing open.
The Broncos are a really solid all-around defense that benefits a lot from their size. Kigab, Akot, and Tyson Degenhart are all solid defenders with length, and they can fly around to force players into bad spots. They can sometimes struggle to defend the pick-and-roll, mostly due to miscommunication and poor help defense. In general, the Broncos are a very solid defense, and they force teams to take tough shots in the mid-range and contested finishes at the rim.
The size on the Boise State roster helps them overcome a lot of issues. They are aggressive collapsing when someone penetrates the paint and their length makes seemingly easy finishes and passes impossible.
The Broncos run a pretty versatile scheme on defense. If two of their wings are involved in an off-ball screen, they will switch it and try to maintain positioning. On ball screens they will usually ice to the baseline or ice to a switch in the middle. They tend to avoid double teams but they are willing to play aggressive help when someone is beat. Their overall defensive activity makes scoring really difficult when they are communicating as well.
Boise State pretty consistently miscommunicates their ball-screen coverages. They will often ice-to-switch on these high ball-screens, trying to take away the pass to the roller and forcing ball-handlers to score on their athletic forwards. However, they will often miscommunicate which side they are trying to force the ball-handler to, and it can result in really easy looks for opposing teams.
Here is another example of the Broncos miscommunicating, but they compensate with their size. The guy guarding the ball-handler and the guy guarding the screener get mixed up on where they are forcing the big and it allows for an open lane to the rim. Luckily for Boise State, Degenhart has the length to recover and get the block.
Players to Watch:
Kigab started his career at Oregon, but he has really put together a solid role for himself at Boise State. Kigab does a lot of initiating for the Broncos and he is also a really impressive defender. He is averaging 14.5 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game, and 2 assists per game while doing the majority of the play finishing for the team.
Akot is another former Pac-12 player, as he started his career at Arizona. Akot was a very highly touted recruit coming out of high school, but he struggled to start his college career. He has really found his footing in Boise though. He leads the team in assists at 3.5 per game and he has shot at a solid clip from deep. He plays as a point guard for the Broncos and that is very impressive for a 6’8 guy.
Tyson Degenhart was not a highly thought of recruit at all, getting 0 stars from 247 as a recruit. However, the Mt. Spokane product has already found himself starting for Boise State. He can shoot it from the corners and above the break when he is in rhythm and he has elite touch in the post. He is also a personal favorite of mine as I remember playing against him in AAU.
Washington State Cougars
Players to Watch:
DJ Rodman is coming off the best game of his career and it will hopefully be a boost for the whole team. He has struggled to be consistent from deep, but he has had a few big outbursts and being a consistent floor spacer would be huge for the Cougs’ offense. His hustle is always there though; he has a team high 12.4% offensive rebound percentage and his defense continues to impress. He is a major piece to WSU’s success at their best and he looks to have two straight big games here.
Jefferson Koulibaly and Tyrell Roberts have both seen their roles decrease in recent in certain games, but the Cougs will need one of them to step it up if they hope to compete in the conference. The Cougs desperately need more ball-handling, but both Roberts and Koulibaly have major issues they need to overcome to succeed. Koulibaly is likely the higher upside player, with his defense and athleticism, but Roberts can shoot and helps space the floor for our bigs. One of them is likely to fill in as the go-to back-up point guard and this game could be a chance to play both and see who impresses more.
Andrej Jakimovski is quietly putting together a very solid season for the role he is in. Despite playing 10 less minutes per game, he is averaging about the same number of points on 20% better true shooting, a better turnover percentage, and better steal and block percentages. He had a nice scoring outburst in the last game, and he looks to become a consistent contributor off the bench as the Cougs prepare for conference play.
TJ Bamba’s shooting has heavily regressed to the mean in the past couple games and his rim numbers are still not where the Cougs would like. Finding his offensive value outside of spot-up shooting will be a major question for Bamba to answer over the next few games. He is definitely a victim of the poor spacing that exists when WSU plays two bigs at once, but someone with his handle, strength, and athleticism should still get to the rim and finish more. His defensive flashes have been nice, but he really needs to get some easy buckets for himself, especially if he is to remain a starter.
What to Watch For:
The Cougs biggest issue so far this season has been their inability to generate consistent rim pressure in the half-court. This took a slight boost in the last two games as the Cougs relied more on Noah Williams as the primary ball-handler, but the Cougs still have to find ways to take advantage at the rim. WSU does have elite vertical spacers such as Efe Abogidi and Mouhamed Gueye and they could help alleviate the issue, but Kyle Smith might have to use them creatively to do that. Either way, the reliance on shooting from deep has been a major swing for the offense and the Cougs desperately need to draw more attention to the rim.
Consistent defensive energy must become the identity for the Cougs. The offensive issues, in general, are likely a result of the talent on the roster and not the scheming, so the Cougs need to ride the waves on offense and punish teams on defense. The rim protection is there, a lot of the perimeter defense is great too, but the consistency has been an issue. Keeping the intensity up from start to finish is something this team needs to buy into to reach their ceiling.
Question of the Game:
Will Gueye or Abogidi hit a shot from deep?