Washington State’s men’s basketball season starts with a home game against the Sun Belt’s Texas State. The Bobcats are entering their third season under Terrence Johnson and they are looking to replicate the impressive success they found in their first two season. They finished first in the Sun Belt both of those last two seasons, but they fell short of March glory due to struggles in the Sun Belt tournament. This team is no slouch and they bring a lot of competence to Pullman.
The Cougs look to start their season right with a heavy dose of contributions from returners and newcomers alike. They will have an obvious size advantage and their shooting should give them an offensive boost above the Bobcats. It will be interesting to monitor the rotation in this one, as there is likely to be some experimentation with early season games such as this. WSU looks to start off the season strongly at home, but they will have to avoid underestimating a solid Texas State squad.
The game is tips off 4:30 p.m. PT at Beasley Coliseum and can be watched on the Pac-12 Network.
Texas State was a solid, but not elite, offense last season. They ranked 120th in Kenpom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and it was thanks mostly to a well-balanced showing in just about every aspect on that end. They were solidly efficient (51% effective field goal percentage), hit the offensive glass hard (87th in the country), and they got to the line at a good clip (97th in free throw rate). The Bobcats’ offense is slow paced and deliberate, similar to WSU’s offense. They ranked 335th in Adjusted Tempo last season, even slower than the likes of Cal. Despite forcing a lot of turnovers, they rarely got out and ran the fastbreak, instead preferring to slow down and get into their offense. This is not a team that shoots a lot of threes (330th in three-point rate), but they were impressively efficient last season. Texas State’s biggest offensive weakness is their turnovers. They were 210th in turnover rate last season. WSU could exploit that weakness, especially with their greater size and length.
Texas State has a couple of base offensive sets that they play out of. One of those sets is horns. Horns is simply where two players set-up at the elbows and the team plays from there. There are a lot of options out of this set, such as the guard passing to one of the players on the elbow or the guard coming off a screen at the elbow. Here, they clear a side and run a sloppy looking screen play.
This horns set is much cleaner, as the guard enters the ball into the big at the elbow, then runs to the block and runs off a well-set pindown screen. This results in an excellent look and there are solid options even when well defended.
The Bobcats also like to play out of pistol sets. Pistol is where two guards meet on the wing, usually with a ball exchange. This, once again, is a set with a lot of optionality out of it and it tends to encourage a lot of freedom and decision-making. Here, a big sets a down screen which then sets up a guard-guard pindown into a dribble handoff.
Here, the pistol sets up a swing at the top of key, which results in a well-spaced middle ball-screen. Pistol is great at getting teams into proper spacing organically, which opens a lot up for guards running pick-and-roll.
Texas State also likes to let their guards run a lot of pick-and-roll. They will get into these sets out of all sorts of alignments, but the end result is often a screen and a certain spacing pattern. Here, they run an empty side pick-and-roll with three players bunched up on the strong side. The goal here is to get enough space for a pocket pass to open up or for someone to pull to the top of the key and get an advantage off of that.
When not in a specific set, Texas State defaults to a drive and kick offense. They trust their guards to create an advantage without a screen, draw help, and make a good read out of that drive. They tend to play three guards at a time and this helps them execute this dribble drive offense effectively.
Texas State is a well-above average offensive rebounding team and their diligence on the glass opens up a lot for them. They tend to get a lot of putbacks, but they will also kick the ball out and reset their offense. Their deliberate pace gives them options off of o-boards.
The Bobcats were an average defense last season, and they project to remain around that level this year. They ranked 171st in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency and they rely a lot on forcing turnovers. They were 26th in the country in opponents’ turnover percentage and they were an even more impressive 5th in forcing non-steal turnovers. Other than turnovers, though, there is not much to like about their defense. A lot of their issues come back to their lack of size up and down the roster. This team plays small a lot, with a 5’9 PG, undersized wings, and no-one on the roster above 6’9. This allows teams to hit the offensive glass hard — they ranked 231st in defensive rebound rate — and it forces their bigs to foul on drives more: They ranked 280th in opponent free throw rate. The Cougs should have a major size advantage that they should be able to exploit on offense.
