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Afterglow of Hardwood win tempered by a loss

Posted by Jeff Nusser on December 22, 2007

Sorry it took a couple of days to get to the postgame breakdown — while on vacation on the west side of the mountains, I’m kind of at the mercy of whose house I happen to be at as my wife and I take our 9-month-old son on his whirlwind tour of the South Sound.

Rather than rehash the blowout — which really didn’t tell us a whole lot about where this team is at — let’s pass along the bit of news that many seem to have already gotten: Daven Harmeling will be out at least a month with a broken thumb on his right (shooting) hand.

This is bad for a number of reasons. One is that of all the guys who needed to figure out a way to get it going, Harmeling was No. 1 — and that’s going to be tough to do with a cast on his shooting hand. Another problem is that this messes with what already was a short rotation for Tony Bennett.

I had planned on doing a full post on the rotation leading into the Pac-10 schedule, but given this recent development, now seems like as good a time as any to throw this out there.

Earlier this season, I think many of us were eager to see what some of the newcomers might be able to do, specifically guys such as Stephen Sauls and Thomas Abercrombie. Given the light competition, I think a lot of us expected that Bennett would use this preseason as both an opportunity to get ready for the Pac-10 season and develop some depth, both for this season and next.

Instead, what we’ve seen is Bennett go almost exclusively with a seven- or eight-man rotation that gives the bulk of the minutes to six guys: Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver, Taylor Rochestie, Robbie Cowgill, Aron Baynes and Harmeling. Caleb Forrest and Nikolai Koprovica (above) each have picked up minutes here and there, but really only 10-15 minutes a game.

This actually tells us a lot about how Tony Bennett views this season. First, let me tell you a little story:

When I was a junior at WSU in 1997, I was the editor in chief of The Daily Evergreen and helped cover the football team on its magical run to the Rose Bowl. I traveled to the Arizona State game — the one that more or less ended WSU’s chances at a national championship.

During the postgame press conference, I remember Mike Price being completely broken up by the loss, actually crying and saying repeatedly that it was his fault — he should have called a timeout before that last sack that resulted in a fumble return for a touchdown. I remember thinking to myself, “What are you talking about? All Ryan Leaf had to do was hesitate for even a moment on his cadence and the guy probably doesn’t come through untouched. Quit being so hard on yourself.”

Only sometime later did I get it: Price already realized, just moments after that game ended, that he had just missed out on what would probably be his last best shot at a national championship. Coaches seem to have a grasp on those moments better than a lot of us, who are just enjoying the ride.

What does this have to do with WSU basketball, circa 2007-08? Everything. Ten games into the season, with Bennett more or less putting all his eggs in an upperclassmen-dominated rotation and playing his starters deep into blowouts, he’s sending a very clear message.

This is it. This is the year.

Bennett clearly views this as a special group of players, and like Price, he’s determined to seize the moment. He’s going to do everything within his power to make sure this team is as good as it can be come March, even if that means sacrificing a little bit of the future.

So, how does Harmeling’s injury affect this plan? Tough to say, as Bennett can do one of two things. He can shorten the rotation even further, just giving more minutes to the starters and to Forrest and Koprovica. Or, he can bring another player into the mix, such as Abercrombie.

Each carries some potential risk and reward. If he just shortens the rotation further, Bennett could be setting his team up for another March fizzle — anyone could see that all those minutes caught up with Low and Weaver in last year’s Tournamant. The reward, though, is that Bennett would be dealing with a known quantity, something coaches like.

As for plan B, Abercrombie just doesn’t appear ready to make major contributions. Despite flashes of athleticism that leave your jaw on the floor, he still is undisciplined on defense and raw on offense. He might make you a little worse in the short term. However, what if the game action helps him develop into a potential contributor? Your team is far better off with one more useful body that can be so versatile.

My guess is, with two games against terrible opponents left before the Pac-10 opener in Seattle, Bennett tries to see what he can get out of Abercrombie — even if it’s just 10 minutes each game. I just don’t think this team can last all year long without getting contributions from at least one more guy. Either way, Forrest and Koprovica both are going to have to step up their game.

We’ll get some answers tomorrow.


2 Responses to “Afterglow of Hardwood win tempered by a loss”

  1. Longball said

    Great post. Definately makes these next two games much more interesting.

  2. Diek said

    I disagree–slightly. I don’t know that Bennett thinks of this as an all-or-nothing season–I do know that he probably feels he owes it to these seniors, who have been through the lows of their Freshman and Sophomore years, to give them the time to earn themselves a place in history. Development is happening in the latter stages of these games and in his career TB will have plenty of chances to win national titles.

    If you mean that this is it…this is the year…for Low, Weaver, Cowgill–well you are absolutely right. As seniors, this has to be the year.

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