The Washington State Cougars officially swept Oregon State on Thursday, and although both games were a bit more painful than expected, a Pac-12 sweep is a Pac-12 sweep. The Cougs are sitting at 10-9 in conference and looking to secure their first over .500 season since the 2007-08 season under Tony Bennett. To achieve that lofty goal, the Cougs will need to beat a solid Oregon Ducks team at home today.
The final game of the season will tip off at 1 p.m. PT from Beasley Coliseum. The game can be watched on CBS or cbssports.com (with a subscription).
The Ducks are one of the most confusing teams in the Pac-12. They have lost 4 of their last 5, including dropping games to Arizona State and Washington, but the win was against UCLA. They have played a lot of good teams close and dropped games to teams they should beat. They are barely hanging onto a bubble spot on the outside edges of the NCAA tournament conversation and a loss to WSU on the road would secure them as outside of the tournament picture. The Cougs have a chance to more or less put the nail in the coffin of the Ducks’ March Madness dreams (barring a deep run in the Pac-12 Tournament, of course).
The Ducks’ offense is one the Cougs are familiar with. Oregon is competent in all of the major categories, despite not being great at anything. They rank 60th in the country in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and they are effective all over the floor. They are most easily noted statistically for their lack of assists — 309th in assist percentage — and this is mostly because they rely a lot on isolation plays to score their buckets. When they played WSU the first time, on February 14, the Cougs held them to their worst effective field goal percentage in any of their wins and their second worst points per possession in any of their wins. If the Cougs force the Ducks into a similar offensive performance, they can put themselves in a place to end senior day on a high note.
Oregon runs a simple offense, but it is effective because their talent is so potent. They do a lot with off-ball screening and cutting, and they have principles designed around the big in the middle using his gravity. This play has some of those principles at work to keep the off-ball defenders occupied.
This play similarly shows off the screening, with a down screen and a pindown setting up the initial action, followed by some timely cuts.
Oregon also runs a lot of early offense looks to try and catch the defense off-guard. Specifically, drag screens on the right wing. Here, they get a post-up out of that action which is another big key to their offense.
Here is another early drag screen, this time on the opposite wing. The off-ball principles are once again at play, with a nice cut setting up the basket.
Oregon will occasionally mix in some more complex sets, like this play where they run a hammer screen to get a shot in the corner. It is not common in their offense, but Oregon has the capability to run more intensive sets to get the shots they want.
Oregon is an above average defense with some major strengths and major weaknesses. They force a lot of turnovers — 94th in opponent turnover percentage — and they contest threes well — 81st in opponent three-point percentage. They do have some weaknesses, specifically allowing offensive rebounds and protecting the rim. They are 284th in opponent offensive rebounding percentage and they are 210th in opponent two-point percentage. The Cougs were able to exploit part of this, grabbing 41% of available offensive rebounds, but they were still inefficient from two despite Oregon’s issues protecting the rim. The Cougs were able to avoid turnovers well despite Oregon’s proficiency at forcing them.
Oregon plays a fairly aggressive pick-and-roll style with their guards. They tend to drop their big deep on defense and chase guards over screens. The Cougs countered this by running their staggered Spain pick-and-roll (which is explained in my WSU offense piece). This puts the ball in the hands of WSU’s wings and forces them to make plays. It worked in generating good looks, but WSU generally failed to convert them.
Oregon switches screens among like-sized players. WSU used this to their advantage too, running this horns twist play with an advantaged matchup for Mike Flowers that allowed him to get downhill.
WSU also tried to be very purposeful about their off-ball sets and spacing. Oregon is not the most active off-ball defense and running sets to keep them occupied and create space makes a lot of sense. The Cougs ran this pindown play that would have created an advantage had TJ Bamba properly caught the ball.
When WSU is intentional about their spacing and off-ball movement, they are able to generate plenty of good looks. More driving lanes open up, more passes are available, and the offense as a whole just looks better. This play here generates a great look and the version of Flowers we have seen recently knocks it down with ease.
The extra spaced floor allows for more to be done with the pick-and-roll too. Here, Flowers draws the attention of two defenders and WSU is spacing out the help, opening up an easy dunk for Efe Abogidi.
