The Cougs look to bounce back after a frustrating loss to Boise State with a road win against the Prairie View A&M Panthers on Tuesday. The game is part of the Pac-12/SWAC challenge, which is meant to highlight the important history of HBCUs to a broader audience.
The game tips off at 4:00pm PST and can be watched on Pac-12 Network or ESPN+.
Last season, WSU opened their season against the SWAC’s best team in Alcorn State, so facing Prairie View should be less of a challenge. However, it is clear this WSU squad is going through growing pains as it is a mostly new roster. Figuring out how everyone fits together, where the depth comes from, and who will be the primary offensive engine are all goals for this early-season stretch. Most of these goals are yet to be achieved, but they will need to be figured out soon as the schedule only gets tougher from here. A nice road win against PVAMU would be a good start to building that much needed momentum.
Prairie View A&M Panthers
The Panthers are hard to get an early feel for this season because they are yet to play any real competition. Their first two games were comfortable wins over non-Division 1 teams and WSU will be their first real test this season. Looking back at last season, the PVAMU ranked 281st in KenPom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. The Panther’s offensive struggles were mostly related to their turnovers and lack of inside scoring, as they ranked 355th in turnover rate and 294th in two-point percentage. Their best offensive traits were their offensive rebounding and their ability to get to the line. They ranked 62nd in offensive rebound rate and 12th in free throw rate, showing that they could get dirty buckets to help cover up their inefficiencies. PVAMU was also a respectable shooting team last season, but lost two of its best shooters to graduation and they replaced them with mostly non-shooters, so that will likely see a drop this year. The Panthers also like to play fast, as they ranked 87th in average possession length last season.
PVAMU’s go-to offense is a modified horns set-up. They run two bigs a lot and their sets reflect that. Here, the first big sets a screen and they set up a chest play with the other big. Simple actions like this are meant to get their athletic drivers downhill and open up the floor for playmaking out of drives.
One of the Panthers’ early-season games was against a team that played a lot of zone, which is instructive as the Cougs will likely zone up at some point during the game. Here, they look like they are about to set a stagger screen against the top line of the zone, but the second screener slips and looks to get into post position. Their goal against zones is to create isolations in the post or for drivers, knowing that the help will overload and lead to open looks.
They also run simple high-low actions against zones. Looking to enter the ball to soft, middle area of the zone and make plays from there.
The Panthers crash the glass hard and WSU will need to be diligent when it comes to defensive rebounding. PVAMU will often send four or even five players to the glass, with bigs looking to get into box-out position early and guards crashing hard from the wings to get rebounds and put the ball back up.
Finally, Prairie View is going to get out and run the break whenever they can. Its whole goal on defense is to get open runways to the basket in transition. The Panthers don’t tend to shoot many transition threes, preferring to drive hard downhill and get the board if there is a miss.
PVAMU is not a great defensive group, but an aggressive one. It ranked 260th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency last season, but managed to rank 50th in opponent turnover rate and 34th in steal rate. The Panthers are aggressive in trying to create live-ball turnovers and they will certainly test WSU’s ball-handlers. The tradeoffs to this aggressiveness are obvious statistically, as they ranked 352nd in defensive rebound rate, 355th in opponent free throw rate, and 7th in average opponent possession length. They tend to speed their opponents up, often because their aggressiveness leads the backline open for hit ahead passes and getting so far out on the floor to trap and create turnovers leaves few back to get defensive rebounds.
In an effort to create turnovers, Prairie View will trap most ball-screens. Whether it be on a weakside or in the middle of the floor, PVAMU will double ball-handlers and force opponents to move the ball quickly to avoid turnovers. This is notably different than a normal hard hedge, like Texas State ran, because the big getting out on the floor is not trying to recover back to his man. Instead, they will switch onto a perimeter player and the defense will enter a scramble.
The Panthers will also run a trap press, looking to get opposing ball-handlers stuck on a side of the floor. This is effective both at creating turnovers and speeding teams up. While open shots can be found out against this press, it is hard to set-up an offense against constant traps like this.
The traps can often turn into weird two-on-one scenarios where the backline of the defense zones up and two players are mirroring the ball-handler above the break. These weird limbo moments can be exploited by great ball-handlers and passers, especially if a team has solid shooters that can’t be left open.
