The Washington State Cougars are on a three-game win streak and look to take that stretch of play to California on the road. This is the best the Cougs have looked since the beginning of the season, and it is the right time to get hot. As the Cougs make the push for the postseason, they will need to scrape out some conference wins against teams like Stanford.
The game is at 6 p.m. PT from Stanford and can be watched on Pac-12 Network and Pac-12.com (with a cable subscription).
The Cardinal are an interesting opponent and one that has gotten the best of the Cougs already this season — and also over the years, where the Cardinal have won 10 of the last 11 matchups. When Stanford came to Pullman, the Cougs fell victim to a 12-minute scoring draught that ultimately led to their downfall. Can the Cougs avoid another disappointment and get the win on the road?
The Cardinal are a solid, but not great offense. They are the 125th ranked offense in the nation according to Kenpom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, but they have been the 10th best in the Pac-12 during conference games. They really struggle with turning the ball over, ranking 346th in the nation in turnover percentage. However, they do attack the offensive glass and get to the line quite a bit, which helps carry them through cold stretches. They also don’t take many threes, 210th in three-point attempts to field goal attempts, but they do shoot well from out there- 34.1%. Overall, the Cardinal are a beatable offense, but they tend to get the job done.
Stanford’s most effective offense against the Cougs in their last match-up was simple spread pick-and-roll. They’d let Harrison Ingram control the pace and find the open man out of high ball screens and it helped them get a lot of easy looks, especially when WSU was soft catching these screens.
Brandon Angel absolutely cooked the Cougs and a lot of that was how many quick hitter plays the Cardinal ran for him. This is a simple cross screen to a post-up, but it works, and Stanford gets an easy bucket. Maybe a switch could have stopped this, but the cross screen is well set, and the play is gotten into quickly.
The Cougs just struggled to guard the pick-and-roll and there were some bad breakdowns, especially during the major offensive draught the Cougs were on. It just looked like the energy was nonexistent for WSU and the Cardinal got a lot of good looks out of high pick-and-roll.
Stanford runs some chin plays and this is because they really trust their bigs to playmake. Here, James Keefe gets the ball above the arc, everything is well spaced, and he gets an easy rip drive to the rack.
These chin sets start as horns sets like this one and can be run as more traditional horns plays. Here, they end up trying to run a clear side dribble hand-off, but when Jaden Delaire is on the perimeter, it makes the spacing wonky and allows WSU to load up their defense in the paint.
This is a well-run play that helps get Stanford the types of looks they want. This is a north screen, but it’s out of the corner instead of from the wing and that leads to an easier entry pass for a post-up. North screens are where a big screens for the ball-handler, then rolls to the block, simultaneously, someone on the block sprints to the spot where the screen was set in the hopes of getting open.
They like to run a specific out of bounds play that constitute a chin look as well. It is a simple dribble over and back-cut and the Cougs were ready for it in the last game.
Stanford also ran a few post plays and isolations for players like Delaire and Harrison Ingram. Ingram was able to use his strength on smaller players to get buckets in the post.
Stanford’s defense is their real strength. They are 55th in the country according to Kenpom’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency and they rank 7th in the Pac-12 during conference games. Some of this seems to be luck though, especially when looking at Kenpom’s four factors. The only factor they are truly great in is defensive rebounding (8th in the country in opponent offensive rebound rate), but they do not force a ton of turnovers and they foul at about an average rate. The biggest contributing factors to their defense are poor opponent shooting from three and the free throw line. These factors are generally considered luck-based, and these numbers have started to even out a bit in Pac-12 play. Stanford is a solid defense, but they are an exploitable one.
Stanford’s go-to ball screen coverage is a soft catch with a hard tag off of the weakside corner. TJ Bamba’s man, Michael O’Connell, is all the way in the middle of the paint as the screen is set, which leaves Bamba wide-open in the corner. This is a shot the Cougs need to knock down to beat Stanford.
