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NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Washington State

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Predicting WSU basketball’s rotation in 2022-23

The Cougs are incredibly talented, but there are big questions as to who is going to play how much — and with whom.

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The Washington State basketball season is almost upon us. The excitement for Kyle Smith’s fourth season in Pullman is palpable, and there is an argument to be made that this is the most talented team we have seen on the Palouse since Tony Bennett ran the program.

Smith and his staff have consistently improved the roster year over year, and his 2022 summer had even non-WSU fans talking. People with deep connections in the scouting world were impressed with the depth of talent Smith was able to bring to the Palouse. Over the course of the last three recruiting cycles, Smith has gotten the type of talent that we rarely see in Pullman from the high school ranks, international play, and with the transfer portal.

Of course, with this impressive depth of talent comes the issue of determining who will play and how they will be used. This is not a team with a returning top 5 or an already set rotation, but it is a talented team. We have seen that Smith is willing to tinker with his rotations to maximize winning, and we might see that to the extreme this season until players prove themselves worthy of a high volume of minutes. There are some certainties with the rotation, but the majority of the rotation is up in the air, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Something that has, sadly, been forced to come into play here is injuries. Both Myles Rice and Dishon Jackson are expected to miss most, if not all, of the season: Rice to a cancer diagnosis, and Jackson to an unspecified condition. Hopefully these players get healthy soon — please donate to Rice’s GoFundMe if you can — but until they are, we will operate under the assumption that they cannot factor into the rotation.

Certain Starters

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Justin Powell
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There are three players on the roster that are almost certain to start and play the majority of minutes on the team. These are the guys that the rest of the roster will revolve around, and the ultimate upside of the team will rest on their shoulders. These are the stars of the team and the rest of the rotation will be built around them.

Justin Powell is perhaps the best transfer player in WSU history and he will be expected to make an immediate impact. He is likely to be the top offensive option and his versatility will be a great asset. He can dribble, pass, and shoot while playing multiple positions. His size allows him to comfortably play 1-3 in any lineup as needed, and his skillset will make him valuable in a multitude of situations. You can read a more in-depth of breakdown of Powell’s game here.

Powell’s positionality will be interesting to monitor. In the majority of lineup configurations, Powell will be playing the nominal point guard. The system will have to be a bit more creative to make this work, but having a 6-foot-6 wing run the point is intriguing, to say the least. Powell has the passing chops to pull this off, but the question will be whether or not he can put enough pressure on the rim to be viable as an every-down back in the pick-and-roll. We know he can knock down shots off the catch and get some buckets against a tilted floor, but whether he can consistently create advantages is still a little up in the air.

TJ Bamba is the other backcourt starter and someone who is in for a big season. His improvement from his freshman to sophomore season was impressive as he learned to play under control and slowly grew into his role as one of the best players on the team on both ends. He should thrive spotting up and aggressively attacking closeouts off of Powell this season. The next step in his development will be running pick-and-rolls and taking reps as the primary playmaker. Bamba’s passing improved a lot last season, but there is still a lot of room for growth with his playmaking. If everything clicks for Bamba, he could be one of the best players in the conference.

He is likely to swing between the 2 and 3 on offense, but he will be expected to guard the opposing point guards at the point of attack. While his offense could be efficient and potentially expanding, the real place the Cougs need him is on defense. Losing Tyrell Roberts means losing last season’s go-to point-of-attack defender, and Bamba will have to step up into that role.

The final certain starter is Mouhamed Gueye. Gueye’s return was perhaps the biggest domino to fall in WSU’s favor this offseason. The big man will be the defensive anchor for the team and he is likely to take a step forward offensively as well. He will likely be empowered to score in some isolations and he will thrive as the sole roll-man playing in space. If the jumper comes around, too, he will be a nightmare matchup for the rest of the Pac-12.

Prior to the Jackson news, there was some question as to what position Gueye would be playing the majority of his minutes. However, with Jackson out for the foreseeable future, Gueye’s positionality has become a bit clearer. He will still likely play some minutes at the four, but he will play the majority of his minutes at the five, as he did most of last year next to Efe Abogidi.

On the positive side, this means that he will get to play as the roll-man with a lot of space around him. He will also get to be the primary big defender in the pick-and-roll, where he excels with his mobility and rim-protection. On the negative, he will have to bang with some other bigs in the post and his slight frame makes that a worry. He will also be forced to be the primary rebounder, which he did struggle with at times last season. Playing as the sole big on the floor will be a challenge, but one Gueye could excel in if he continues to develop.

Backcourt Rotation

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Andrej Jakimovski
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Beyond the certain starters, it is beneficial to split the rest of the roster into frontcourt and backcourt. Backcourt is generally considered guards or wings and frontcourt is more forwards and bigs. There are some players who blur these lines, but splitting the roster into these two groups will help guide the expectations for each player role-wise.

Andrej Jakimovski is perhaps the most likely starter who isn’t in that “certain starter category.” Jakimovski could be put in the frontcourt category thanks to his size and rebounding prowess, but his offensive role is such that he fits just as well in the backcourt. The argument could be made that he is the best passer on the team, and whether he starts or not, expect the junior to do a good amount of ball-handling and pick-and-roll operation. You can read a deeper dive into Jakimovski’s game and upside here.

Jakimovksi’s minutes will likely be split between the three and the four fairly evenly. If he does start, it could be at either position based on the rest of the lineup. His defensive position is best at the four, but his size and strength allows him to survive at the three and his rebounding is incredibly valuable. Offensively, his versatility should defy position. He will play some offensive minutes as the point guard and others as a pure wing. His shooting makes him a deadly off-ball player but his passing gives him real upside as a lead playmaker if everything clicks.

