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Archive for February 5th, 2008

Our strength has become our weakness

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 5, 2008

Author’s warning: This is a long post — nearly 1,400 words of analytical goodness. But I think it’s worth your while to read if you really want to know why this team isn’t as good as we all thought. It opened my eyes to a number of things as I was researching it, and I hope it resonates with you, too. Enjoy.

Ever since Dick Bennett arrived in Pullman five years ago, defense and WSU have gone hand in hand like, well, crimson and gray. Even if we couldn’t score as proficiently as we would like — remember the Thomas Kelati show that first year? — we always knew we could stop just about anyone.

But what if I told you the 2007-08 Cougs — the most ballyhooed squad in school history, the one that was ranked No. 6 as recently as two weeks ago — actually are nothing more than a below average defensive team? Would you believe me?

Before I prove such an audacious statement (and I will prove it), let me start with a little story.

Turn on any television broadcast featuring the Cougars, and you’re likely to hear this from the typically amateurish Fox Sports Net announcers during the pregame breakdown of each team’s strength:

“Washington State has one of the toughest defenses in the country! How stingy are the Cougars? They allow just 55.2 points per game — third in the nation! Amazing!”

Of course, if you’ve been reading this site for any amount of time, you know that points per game is one of the most inherently flawed statistics that exists. The amount of points a team scores — and allows — is heavily dependent on the number of possessions in any given game. It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that scoring 70 points on 60 possessions (about what WSU averages) is a heck of a lot better than scoring 70 points on 75 possessions (about what a team like Duke or North Carolina averages).

If points per game is a lie, then the statistic that speaks truth is efficiency, which essentially measures the amount of points a team scores per possession. And let me tell you, when it comes to these Cougs that we had such high hopes for, you might not be able to handle the truth, because the truth paints a stark picture that doesn’t leave us with a lot of hope that things will get better this year.

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