Texas State is going to hard hedge most ball screens, looking to get the ball out of the hands of a playmaker without allowing them to get downhill. Their frontcourt is small and doesn’t protect the rim particularly well, so they want to keep drivers from getting to the rim out of pick-and-roll at all.
The Bobcats are also incredibly aggressive in help defense, again trying to prevent easy attempts at the rim. They will often swarm drivers with three or four defenders in the paint to cut off drives. This can lead to open shooters or back-cuts, but it helps to prevent driving layups from the perimeter.
Texas State’s biggest weakness on defense is their size and it showed up whenever they had to play a team with a dominant big-man scorer. Opposing bigs would get position with ease and they could get off simple looks with virtually no contest at the rim. This bodes incredibly well for WSU’s stable of big-men.
Texas State’s greatest strength is their ability to punish mistakes by getting turnovers. Bad passes will usually be picked off and loose handles will be dug into. They are aggressive and effective when trying to force turnovers.
Players to Watch:
Mason Harrell is the preseason Sun Belt player of the year despite his stature at 5’9. The super senior is a true point guard who excels at making plays for others. Harrell is an efficient scorer, but his preferred mindset is to make plays for others. He will run a lot of pick-and-roll with the goal of breaking the paint and forcing the defense to rotate.
Elijah Kennedy is a transfer from Florida who was a high three-star recruit out of high school. He is a solid athlete and defender who will likely be guarding at the point of attack for the Bobcats. He could be asked to step into a primary scorer role with the departure of Caleb Asberry.
Davion Sykes is a fun freshman wing from Duncanville. Duncanville is a high school basketball powerhouse, and Sykes was a solid recruiting win for the Bobcats. He is an explosive athlete off his left leg both as a driver and a finisher. The jumper is solidly projectable as well and he could play early minutes despite his youth.
Washington State Cougars
Players to Watch
TJ Bamba is, potentially, the Cougs’ most important player this season. He is one of the three “certain starters” and likely the best advantage creator in the starting lineup. Along with his offensive importance, Bamba will also lead the charge on defense by guarding the point of attack. He is probably going to be asked to guard Harrell as well as be a focal point as a scorer. This is a good matchup for Bamba as he has a size advantage and Texas State lacks the rim protection to rattle him on his drives. It will be important to monitor his aggressiveness because he has never been empowered to be a primary scorer before, but Bamba could be in for a big start to the season.
Justin Powell was the most important offseason addition for the Cougs and monitoring his play early is vital. There are a lot of questions surrounding Powell because his past roles looked different from what the Cougs will be asking of him. This is an advantageous matchup for him to find his rhythm as a scorer and passer. The most important thing to monitor will be how often and how effectively he runs the pick-and-roll as that will determine his long-term upside with this team.
Mouhamed Gueye is the de facto star for this team and he is in an excellent spot to start the season off with a bang. He will be the biggest and most athletic player on the floor at all times. His rim protection will be vital as Texas State loves to get downhill and finish, but he will also get the chance to score against smaller players in the post and hopefully he’ll excel in that area. Gueye struggled in the post last season, but he has the tools to be elite down there and this is a great matchup for him to cut his teeth against.
What to Watch For:
Who wins the turnover battle is a major question in this game and it might be the difference between winning and losing. Both teams are solid at wreaking havoc and forcing turnovers, even if neither are usually getting out on the break after these turnovers. WSU’s lack of a true point guard leads to some worry here, as Texas State could exploit that to force an inordinate number of turnovers and get those extra possessions. However, WSU does have the size advantage and they should be able to get into the passing lanes a little better. Whoever gets the edge on turnovers will have an advantage in the game as a whole.
Who runs point has been a question facing the Cougs all offseason and it is still yet to be confidently answered. We will certainly see a lot of point guard by committee, but who gets the majority of pick-and-roll touches and who makes the highest volume of reads are both vital questions that Kyle Smith and staff will need to answer. This game will give a peak into the staff’s thinking regarding the backcourt and it will likely be informative to them as well because nothing is more illuminative than live game reps.
Question of the Game:
Will Mouhamed Gueye hit a three?