The Washington State Cougars are coming off of a few disappointing losses, but they are in a spot to turn their season around against Eastern Washington. The Eagles got the best of WSU in Beasley last season, but their roster has changed just as much as WSU’s, and they are looking to turn their season around as well.
The Eagles are 1-3 so far this season. They started their season with a solid performance against a good Santa Clara team, but then they lost by double digits to middling teams in Yale and Hawaii. Their one win was an 8-point defeat of Kenpom’s 361st ranked team in Mississippi Valley State. The Eagles have some talent, but they are vulnerable and they feel like the type of team WSU can get right against.
The game will tipoff at 6 p.m. at the Spokane Arena. If you’re in the Spokane area, it can be watched on SWX or streamed here; if you’re outside the Spokane area, you’ll need an ESPN+ subscription.
Eastern Washington Eagles
Eastern Washington’s offense is off to a slow start this season, mostly due to their disappointing three-point shooting, but they were an effective offense last season and they could definitely blow up for big performances. So far this season, the Eagles rank 231st in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, mostly due to their 26.5% three-point percentage and their 23.4% turnover rate. Last season, they ranked 50th in three-point shooting at 36.2% and that explains the major disparity in their overall offensive efficiency. The biggest issue has just been their best, most efficient three-point shooters shooting poorly to start the season. Despite their struggles, they are still a deadly offense who can go off with a hot shooting game.
The Eagles run a lot of their offense out of chest sets, much like WSU. They tend to flow into their chest plays a bit quicker, with the big catching the ball higher and the actions off of the play being more varied. Here, they set-up a low pindown on the opposite side.
This play looks a lot like a WSU possession, where the initial reaction doesn’t create much so they reverse the floor and run another chest set. This is the type of shot that EWU’s wings can hit and they can also use the dribble handoff to run a middle pick-and-roll.
The Eagles love these dribble handoff actions in the middle of the floor. It is similar to a pick-and-roll, but it is easier to create an advantage because the ball-handler gets to run into screen rather than entering it at a standstill. Teams will chase most of their players hard over the screen to avoid the three-point shot and that allows them to get downhill and make plays.
Eastern will also run sets to create three-point jumpers for their best shooters. This is a double pindown- or headpat-run towards the top of the key. This creates solid looks from deep for them and it is just one of many sets they will run to open up three-point shots.
The Eagles will also look for post isolations for their bigs as well. Ethan Price and Dane Erikstrup are both solid post-scorers and Eastern will clear out sides, have their bigs run the floor hard, or run cross screen actions in an effort to post-ups.
EWU’s bigs are aggressive and consistent when the play is for them to get a post hit. They will rarely get out and flow into different actions if the first post hit isn’t there. Instead, the big will continue fighting for position.
The Eagles have rarely been noted for their defense, even in their best seasons in recent memory. They are generally offensively tilted with their defense relying mostly on the fact that they play big at the guard spots and overwhelm opposing guards. So far this season, the Eagles rank 248th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. They are a great rebounding team- ranking 76th in defensive rebounding rate- and their rim protection has been solid as well- ranking 50th in opponent two-point percentage. Their biggest issues are that they don’t force any turnovers- 286th in turnover rate- and they let opponents get a lot of open looks from deep- 275th in opponent three-point percentage.
Eastern Washington will hard hedge a lot of screens and they are quick to switch all over the court. They play a starting lineup of mostly like-sized players who can all switch. They will try to recover with their bigs, but they are comfortable peel-switching on a drive in an effort to negate an advantage.
EWU’s switching will lead to some mismatches, whether it be in the post or with less athletic players guarding downhill drivers. They tend to switch under rather than switch aggressively, meaning that the person guarding the ball will get below the screen on a switch. This will allow for open pull-ups sitting behind a screen, but it helps the Eagles prevent open drives.
The Eagles will also occasionally be aggressive with doubling in the post. If they are giving up a size advantage, they will double at a timely moment trying to force a kickout. They rarely force turnovers but they will force offensive players into more difficult shots.
The Eagles will occasionally switch everything, especially if they are trying to prevent threes. They will still switch under on screens but the big will step up higher to prevent pull-ups.
Players to Watch:
Steele Venters has had a slow start to the season, but he proved to be the Eagles best player last season averaging 16.7 points and 2.2 assists a game. He is an elite shooter who can hit threes off tough movement or off the dribble. He will also get busy in the mid-range, hitting tough turnarounds and pull-ups when the team needs a bucket.
Angelo Allegri is the team’s leading scorer through their first four games. The 6’7 wing is a solid shooter, driver, and defender who can make some plays for others at time. His versatility is impressive and the Eagles have leaned on him with their other transfers struggling to acclimate.
Deon Stroud is a transfer from Fresno State who brings athleticism and shift to the guard spot. The 6’5 guard has had some efficiency struggles to start the season, but he is prone to highlight plays and he could have a big game with WSU’s issues at the point of attack. He is an excellent fit within Eastern’s offense and he is due for a big game sooner or later.
Washington State Cougars
Players to Watch
Mouhamed Gueye has had a rough start to the season, but he is still WSU’s superstar and they will need him to take a step forward. His defense will be particularly important to monitor, as EWU runs most their actions through their post and he will be involved in almost all the defensive actions. Offensively, if WSU keeps running chest through him, he should attack with his athletic advantage over the opposing bigs. It should also be a focus of WSU’s guards to create for him a bit more in pick-and-roll rather than settling for quick kickouts.
Dylan Darling impressed a lot in the loss against Prairie View A&M — I made the argument he should start while breaking down WSU’s tough start — and it will be interesting to monitor his usage in this game. EWU does not have a small guard that Darling needs to defend, but that also means they don’t have a small guard who could defend him at the point of attack. Monitoring him as he potentially steps into a bigger role is going to be major for projecting his usage come Pac-12 play.
Justin Powell had an excellent start to the season, but his subsequent performances left a lot to be desired. He was expected to step into the PG role for the Cougs, but he has only a 14% usage through three games. EWU is a great matchup for Powell, as he won’t be guarded by a smaller player who can get into his handle, and he’ll still have a slight size and athleticism advantage. Hopefully he gets some confidence and plays a bigger role, even if it means making some mistakes.
What to Watch For:
Changing the rotation feels like a necessity for the staff at this point. The Cougs’ starters have had major struggles at the guard spot, both at the point of attack on defense and running the pick-and-roll on offense, as well as with protecting the rim in the front court. Changing the starting lineup would be a solid first step, but even if they keep the same five starters, mixing up the rotation and running out more solid lineups is vital for getting this team back on track.
Improved intensity on both sides of the ball is something that every WSU fan wants to see. The team seemed lifeless against PVAMU and they simply got out-efforted by a much less talented team. The Cougs are incredibly talented, perhaps the most talented they have ever been, but being out worked is something that talent can rarely overcome. The solution to this might come from playing the freshmen, who have all shown to play with effort and intensity. This solution will sacrifice some decision-making and shooting, but the team should do whatever it takes to make sure they aren’t getting outrun so consistently.
Question of the Game:
Will the Cougs turn their season around in Spokane?