The excitement around this Washington State team seems to have fully dwindled after a disappointing loss to Arizona State at home. The Cougs won the shot quality battle, but missed far too many open shots and let Arizona State get some good looks down the stretch. However, that game was far from the end of WSU’s season. They are still a top 50 team in kenpom.com and NET, they have some solid wins, and they are at a stretch where they can make some noise before the Pac-12 tournament. That all starts today at Oregon.
The game starts at 6 p.m. PT from Eugene. It can be watched on ESPNU or ESPN+ with a cable subscription.
The Ducks, much like the Cougs, are coming off their most impactful loss of the season. The Ducks were on a four-game win streak prior to their loss against Cal at home. The Ducks are one of the three teams in the race for the fourth seed in the Pac-12, along with WSU and UW. The Cougs have a chance to get that spot firmly because they play those teams twice each over the next two weeks.
The Ducks’ offense is remarkably efficient and effective. They rank 47th in the nation in kenpom.com’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and they are the 3rd best team in the Pac-12 in conference play on a per-possession basis. They rank 60th in effective field goal percentage and that helps indicate that their greatest strength is shot-making. Oregon is full of players who can take and make tough shots and that helps boost their offense in many ways. They also avoid turnovers solidly and their size helps them avoid getting blocked. Dana Altman is one of the best offensive coaches in the nation and he continues that proficiency no matter the talent on the team.
Oregon’s greatest offensive strength is just how effective their off-ball movement and screening is. They sometimes lack spacing, but their constant movement and screening helps make up for that by keeping the defense occupied and putting defenders in disadvantaged situations.
They use their off-ball screens in a schemed way, trying to get a player into a specific spot on the floor. Here, they get Will Richardson a post touch. This isn’t the greatest look because Richardson is going against the bigger Harrison Ingram, but against one of WSU’s small guards, it could be effective.
Oregon doesn’t seem like the highest tempo team if you look at their whole season numbers, but they are second-fastest in the conference during Pac-12 play in average possession length on offense. They like to push when there is not a big back on defense because their guards are all elite finishers.
This pace extends to some early actions when defenses are not fully set. Here, they run a drag screen while there is an empty corner where no one can tag the roller. This allows for a wide-open look at the rim.
Oregon’s offense often ends in isolations, but they tend to be good looks. They will look to hound mismatches and their guards are adept at making slower bigs look silly.
Oregon just has a knack for ruining good defensive possessions. This is good defense, but the offense is just better. Their shot-making is elite and some of their players can catch fire in an instant.
Oregon’s defense is solid in just about every aspect, but they don’t have a major strength on that end. They rank 90th in Kenpom’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency and they are 4th in the conference during Pac-12 play on a per-possession basis. Their greatest defensive strength is that they force a lot of turnovers — they are 57th in the nation in opponent turnover percentage. They do struggle to defensive rebound, ranking 257th in opponent offensive rebound percentage. They also tend to foul quite a bit, especially in Pac-12 play, where they rank 8th in the conference. Overall, the Ducks are a solid defense, but they are somewhat exploitable.
The Ducks have tall, rim-protecting bigs and they drop them to take advantage of their rim-protection. Their bigs are susceptible to space creation if they are out on the floor, so keeping them deep and forcing guards to finish over them is an effective strategy.
However, they will switch screens that involve anyone else. All their wings and guards are somewhat comfortable guarding up and down the lineup and it makes it tough to create advantages against them.
Their rim-protectors, especially Franck Kepnang, are a little overzealous when it comes to blocking shots and it leads to them giving up offensive boards and fouls.
They like to ice their ball-screens on the wings, trying to force the ball-handlers baseline. However, their bigs can be slow-footed and if they are out of position it leads to some easy drives to the rim.
Oregon has one of the most effective pet defensive schemes in the conference with their ¾ court press. They will play all five players high and try to force turnovers and speed teams up. Teams without elite ball-handlers struggle to adjust to this and it gets them out of their offensive rhythm.
The press presents specific problems for the Cougs, who have struggled in games where their offense is sped up and they can’t run through their sets at a deliberate pace.
Players to Watch:
Will Richardson is the best NBA prospect on the Oregon roster, and he is a do-it-all type player. Richardson is big for a guard at 6-foot-5, but he is comfortable playing with and without the ball. He is shooting 43.7% from deep on five attempts a game, putting him up there as one of the best shooters in the Pac-12. He is also an elite passer for his size, especially finding the roll-man in the pick-and-roll. His all-around game makes him one of the best players in the Pac-12 and a potential draft pick this June.
