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Even more than you need to know about the Cougs vs. Cardinal

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WSU hopes to upset a Stanford team with NCAA tournament aspirations,

NCAA Basketball: WSU Cougars vs. Stanford game time TV schedule
“You’ll have to speak up, I’m wearing a mask.”
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars aim for a weekend sweep and to put a dent in the NCAA tournament hopes of the Stanford Cardinal when the two teams meet in Pullman on Saturday afternoon (1 pm PT, ESPN2).

Stanford used a late run to pull away from the Cougs the first time these two teams met. Noah Williams missed the last 35 minutes of that game after being undercut on a fastbreak layup attempt. He might be out for revenge in this one. WSU will need him at his best if Isaac Bonton and Ryan Rapp still can’t play.

Let’s look at the players and trends that will impact the Cougs vs. Cardinal.


When Stanford has the ball...

WSU still hasn’t found an answer for Oscar da Silva. The senior big man took over the final five minutes last time and made a close game into a 15-point runaway. He’s an excellent finisher in the paint and uses his bulk to grab offensive rebounds and draw fouls. He’s given WSU trouble the last couple of years, and slowing him down at all would help the Cougs’ upset cause.

Jaiden Delaire and Ziaire Williams are a pair of 6’9 wings that will take plenty of shots. Delaire will attack the rim most often, and forcing him into midrange jumpers—where he shoots just 26 percent—is the best strategy. Willams has been inefficient but has elite athleticism and was able to take over for a stretch in the first half last time against WSU.

Spencer Jones is another utility guard/wing/forward that plays in multiple positions and prefers the 3-point shot—he’s hitting 37 percent from deep, so not a guy to be left open. Michael O’Connell is the point guard. He likes to penetrate and is a solid scorer both at the rim and midrange when he chooses to attack.

Daejon Davis and Bryce Wills both have started but have battled injuries. Davis is a playmaker and a versatile scorer, while Wills takes three-quarters of his shots at the rim. It’s not a bad strategy to foul Willis when he is down low—he’s shooting 35 percent on free throws.

Overall, Stanford relies on interior play more than any other team in the conference. The Cardinal lead the Pac-12 in 2-point percentage during league play and have taken the lowest percentage of 3-pointers.

WSU does have the bigs to contend down low, but its defense was a bit exposed by Stanford’s attack last time these two teams played. The Cardinal hit 25-40 2-point shots against the Cougs last time out, and you might remember Wazzu was near the top of the country in 2-point defense at the time.

The Cougs seem to be playing better defense on the inside as of late, and they’ll need it against Stanford. We’ll probably see a healthy dose of zone defense.


When WSU has the ball...

While Stanford is excellent inside offensively, they are similarly adept on interior defense. The Cardinal have allowed the second-lowest 2-point percentage in Pac-12 play. The Cougs felt that last time, making just 10 of 32 inside the arc.

That stout defense inside the 3-point line has led teams to launch from deep—Stanford allows 3-point attempts at the highest rate in the conference. WSU exploited that last time, hitting 11 of 24 from deep to keep them in the game for 35 minutes.

But all that hoisting from deep means the Cardinal don’t allow many free throws—the third-lowest free throw rate allowed in the conference. Stanford will make teams hit jump shots to beat them and will not allow easy buckets at the rim or free throw line.

Given that 46 percent on 3-pointers was only enough to get WSU to 0.88 points per possession last time, the Cougs are gonna need to find more success inside against the Cardinal. That’s a tough ask.


The Bottom Line

Stanford wants to score inside, and they want to prevent the opposition from scoring inside. This puts a lot of pressure on WSU bigs, especially given that the Cougs are limited in the backcourt because of injury.

KenPom’s simulations predict a close one—with Stanford winning 59 percent of the time by an average score of 67-65. Wazzu was dominated on the inside last time out, so there is plenty of room for improvement. That improvement will need to come if WSU is going to play spoiler for the Cardinal.

Oh, and the Cougs should consider taking care of the ball and hitting a bunch of 3s, too.