Players to Watch:
Will Richardson is the best NBA prospect on the Oregon roster, and he is likely their best all-around player. Richardson is their leading scorer, and he leads the team in assists as well. He has had a tough stretch in their recent skid and the team tends to go where he goes. When Richardson plays well, the Ducks play well.
De’Vion Harmon, a transfer from Oklahoma, is one of the electric guards that make up the Ducks’ backcourt. Harmon is the go-to guy when the Ducks need a tough shot and his ability to create space for jumpers in top of the conference good. He can pull-up on a dime, hit step-backs, and make defenders stumble when trying to guard him. He also loves to push the pace in transition and get himself shots in the open court. He is an incredibly dynamic guard who can do a lot of damage if he gets loose.
N’Faly Dante is one of the most physically intimidating players in the country. The 6’10 big man was once the highest ranked center in his high school class, and he is an absolute force on the interior. He manages to shove opponents out of the way with ease and he can finish inside with the best of them.
Washington State Cougars
Players to Watch:
Efe Abogidi has had an incredible weak thus far and he looks to end it out strongly against the Ducks. He did not put-up crazy scoring games, but he has tallied seven blocks, three steals, and only three fouls in the two games against Oregon State. He also shot 2-3 from deep and 4-4 from the free throw line. His defense has been borderline savant-like and he has quietly put together a great sophomore season. He has 2.5% steal rate and a 9.8% block rate, which are simply monster defensive statistics. He belongs on an All-Pac-12 defensive team and the Cougs will need him to come up huge against the Ducks.
Mouhamed Gueye did not have an eye-popping statistical game on Thursday, but his defense remains incredible. His ability to slide on the perimeter is a game changer for WSU and it will particularly important against the Ducks, who tend to play mobile forwards with ball-handling skills. He will likely be tasked with locking up Quincy Guerrier and he will need to be up to the challenge. On offense, he will get some opportunities on the roll, and he will have to stay composed. Not every finish will be a dunk, he will need to be comfortable finishing over and around contests.
One of Andrej Jakimovski or DJ Rodman will have to step up in this one. The Ducks play an aggressive scheme that forces the ball out of the point guards’ hands and Rodman and Jakimovski were forced into playmaking situations often in the last matchup. The wings will be required to handle these situations with patience as well as space the floor and play good defense. Both players are capable of doing it all, but one will need to step up for the Cougs to pull out the win at home.
TJ Bamba had a career night against Oregon State. He put up 16 points, eight rebounds, shot 50% from deep, and he had the dunk of the year. He was a huge spark plug off the bench and his play on both ends helped energize WSU. The Cougs will need him to keep the energy up in this one, where he will likely have the size advantage on the player guarding him and his finishing is unlikely to be bothered by any elite rim protection. His shooting would be a major boost for WSU too, opening up the floor for the Cougs and allowing the bigs to get good looks down low.
Michael Flowers has been on a stretch that can only be described as incredible in recent games. He came up huge in both games against Oregon State, tallying six total steals, ten assists, eight rebounds, and 41 points. His play as a scorer, his skill as a game manager, and his hustle on both ends popped. When the team looked tired and like they were about to give up, Flowers was there to keep them in it and bring the energy they needed. Oregon represents the final test of the season, and the captain will look to be the first WSU point guard to lead the team to an over .500 record since Derrick Low.
What to Watch For:
Stepping it up defensively is a necessity for WSU in this game. The Cougs have let their elite defense slip in the past couple games as their long schedule has taken its toll, but the Cougs are not going to beat Oregon if they play the type of defense they did against UW and Oregon State. The rim protection has still been stellar, but the holes on the perimeter have been too numerous. They are going to need to tighten up and bring that intensity back if they are going to get the season capping win.
Hitting open shots is something WSU did not do in the last game against Oregon, but it is something they have started to get better at since that loss. The Oregon defense is one that can be exploited, they give up open shots and drives to the rim that the Cougs should be able to take advantage of. If the Cougs knock down those shots, they will be in the driver’s seat in Pullman.
Executing down the stretch is another huge key for WSU in this one. They are probably not going to blow Oregon out and putting it together in close games is something WSU still has not done at a high level this season. If they beat Oregon, it will be because they put things together and run things correctly at the end of the game. The ball will almost certainly be in the hands of Flowers, but everyone on the floor will have to run the plays to perfection and knock down the shots they generate.
Question of the Game:
Will the Cougs finish above .500 in conference for the first time in 14 years?