Quincy Guerrier was a player that I expected a big breakout from this season. Many players who leave the constraint of Syracuse find themselves taking major leaps with the extra freedom granted to them on both ends. Guerrier has not quite got there yet, but he still flashes some major upside that he could achieve within the next two years of his eligibility. He is a good ball-handler for a 6-7 forward with some major athletic explosiveness. He can drive by guys and finish above the rim with ease. He could eventually become one of the best players in the Pac-12 if he continues to improve.
N’Faly Dante had a snake bitten first two seasons at Oregon, playing only a combined 18 games and being injured constantly. However, he is healthy now and playing like the most efficient big in the conference. He is shooting 67.3% from the field and averaging almost eight points a game. He is a poor defender, and he has little to no playmaking chops, but his ability to bully players and finish in the paint is immensely impressive.
Eric Williams Jr. is a player with an interesting potential NBA profile as a 3-and-D wing. He averages only 7.6 points per game, but he shoots 37.3% from deep on three attempts a game and he has some great defensive indicators. He is a role player, but one to watch going forward.
Jacob Young is maybe my favorite player on the entire Oregon roster. The younger brother of former Oregon guard Joe Young, Jacob is an elite athlete at 6-2 with some fun shot-making flashes. He gets to the rim at will and he can score there or make passes that create shots for teammates. He is not an efficient player, and he can be baited into taking bad shots, but if he catches fire, he is one of the most fun players in the Pac-12.
Washington State Cougars
Players to Watch:
Teams are always going to look to their captain when coming off a disappointing loss, and Mike Flowers is going to be the guy they look to. Flowers had a bad game against Arizona State, shooting 2-8 from deep and 2-9 from the field. He tallied only two assists and turned it over six times. His lack of steadiness is not something we had seen much prior to the Arizona State loss and it was shocking to see. However, Flowers is a veteran that has had bad games before and bounced back. Looking back through his game logs season over season shows major scoring and passing games coming off most of his poor performances. The Cougs will need one of these bounce-back games in Eugene.
Tyrell Roberts once again had a solid game against Arizona State, continuing his stretch of solid play throughout Pac-12 play. His matchup against Oregon is particularly interesting, as they play small about as much as the Cougs and they have major defensive holes that Roberts could attack. Roberts is lightning quick, and his pull-up has become deadly — he should be able to beat Oregon defenders to his spots to score. However, the one piece of his game that has been inconsistent is his playmaking. He had only one assist in the ASU game, and he has up and down games when it comes to reading the floor. He does not need to be a 10-assist guy, but seeing a slight boost in some passing numbers and making some plays for others against a tilted Oregon defense would go a long way.
Mouhamed Gueye, much like Roberts, has become the picture of consistency. Despite being a young freshman, Gueye has become a guy you can count on for a certain level of production night in and night out. He is almost always sure to get at least eight points, three stock (steals and blocks), and he has also started to cut down on both fouls and turnovers. Another great wrinkle he has added to his game is the three-point shot, shooting 62.5% on eight attempts over the past five games. If the shot is real, Gueye has the makings of a truly devastating two-way force who is likely to get some NBA looks down the stretch of this season.
What to Watch For:
Forcing tough shots is a major key for any team facing Oregon. They are a good, steady offense that generates a lot of good looks with their movement and passing. However, when plays break down and they are forced to make tough shots, they struggle to do that (as any team would). The Cougs have a stifling defense that excels at forcing teams to beat them by taking contested jumpers and driving into our shot-blockers. If the WSU defense is on point, it easy to see how this could work out in the Cougs’ favor.
The Cougs have missed a lot of good looks throughout the season, and it was never more apparent than against Arizona State. Open threes, layups, putbacks, all good shots, but all missed the mark against the Sun Devils. If the Cougs could just take advantage of the good looks they get in their offense, their record would much more closely match their rankings.
WSU has gone to a zone look on defense quite a bit this season, but it has only worked once. It allowed for easy buckets in the ASU game, and it got torched from deep against Arizona. Oregon is exactly the type of team that could pick apart a zone if the Cougs rely on it. They have the interior size, athleticism from cutters, passing around the roster, and the shooting that makes for a deadly combination if a team wants to run zone against them. The Cougs are an elite man defense with size and athleticism; relying on that makes the most sense in this specific game.
Question of the Game:
Will the Cougs shoot above 35% from deep?