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The grades are in: Non-conference Cougar report card

Posted by Jeff Nusser on January 4, 2008

On the eve of WSU’s Pac-10 opener, this seems like a good time to take stock of how each player and coach Tony Bennett performed during the non-conference schedule in their effort to prepare for league play and a run in the NCAA Tournament. The starters generally grade out well, but the bench is still a pretty big question mark.

As would befit a teacher, each will receive a letter grade along with a synopsis of what’s gone well, and what needs to go better. Keep in mind, very few games have been on TV, so a lot of these perceptions come filtered through reports I’ve read and raw statistics.

STARTERS

Derrick Low — Perhaps no player holds the key to the Cougs’ chances of a deep run in the NCAA Tournament this year as much as Low. When he is assertive and effective on offense, this team is virtually unstoppable, given its defensive capabilities. The problem is, he’s still prone to long stretches of missed shots and unselfish play that cripple the offense. He’s explosive, but those explosions have been too far and few between so far. He must be more aggressive in the Pac-10 for this team to reach its full potential, and he cannot allow a few missed shots to discourage him. His 13.1 points per game leads the team, but this grade reflects what we’re going to need out of him. GRADE: B-

Kyle Weaver — The multi-talented guard has done nothing to diminish his reputation this year. If anything, he’s enhanced it and is well on his way to another all-Pac-10 selection. There really is very little to complain about, as his offensive game is really blossoming to complement his defensive effort. While he’ll never be a long range sharpshooter, defenses at least now have to play him honest as he’s shown he can hit the occasional 3. GRADE: A

Taylor Rochestie — He hasn’t hit double-digits in scoring in more than a month, but it doesn’t matter. He’s doing all the little things the team needs for him to do: Great defense, solid decisions with the ball, timely shots. He has had a couple of games where he’s had rashes of turnovers — in a three-game stretch against Baylor, Gonzaga and Portland State, he turned the ball over 17 times — but they seem to be aberrations rather than trends, as he’s turned the ball over just nine times in the other nine games. Pretty good. His assists are also way up. GRADE: A-

Aron Baynes — There were reports heading into the year that Baynes was poised for a breakout year. It turned out to not be an exaggeration, as the big Aussie has shown improved conditioning, footwork, and even hands. He is a force down low that few teams have been, or will be, able to match up with. The one complaint, still, is that he’s prone to foul problems. This is a team that already is perilously thin up front, and Baynes still can be found reaching for the ball when defending guards on the high pick and roll. It’s silly, and it still is taking him out of games. At some point, it has to stop if he wants to become a dominant player, which he can be. GRADE: A-

Robbie Cowgill — Easiest grade of all the players. Cowgill is giving the Cougs an active inside presence and is showing an unbelievable knack for knowing just what his team needs and any given moment and providing it. Think back to that Baylor game — the Cougs don’t win without Cowgill’s 18 points in that game. How about his 11 boards against Gonzaga, keeping the Bulldogs from gaining extra possessions? Weaver and Low get all the press, but it’s possible Cowgill will go down as the most beloved leader of this basketball renaissance. GRADE: A

BENCH

Daven Harmeling — A great long-range shooter who stretched defenses throughout last season, Harmeling has struggled to find his shooting touch this year — just 16.7 percent from 3-point range. Now, he’s stuck on the sideline with an injury to his shooting hand. While injuries never are good (especially to a shooter’s most valuable asset), one has to wonder if taking a month to relax and not think about his stroke can help. This team will need him, not just in his shooting ability, but also to add depth to the front line. Harmeling had proven himself to be an improved interior defender, a big reason this grade wasn’t even lower. GRADE: C-

Caleb Forrest — It’s easy to knock the guy because he’s a little goofy looking, what with all that hair flying around, but tell me what this guy hasn’t done well that he’s been asked to do? He’s not super athletic, but he sets picks, makes the right defensive rotations and hits the occasional jumper. The best part? He’s been better since Harmling’s injury. It’s easy to overlook his contributions, but I’ll bet Tony Bennett isn’t overlooking them. Forrest is never going to make you stand around the next day and marvel at the plays he made, but you’re also never going to stand there and complain about what he did wrong. That ought to tell you something. GRADE: B

Nikola Koprivica — Last year, Koprivica was a glue guy, bringing his Euro style to add motion to an offense that could get stale at times. He was a slasher, bullying his way to the basket and hitting the occasional 3. But that devastating knee injury suffered midway through last season has left him a shell of that player this season. Gone are the deceptively quick bursts to the bucket, and he’s shooting just under 15 percent from long range. Here’s to hoping a Rochestie-like second half recovering from reconstructive knee surgery is on tap. GRADE: D

Thomas Abercrombie — Many hoped Abercrombie could be a contributor this year, but his minutes have been mostly ineffective. He looks lost on both offense and defense, but might well yet figure out a way to make a positive impact on this team — especially as more athleticism is demanded in Pac-10 play. I won’t give him a failing grade because it’s just hard to overcome youth, and he might yet bring something to the table. GRADE: INCOMPLETE

COACH

As noted late last month, it certainly appears Tony Bennett is putting all his eggs into this season. His starters have logged heavy minutes in a lot of blowouts, as he tries to get this team into peak performance shape before Pac-10 play. Development of younger players has been largely pushed to the side.

The reality is that the Cougs have done exactly what they were supposed to do, dominating a weak schedule. Most anticipated there would be one loss mixed in, so the fact that team made it through unscathed is a nice accomplishment. However, the measurement of the job Bennett does will come at the end of the year when this NCAA Tournament-or-bust strategy can truly be evaluated. GRADE: INCOMPLETE

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2 Responses to “The grades are in: Non-conference Cougar report card”

  1. MikeR said

    Perhaps no player holds the key to the Cougs’ chances of a deep run in the NCAA Tournament this year as much as Low. When he is assertive and effective on offense, this team is virtually unstoppable, given its defensive capabilities.

    Couldn’t agree more. I’ve been saying for the past year that, although Weaver is our best all-around player, no player on this team is as valuable as Low. Our team looks much more “together” on offense when he’s out there. I really didn’t expect him to be as streaky this year as he’s been, and I think you’re right — his unselfish nature is often the biggest reason for that.

    I still expect several games this year where he completely takes over, but he needs to be a consistent weapon (even when he’s not taking over) for this team to make it past the first weekend in the NCAAs.

  2. […] Tony Bennett deserves some of the blame for our failing defense? Here’s what I said in his grade report at the end of the non-conference season: It certainly appears Tony Bennett is putting all his eggs […]

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