Your Washington State Cougars head to Northern California for a road trip against the bottom of the Pac-12. Their first game is against Stanford, who almost beat the Cougs in Beasley on January 14th. Granted, the last matchup was without TJ Bamba, but the Cardinal played well regardless, and were a last-second shot away from winning the game. Stanford has pulled off some huge wins at home this season, beating both Oregon and Arizona in Maples. WSU will need to be on their A-game to avoid disappointment.
The game tips off at 8 PM PST and can be watched on the Pac-12 Network.
Stanford is a good offense despite their overall record. They rank 56th in Kenpom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and 5th in the conference in the same stat. The Cardinal only scored 59 points in the last meeting between these two teams, but that was mostly because it was a low-possession game. They shot 22-51 from the field and 7-18 from deep, consistently generating solid shots and converting them. They have been the top shooting team in the Pac-12 during conference play, ranking 2nd in three-point attempt rate and knocking down 35.6% of them. They are also a good inside-the-arc scoring team, 4th in two-point percentage, and they get on the glass well- 2nd in offensive rebound rate. Their biggest issue is that they don’t have many downhill drivers who can get to the line -11th in free throw rate- and they turn the ball over a good amount, 7th in turnover rate. Overall, Stanford can be an explosive offense at times and the Cougs will need to at their top of their defensive game to survive.
Stanford’s go-to offensive set is a relatively new one, referred to as a zoom exit. It is explained well here by the great Jordan Sperber.
Oral Roberts zoom exit— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) February 23, 2023
Probably the two trendiest actions in the game right now pic.twitter.com/4hEZR5cnyW
In comparison to that video, Stanford is far less aggressive hunting that over the top pass and thus the play is slightly less effective. The set-up is the same, but the outcome is far different because Harrison Ingram does not make the schemed read.
WSU still looked to bring their big up to the level of the screen to guard this, which had some effectiveness because of Gueye’s ability, but it leaves the backside of the defense vulnerable to rolling bigs and offensive rebounds.
When guarded well, this play usually gets turned into a normal middle ball-screen or rescreen. Stanford’s point guards are rarely looking to bomb these threes behind the handoff, so defenders can go under the handoff and recover without getting beat by the lob over the top.
If WSU decides to mix it up and drop their big, then the most important thing is that they don’t let the roll-man get behind them and the guard recovers to the driver. The biggest issue with dropping the big is that WSU’s bigs are not the best rim-protectors in a drop, but it could work as a counter to the zoom exit.
Jerod Haase pretty deep bag of tricks as an offensive coach and Stanford will mix in plenty of other interesting tricks. Most of their sets are based out of pick-and-roll, but there is almost always something else going on. This is a North screen set, where the roll-man rolls as a shooter pops from the block, which could lead to a jumper, a lob, or a high-low.
Stanford has a bad exploitable defense, but their tactics are somewhat hard to scout. They rank 11th in the conference in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, mostly because they’re the worst three-point defense. They rank 12th in opponent three-point rate, and opponents are shooting 38% from deep against them. Stanford is also bad at protecting the rim, ranking 11th in the conference in opponent two-point percentage. They are alright at forcing turnovers thanks to their size and feel, but they’re a struggling defense, and that should push this game towards the Cougs’ favor.
In the last meeting between these two teams, Stanford switched every ball-screen. This is almost surprising given the fact that they start a 7’2 big, but it does force opponents to win in isolation and make tough passes.
Stanford is great at fronting in the post, and WSU struggled mightily to get entry passes into their bigs down low.
However, their switching forces their low-man to help aggressively to prevent quick slips to the rim. This leaves the corner vulnerable if the ball can skip quickly enough. WSU generated a solid number of corner threes, which ended up being the difference in their last game.
Whenever the ball did get into the post, Stanford was aggressive at doubling. They usually doubled from the top, which made escape passes pretty easy if the rotations on the perimeter weren’t aggressive enough.
