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NCAA Basketball: California at Washington State

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What to Watch For: Scouting WSU vs. Utah

The Cougs are set to face off against one of the worst teams in the Pac-12 at home, having already beaten the Utes on the road.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars are finally out of their COVID pause and they are set to face off against a team they have already got the best of. The Cougs beat Utah in impressive fashion while in Salt Lake City and they look to get a nice home win to try and get a winning streak going. The Cougs have been a really solid team this season, but this could be the week they start to ratchet up and show who they truly are.

The game tips off from Beasley Coliseum at 7 p.m. with Pac-12 Networks carrying the broadcast. You can also stream it at Pac-12.com (with a subscription).

The Utes are in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, all against Pac-12 opponents. Most recently, they lost in the LA series at home. They played UCLA admirably, but they ultimately fell short and they have been unable to build any momentum in the conference. However, they are still a solidly talented roster and the Cougs have had their issues defending them in the past, so they should not be taken lightly.

Utah Utes

Offense:

The Utes have their struggles, but they are a pretty solid all-around offense. They are 75th in Kenpom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, but in conference play they do fall to 11th in the Pac-12. They have a major lack of true playmakers and they are a surprisingly poor shooting team. They are 248th in the country in effective field goal percentage and they struggle to create consistent good looks in the half-court. They struggled with WSU’s defense at time, but they got some good looks out of isolation and by running in transition.

The Utes really struggled to score when the Cougs could force them baseline. They don’t have the athletes to get over the ice and drive middle and they can’t really score at the rim against our shot-blockers. This leads to a lot of record scratch moments where the Utes have to reset the offense and it throws off their momentum.

Utah’s offense looked its best when Dishon Jackson was on the floor. The Cougs dropped Jackson hard and Mouhamed Gueye was very overeager in help, which gave up an easy corner three. The Cougs do like to drop their other bigs, but their mobility lets help defenders stay home rather than tag low. Forcing the ball-handler to take a pull-up rather than giving him the easy corner pass would have been preferable here.

Utah likes to mix in some more complex sets. This is an extended horns look that turns into a weave with an interesting, angled Iverson cut that gets them an isolation at the top of the key. This is the type of look the Cougs are not super happy giving up, but it is hard to prepare for due to the complexity.

The Cougs played good defense overall against the Utes, but Utah was able to score quite a bit out of isolations. The Utes even scored on isos against our best defenders, such as Efe Abogidi and Noah Williams. It is hard to say how sustainable this type of offense is, but it worked for them in SLC.

Though they lack playmakers, they like to run pick-and-rolls with their best scorers to get them some separation for jump shots. When their shooters are hot, these can be deadly plays to guard.

Utah runs three bigs consistently; Branden Carlson, Dusan Mahorcic, and Lahat Thioune. All three of these guys like to score down low and they can do that against our skinny bigs. They all struggle to pass, so perhaps doubles could be used effectively to keep them off their spots.

For what it’s worth, Carlson didn’t play in the first matchup, and he’s questionable for tonight’s game.

Defense:

The Utes are a very exploitable defense and the Cougs exposed a lot of the holes in their last meeting. They rank 170th nationally, per Kenpom, but that doesn’t completely display how many issues the Utes really have on that end. They are not a super athletic team and they struggle to stop the roll and off-ball movement when combined. They allow a lot of open looks from deep and at the rim and they leave it up to the opponent to hit those shots.

In the last game at Utah, WSU scored a lot out of mixing pick-and-rolls with off-ball actions. Rather than running a stagnant, well spaced pick-and-roll, the Cougs would mix in a pindown or some other off-ball movement to make tagging defenders choose between covering the roll-man and covering the shooter. Here, the Cougs run what is generally called a North screen, where the roll-man rolls to the block and a shooter who was on the block sprints up to where the screen was set. This works well as Mouhamed Gueye’s man assumes a switch should occur but the man on the block chases the shooter and allows for a wide open dunk.

WSU did struggle with turnovers against Utah and some were really avoidable. Both of the Cougs’ lead guards really struggle with staring down their passes and the Utes exploited that. Michael Flowers tries to make the right read on a skip to Andrej Jakimovski in the corner, but Flowers stares him down and the Utes can jump the pass.