PVAMU is also aggressive in isolation defense. The Panthers will try to get into an opponent’s handle and strip them without even needing a trap. This leads to a lot of reach-in fouls, but it can also be an effective way to combat a size disadvantage. WSU has a weakness in terms of elite ball-handling and there could be some frustrating turnovers in this game.
Finally, despite its low-major status, PVAMU is no slouch athletically. The Panthers play small but they are athletic up and down the roster. They combine that athleticism with major playmaking aptitude and a goal of wreaking havoc.
Players to Watch:
William Douglas is the Panthers’ best all-around player. The 6’5, 6th year senior is a do-it-all wing type who can hit shots, create for himself in the post and on drives, and make plays for others. His athleticism shines at all times and PVAMU will run a lot of sets to get him looks.
Hegel Augustin is the Panthers’ 6th man and he brings an impressive jolt of athleticism off the bench. He is an interesting player, as he is only 6’3 but his game is that of a forward. He is a driver and finisher who hits the glass hard. He doesn’t shoot or create for others at a high level, but he finds ways to be valuable nonetheless.
Jeremiah Gambrell, Jr. is PVAMU’s starting point guard and he brings a steady hand at the point alongside impressive athletic pop. He has struggled some with shooting efficiency, but he has a knack for hitting big shots and he is trusted to set up and run the offense for the Panthers. The 5th year senior brings a lot of experience to the PG spot.
Players to Watch
TJ Bamba was the lone bright spot for the Cougs against Boise State. He put up an efficient 24 points, a block, a steal, and seven rebounds. However, the struggle for Bamba has been his passing. He had no assists and four turnovers, which made it hard for WSU to consistently take advantage of his rim pressure. He is the only player in this starting lineup who can get to the rim with ease and getting to a point where he can make more simple reads for others is vital for this offense to reach their ceiling. He has flashed some pick-and-roll passing chops before, but they have not taken a step forward so far this season. PVAMU’s aggressive defense will force Bamba to make quick reads and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts.
Mouhamed Gueye struggled more than expected against Boise State. He looked outmatched when trying to score in the post, the impressive passing we saw against Texas State was absent, and his defense left a lot to be desired as well. The defense will iron itself out as he gets more used to playing the five rather than the four, but the offense will require some tweaks from the young big. His ball-handling has seemed unconfident and he settles for jumpers when he has the athletic advantage too often. Being more aggressive as a driver would make WSU’s offensive sets much more effective.
Carlos Rosario has been the 6th man for the Cougs so far this year. He is sometimes erratic, especially on defense, but he has looked competent as a driver on offense and the shot looks far from broken. The main question for Rosario is what role he is actually going to play off the bench long-term. Is he a wing or is he the primary back-up big? He has looked solid playing that wing spot, aside from giving up some back-cuts on defense, but his play at the five has been less encouraging and his skillset is ill-suited for that role. Some of his role has come via necessity, but seeing him play his natural position has been great and he could carve out a nice role on the wing if he is put into spots to succeed.
What to Watch For:
Improving efficiency is the biggest overall key for the Cougs in this game. As simple as it sounds, the reason the Cougs lost against Boise State is mostly because they didn’t hit shots. There were obvious issues with the rim pressure and the passing, but this is a team that relies on shooting to win. Jabe Mullins was 2 of 9 from the field and 1 of 5 from deep, DJ Rodman went 0 of 5 from three, Justin Powell went 3 of 11 from the field and 1 of 5 from deep, and even Gueye struggled to hit shots, going 4 of 11 from the field. The Cougs are not an offense that can overcome outlier bad shooting nights and still be efficient and that showed against the Broncos. Luckily, that showing was outlier bad and this team will shoot much better than that most nights. It will be interesting to monitor Mullins’s and Rodman’s efficiency in particular as they are a bit less proven, but Powell is a known sniper who will improve and the other player on this roster should shoot better than they did against the Broncos.
The offensive play calling has been varied to start the season and it feels like the Cougs are still trying to find their niche on that end. Against BSU, they went to a lot of chest actions; entering the ball to Gueye at the high-post and screening away from there. This is a set that makes sense with this roster theoretically, but it looked rough against the Broncos. The first game was much more pick-and-roll heavy, with snappy ball movement leading to open shots or advantaged drives. What WSU goes to against this aggressive PVAMU defense will be telling for how our staff views the offense going forward.
Question of the Game:
Will the Cougs score more points from inside or outside of the arc?