This aggressive help does sometimes give up threes, but it also stymies a lot of drives that would lead to layups. Here, the help ruins three different drive attempts from the Cougs despite leaving Michael Flowers open on the wing.
Stanford’s defense does have impressive moments. This is an awesome defensive possession, where everyone is moving on a string, the soft-catch is well executed, and the Cougs are forced to take a really difficult shot.
The Stanford soft catch does give up some pocket passes if the big hits the whole right. Flowers perfectly executes the hesitation dribble to freeze the big and passes the ball to Mouhamed Gueye. Notice that O’Connell is deep in help though and he uses his charge-taking ability as a form of rim protection. Gueye and Efe Abogidi might have to slow down and be willing to make that short roll pass to the open man in the corner. Either way, the Cougs should be able to get good looks out of this high ball-screen.
The Stanford over-help also exists for scripted off-ball movement. The Cardinal guard this double back-cut with three people and Andrej Jakimovski gets a wide-open look that he usually knocks down.
If the Cougs are knocking down shots, they are going to get good looks. The Cardinal’s first priority is always the rim and they even stunt in the post one pass away. Abogidi makes the right read and the Cougs get a good look from deep.
Players to Watch:
Brandon Angel is one of a few 6’8, versatile wings on the Stanford roster who are likely to get a shot at the NBA someday. Angel killed the Cougs in Pullman because the shot was falling, and he was comfortable using his size. He is an inconsistent shooter, but he knocks down open shots, can finish at the rim, moves the ball, and he can play defense.
Spencer Jones is one of the weirdest college players I’ve ever scouted. He had a chance to leave for the NBA after his freshman season, where he shot 43% from deep as a 6’7 wing. However, he has not come close to that level of marksmanship since. Still, he is a confident shooter, and his size is tough for the Cougs to guard.
Washington State Cougars
Players to Watch:
Mouhamed Gueye had his best game of the year against Stanford. He was clearly the most athletic player on the floor, and he used that to his advantage on both ends. The Cougs were also purposeful about getting him good looks on the roll. He should get similar looks in this one if the Cougs are just as purposeful about running plays for him. He also had the play of the year for the Cougs with this huge dunk on Jaden Delaire.
Andrej Jakimovski is someone I have mentioned in every single one of these recently, and it is for good reason. His shooting from deep has been almost unimaginable and he is beginning to look like one of the best shooters in the Pac-12. His ability to hit shots off-movement has been huge and he opens ups so much for our guards and bigs in the pick-and-roll. He did not have a good game against Stanford in the last one, but he is hitting his stride and primed for another huge one when the Cougs need him most.
Noah Williams has struggled to find his offensive rhythm all season. The jumper improvements from last season have not seemed to stick and it seems to have been frustrating him. He is not seeing the floor and passing as well as he has in the past either. With his usage, these struggles have been difficult on the whole offense. During the three-game win streak, he has played a little bit more in the flow of the offense, but the Cougs still need him to really hit his stride for them to reach their offensive ceiling.
Tyrell Roberts has started to fill his role as a secondary playmaker a lot more effectively in the last few games. He will never be the most efficient two-point scorer, but he can get into the paint, draw help, and make plays. His shooting from deep has also started to hit a stride, mostly because he is playing off-ball a lot more and getting more open looks off movement. The Cougs ran specific plays for him to get looks from behind the arc, including this Valpo run to perfection.
What to Watch For:
Knocking down the three has been huge for the Cougs in these past three games. WSU missed a lot of open looks the first time they played the Cardinal, but the Cougs have started hitting those looks a lot more consistently. A big part of this is just how much we trust Jakimovski and Roberts to knock down looks off movement. Hitting those shots will keep the WSU offense flowing and hopefully keep them from another game losing drought.
Willing passing has also been huge for the offense in recent games. The ball feels less sticky with the team now than it did in the lowest moments of the season. The team trusts each other, knows the offense, and they are consistently getting good looks. Continuing this ball-movement will be big come game time in Stanford.
Question of the Game:
Can the Cougs avoid a major scoring drought?