It happens again here as Tyrell Roberts gets into the teeth of defense and has two passes available to him, but he fails to look off the defender and turns the ball over.

The Cougs also struggled with the trap press that Utah threw out. Jakimovski struggled as the inbound passer and it lead to some easy baskets for the Utes.

Utah likes to bring bigs up to the level of the screen and tag the roll-man with guards. This is sometimes effective to keep the ball out of the paint, it leads them to give up easy catch and shoot looks. This is an easy three from one pass away for TJ Bamba.

Utah’s tagging can really lead to trouble if the ball-handler can turn the corner. Here, Jakimovski gets all the way downhill and gets the easy pass to DJ Rodman in the corner.

Utah’s overhelp expands beyond the pick-and-roll. Here, they keep Rollie Worster down in the paint to prevent a baseline spin, but it allows for Flowers to get wide open on the wing. Even if Flowers doesn’t shoot, Gueye now has an advantaged match-up on Worster in the post.

The Cougs didn’t go to it much against Utah, but the small-ball look could be effective for them. Utah’s bigs are really immobile and struggle to guard when out on the perimeter. Here, Jakimovski gets a clean look against Mahorcic.

Utah also struggles with off-ball movement, including these relocation moves that Jakimovski, Roberts, and Flowers excel at. When Jakimovski is hot, this is a really nice shot for the Cougs and Utah struggles to guard it.

Players to Watch:

Both Gach had an up-and-down game against the Cougs, but he was huge in the stretch where they cut the lead down and he can get hot in an instant. He has solid touch from deep and he has a knack for getting into the mid-range and shooting over WSU’s smaller wings and guards.

Marco Anthony is perhaps the most consistent player on the Utes roster. He is a really solid defensive player who gets steals by playing passing lanes and he pressures up on guards well. He also has his moments offensively, hitting spot-ups and running in transition.

Dusan Mahorcic has major struggles with his efficiency, but he was able to attack from the perimeter with some efficacy and he got to the line solidly. His ability to put the WSU bigs in foul trouble is huge for the Utes and Gueye and Abogidi will have to be wary of fouling Mahorcic too often.

Washington State Cougars

Players to Watch:

Andrej Jakimovski has been inconsistent this season, but the highs remain really high. The jumper is borderline elite at this point and he has started to hit it off movement and off the dribble with some more frequency. The passing also remains really intriguing. He can be turnover prone, but the on time and on target passes are incredible to watch. If he can consistently play to the levels he did in the Utah and Cal games, then he is going to be hard to keep out of the closing lineup for this team.

Things seem to finally be clicking for Mouhamed Gueye. He has found a real chemistry with Flowers in the pick-and-roll, the defense has remained elite, and he has started to play with a confidence and power that makes him an imposing force the opponents have to reckon with. The Utes do not have the size and athleticism to match Gueye and he should feast on open looks if the Cougs are properly spacing the floor.

DJ Rodman has missed the last two games and the Cougs have sorely missed his contributions. Rodman does so much for this team and it is hard to even quantify. The boards, the defense, the spacing, all of it makes him valuable, but his positional versatility makes him important as well. It has become pretty clear that Gueye and Abogidi are most effective when on the court without the other, having Rodman on the team makes staggering those guys a lot easier.

What to Watch For:

The shooting consistency has simply not been there for the Cougs despite being first in the conference in three-point attempts per field goal attempt. This team has quite a few elite shooters (Roberts, Flowers, and Jakimovski) and some solid shooters (TJ Bamba and DJ Rodman). However, despite this shooting talent, they have struggled to generate the open looks required to capitalize on this shooting. Against Utah in their last matchup, the Cougs generated a ton of open looks and shot 40% from deep. The Cougs could match that against the Utes as they have continued to struggle defending the three point line and hopefully build some momentum and gain consistency from the arc.

Rolling into space was a major part of the Cougs most successful offensive stints in their past few games. Keeping the floor spaced for elite play finishers like Abogidi and Gueye allows them to focus on finishing good looks rather than having to create them out of a post-up. The Cougs have started to prioritize spacing the floor for the roll-men and it has worked wonders.

Question of the Game:

Will the Cougs shoot over 35% from deep?

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