Stanford’s aggressive plugs lead to a ton of open shots, which is great for WSU’s offense. The Cougs are first in the conference in three-point attempt rate by 4%, which is a huge distinction. They’re 2nd in the conference in three-point percentage too, so they should be able to run over Stanford’s poor three-point defense with their outside shooting.
Players to Watch
Spencer Jones is probably the most intriguing NBA prospect on Stanford’s roster and his 3-and-D game gives opponents a lot of issues. He excels as a shooter from deep, hitting 37.2% from outside with a majority of those shots being off of movement. He can also score for himself in the post and in transition. He does a little bit of everything as an offensive player while also rotating well, executing the switch-everything scheme on defense.
Brandon Angel is a versatile forward on both ends, and the Cardinal can trust him to create a lot of offense for himself and others out of the post. Stanford runs a lot of post-ups for Angel and Jones, among others, because they’re all skilled scorers who can also pass out to open shooters. Their goal is to force a double and then spray passes out to open shooters.
Maxime Raynaud is an intriguing two-way big with size, movement skills, and the inklings of a legit jumper. The 7’2 Frenchman had a huge game against WSU, putting up an efficient 16 points, shooting 2-4 from deep, and slowing down WSU’s offense when switching out onto the perimeter. He is not someone who can be left open, but his pick-and-pop ability leads to a lot of issues for opposing defenses.
Washington State Cougars
Players to Watch
Mouhamed Gueye had a bit of a rough game in the last meeting between these two teams. He had only 7 points on 3-5 shooting. WSU struggled to get him the ball in the post against switches, and Raynaud’s length gave him trouble in isolation. Gueye has scored 17 or more points in each of the last three games and he was efficient in all of those games. WSU’s offense is at its best when Gueye is the central figure, isoing in the post and running the chest sets. The Cougs should look to get Gueye going as a scorer if they want to maximize their offensive output.
Justin Powell has stepped up into his creator role nicely in the late season, as evidenced by his clutch bucket against Oregon in Pullman. He is not always hunting his own shot, but he has totaled 11 assists over his last 3 games, and he’s efficient while hunting his shot. His pick-and-roll chemistry with Gueye is impressive, but it’s also important that he be able to beat a switch in this game. He had a quiet game against Stanford in their last meeting, but his confidence has grown since last time, and he could be asked to hit some big shots in this one.
Jabe Mullins has solidified himself as WSU’s sixth-man and he has done some nice things down the stretch of this season. His defense and playmaking have taken big enough leaps that they have helped him add value even when he is not getting open looks from behind the arc. He had three steals in the game against Oregon, and he’s had 8 assists over his last three games. He is still guarded as an absolute sniper by opponents, but he’s started leveraging that gravity to make plays for others, which is a nice boost to WSU’s offense.
What to Watch For
Playing through Gueye has been the strategy for WSU all season, but it will be even more important in this matchup. WSU’s chest set has been a great way to put the ball in Gueye’s hands, and let their guard play in advantageous spacing, but it becomes specifically interesting against Stanford’s switching. If Stanford is switching the off-ball screen the way they do the on-ball ones, then the Cougs’ guards will need to be heady, mixing in slips and cuts with their usual dribble handoff set-ups. WSU struggled with Stanford’s switching in the last matchup, but they need to be versatile on offense to consistently generate good looks.
Guarding ball-screens was an issue for WSU in the last meeting between these two teams, and they will need to be tight- both in how the two involved defenders guard the pick-and-roll, and how the help is rotating. Stanford’s zoom exit plays force the Cougs to be versatile on defense because the low-man is involved in the play on the ball, which often makes the help late. WSU usually likes to catch high with their bigs, trying to bait opposing guards to drive downhill out of control or escape dribble and allowing for the defense to recover. However, the zoom exit makes this hard because the high catch is reliant on the low-man being in good help position. WSU might have to mix up their ball screen coverage to avoid giving up easy looks in the paint and beyond the arc.
Question of the Game
Will WSU Mouhamed Gueye score over 15 points?