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Set up for a strong, strong finish

Posted by Jeff Nusser on January 29, 2008

There’s something just a little bit disconcerting about the way the Cougs have played at times this year, given their lofty ranking and the way they were outclassed by the two teams they have played that have truly superior athletes, and the close nature of some other games.

But when I get too down, I just remember this: No other major conference college basketball team — not one, not even a bad one — has played as many true road games and as few true home games as the Cougars. They have played nine true road games, and six of them were against teams that either are ranked or have been ranked in the Top 25. And they’ve only played five true home games — out of 19. Scenes like the one to the right have been way too few and far between for a program of our ilk. Among tournament-contending teams, only Butler has played as many road or neutral games as the Cougs. And the Bulldogs are in the Horizon League.

To come away from that schedule with just two losses really is a bigger accomplishment than a lot of people will give them credit for.

Think about it. We just played five of our first seven Pac-10 games on the road and came out of it 5-2. Yes, we were slapped around by UCLA and Arizona, but we survived all the others. In only one of those games can we say that it really looked like the Cougs didn’t come to play, and that’s really saying something in a game with 20- to 22-year-old kids who do — believe it or not — have other things going on in their lives.

It hasn’t come without a price. In watching the end of the game on Saturday, one thought just kept coming to mind: This team is tired. Really, really tired. And Kyle Weaver said as much after the game.

But playing seven of their final 11 games regular season games at Beasley Coliseum is exactly what they need for a strong finish. Why? Because the top six teams in the conference other than the Cougs still have to make a trip to Pullman! That, my friends, is huge.

And consider this: Even with what they’ve gone through, Joe Lunardi still has WSU projected as a No. 2 seed and Jerry Palm has the Cougs projected as a No. 3. The various RPI approximations have them ranked either No. 9 or No. 10. The message? A strong finish bolstered by playing at home can push the Cougs into unheard of territory. If the home court advantage helps as much as I think it might, this team could end up pushing for a No. 1 seed. I feel comfortable saying that: The committee showed with UW a few years ago that it will recognize a team with a not-so-elite record that plays in a brutal conference.

So, get fired up Cougs. We still are in great position to win the Pac-10, just one game back of UCLA, and can put ourselves in an even better position with a sweep this weekend against Cal and Stanford. I believe the best part of the season is still in front of us.


5 Responses to “Set up for a strong, strong finish”

  1. johnnycougar said

    I love your optimism. However, I am worried about the whole tiring out deal. I realize that having four games in a row at home will definitely help, but we have to start getting some more help from our bench. Kopravica is occasionally a spark off the bench but he’s only averaging 9.4 minutes in the Pac-10 games with around 3 points. Forrest is only averaging 8.6 minutes and 2 points. Abercrombie has been negligible. We essentially are a six-deep rotation, and of course those six are good, but we can’t risk wearing them out too early. Also, since we don’t seem to go with Cowgill-Baynes-Harmeling all at once very often, Kopravica is really the only backup for our guards.

    Honestly, I’m worried it will come down to losing a couple winnable games towards the end of the year in order to get the starters some rest. It’s not gonna do us any good to finish top 3 in the Pac-10 if we’re too worn down to make it past the 2nd day of March Madness. Especially since tired legs are more likely to become injured legs, and if Weaver or Low goes down for more than a week we’re seriously going to sink. I’d rather finish 4th in the Pac-10 and get a six or seven seed with a full head of steam towards the tourny than burn out chasing 1st! I hope I’m nitpicking but I am a little worried.

  2. Nuss said

    Early in the year, that was one of my big concerns, too, especially given the way last year ended. But I think the team will be re-energized from playing at home. As anyone who has ever traveled will tell you, traveling takes it out of you. As anyone who’s ever traveled out of Pullman will tell you, those trips just flat out suck.

    For the first time all year, the Cougs will play some quality opponents who have to make that crappy trip while we get to sleep in our own beds in front of sold out (!) crowds at Beasley. This team is set up to get some serious momentum rolling down the stretch.

  3. Jo-Jo said

    You want to know how to effectively get your starters some rest? I’ll tell you.

    Get them to jump out to large leads early against some of these crappy teams they’ve played against. That, to me, has been the biggest disappointment of the season. Not the fact that they haven’t beaten the crap out of those teams, but that they’ve put themselves into a position where they have to keep their starters on the floor all night.

    Really, if the Cougs are tired right now, they only have themselves to blame.

    But, those games are behind us. However, if the Cougs are really as good as they are supposed to be, they should handle Cal. If they handle them early enough, maybe we could see our starters get a few less minutes this weekend. And anyone in the Pac-10 will tell you that the second day of the Washington trip is the worst. In every other location in the Pac-10, you can practically stay in the same hotel all weekend. UW and WSU have the largest split between schools for a weekend trip in the conference. If the Huskies can wear out Stanford on Thursday night, those pretty boys are not going to want to have anything to do with Beasley come Saturday.

  4. johnnycougar said

    Alright, I can see those arguments. Adding on, Jo-Jo, I’d say this horrendous weather in Pullman is going to make the Bay Area boys homesick! Half the professors in my department are an hour or two late because they live slightly outside of Pullman, how do you think Cal and Stanford will adjust to busing in through miles of snow-covered highway at 30mph? And then finally getting there and seeing 12,000 crazy students screaming at them (hopefully without profanities!) with every shot they take?

  5. Nuss said

    You know what, though, Jo-Jo? If you look back at some of the stuff I was writing earlier this year, they DID jump out to some huge leads, did kill some people, and TB still had the guys in there for 32-35 minutes. Not only was I concerned about the wear it was going to put on the bodies of the starters, but I also was concerned for the possibility that one of them goes down at some point because he was making next to no effort to develop anyone with game-time minutes.

    At the time, I speculated that he was throwing all his eggs in one basket, working hard to build cohesion and stamina and get the team as ready as humanly possible to make a run. I hope it doesn’t turn out to bite us, as the term “road weary” exists for a reason. I think we’ll see over the next two weeks if that was the case, or if they’re just “weary” in general.

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