Jabe Mullins is another player who is fairly likely to start. The Saint Mary’s transfer wasn’t a star for the Gaels, but his skillset is a perfect fit for WSU and there is a lot of untapped upside there. He is yet another elite shooter on this roster — which would make for three in the starting lineup should he get the nod — and he also had a high school track record of being excellent as a passer. You can read more about Mullins’ skillset here.

Mullins will play the majority of his minutes at the two, with some occasional experimentation in the early season at the point on bench units. If things click, he could continue to play some back-up point guard minutes in conference play, but there is also a chance his role shrinks into him being a primarily off-ball player. His shooting, size, and overall feel makes him an easy fit with basically any lineup configurations and that versatility will allow him to play more minutes.

Kymany Houinsou is one of my favorite additions from this offseason and his versatility could lead to early minutes. His defense both on and off the ball is excellent, and he should be able to guard multiple positions. Offensively, he brings a lot as a transition player as both a scorer and a playmaker. He also has feel for running pick-and-rolls in the halfcourt and moving without the basketball. You can read a deeper breakdown of Houinsou here.

His ability to guard 1-4 is a huge additive element to any lineup he is in. He could replace Bamba off the bench and guard at the point of attack or be employed to wreak havoc in the passing lanes and switch onto bigger players. There are some questions as to overall offensive fit because the jumper is hit or miss, but his passing and athleticism could make him an interesting option at the one or the two. While it is unlikely, he could find himself starting if the playmaking proves itself to be at that level.

Dylan Darling was perhaps the least touted of all the freshman on the roster, but he has impressed the coaching staff early and he looks set to play a role in the rotation early.

“Dylan has done well and we’d expect him to be in our rotation,” assistant coach John Andrzejek said after working with Darling in offseason practices. “He is probably our quickest player side-to-side. We will need him to be able to guard the ball at times. Offensively, he is good at getting by guys and getting a piece of the paint even without a ballscreen. He is a very unselfish player.”

Darling’s size limits him to playing only the one, but if he can guard opposing point guards and get downhill to force rotations, he could be a vital piece for the Cougs. If the passing comes along with the driving, he could be the nominal 6th man for the team as someone to create offense off the bench. For more on Darling, click here.

Frontcourt Rotation

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Adrame Diongue
Landon Bost/Naples Daily News/USA TODAY Network-Florida / USA TODAY NETWORK

The frontcourt rotation outside of Gueye is up-in-the-air as of now. There is a lot of unproven talent at the five spot and the staff is going to have to get creative with lineups to keep everyone with fresh legs. We might see the occasional minutes with Jakimovski or DJ Rodman at the five with some switch-everything units. However, there are some young players with major upside who could factor into the rotation early.

Adrame Diongue is the top domestic recruit for WSU in the 2022 class and he will likely provide early minutes off the bench for the Cougs. His length and athleticism will make him a major defensive asset, but his thin frame might be a bit of a hindrance to his defense in the post. His game on offense is all about dynamism on the roll. He can finish above the rim on lobs and operate in the short-roll as a passer. If he can handle a little bit in the short-roll and hit some simple post-moves, he could be a real weapon on offense. You can read more about Diongue’s upside here.

His offensive fit with Gueye will be the real test for how many minutes he can play. If one of the two can shoot or they can operate together in dual-post sets, then that will open up more minutes for him. An interesting question will be how well he can switch on defense. His rim-protection projects to be solidly above average, but movement skills make projecting some versatility possible and that could allow for him and Gueye to make an interesting duo at the big spots. Diongue could potentially start if the staff wants to go two bigs, but he is more likely to be a top bench option in the rotation.

Mael Hamon-Crespin is someone who I projected as a low-minute player when he was first signed, but with the absence of Jackson, he could be forced to step into a bigger role and play meaningful minutes. His offensive skillset as a passer, shooter, and post-scorer are the main selling points, but his size and strength might be what earn him significant minutes. For more on Crespin’s skillset, read here.

DJ Rodman is perhaps the most underdiscussed rotation player and potential starter on the roster. While starting is unlikely, expect him to play meaningful minutes throughout the season. His defense and hustle bring a lot of value at the forward spot. If he can regain the jumper he had his sophomore season, then he could provide a lot of value on both ends. Rodman is almost exclusively a four under this roster construction, with maybe some spare minutes at the three if the team requires it.

Carlos Rosario has not played much in during his two seasons in Pullman, but we might see him crack the rotation if he impresses in early minutes during non-conference games. He has length and solid lateral athleticism for his size, but finding an offensive role is the major question. His jumper has been inconsistent, and without it, he is difficult to compensate for on that end. His defense could prove valuable in specific matchups and he is worth monitoring going forward.

Projected Starters

  • Justin Powell (wing)
  • Jabe Mullins (wing)
  • TJ Bamba (wing)
  • Andrej Jakimovski (wing)
  • Mouhamed Gueye (forward)

Key Reserves

  • Dylan Darling (guard)
  • DJ Rodman (wing)
  • Adrame Diongue (forward)

Deeper Rotation

  • Kymany Houisnsou (wing)
  • Carlos Rosario (wing)
  • Mael Hamon-Crespin (forward)

Overall, this is a deep rotation, but one with some questions still to be answered. There will likely be some experimentation in the non-conference games, but there is only so much room to do that with the tougher non-conference load. The talent is almost overwhelming though, and it is the type of thing we are simply not used to seeing in the Palouse. The excitement for WSU basketball is palpable and this rotation is a big reason why.

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