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GAME THREAD: No. 3 WSU vs. No. 14 Winthrop

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 20, 2008

Cougars (24-8) vs. Eagles (22-11)

Pepsi Center (Denver, Colo.), 4:20 p.m. PDT
TV: CBS

A lot of national pundits are dreading this game, saying it probably will be the most boring game of the opening round. If you’re a fan of another team and think teams that value every possession on both offense and defense are boring, then I guess you’re probably going to not like this game very much. But since one man’s boring is a Coug fan’s beautiful, this game will positively be eye candy to us, especially since it’s unlikely that any other team is going to beat us at what we do best.

Now, a lot of people have said this game features two teams that mirror each other. That’s probably true in terms of style — Winthrop averages 63.7 possessions (291st nationally) and WSU 59.1 (336th) thanks to patient offense and hard-nosed defense — but that’s where the comparisons ought to end.

While most people associate the Cougs with defense, and rightly so, they often do so at the expense of recognizing the offense, which is one of the best in the country (21st in offensive efficiency). There is no such confusion with Winthrop. The Eagles are one of the most defense-depended teams in the tournament, ranking 14th nationally in defensive efficiency (89.8), but just 228th in offensive efficiency (97.1). Honestly, this is a team the Cougs should have very little difficulty shutting down.

The only circumstance under which I see Winthrop being able to hang in this game is if the Eagles somehow get spectacularly hot from the outside. Winthrop is a solid shooting team, but as we know, it’s tough to get open 3-point looks against WSU without at least the threat of guards penetrating to the basket, and that’s a threat that doesn’t really exist with the Eagles.

Winthrop has one of the lowest free throw rates in the country (21.7, 276th), perhaps because the Eagles know penetration isn’t likely to pay off — they also have one of the lowest free throw percentages in the country (59.8 percent, 339th). They also are in the bottom half of the country in 2-point field goal percentage (47.2, 224th). All these numbers mean that the Cougs aren’t likely to get burned around the basket, and are subsequently going to stay home on the shooters and take their chances one-on-one.

The other thing that 2-point field goal percentage indicates is a lack of a post presence. When 6-foot-10 Craig Bradshaw and 6-8 Phillip Williams graduated last year, they took virtually all of the Eagles’ post play with them.

The one weapon they do have — the guy everyone talks about as having the potential to go off and change the game — is Michael Jenkins. He’s 6-foot-3 and athletic, but he’s just as likely to score seven points as he is to score 30. And with Kyle Weaver guarding him, I like our chances to keep that closer to seven. The guy is pretty good, but he’s not O.J. Mayo, Josh Shipp, James Harden, Matt Bouldin, or any of the other guys Weaver has contained this year.

I also don’t see any way that Winthrop’s defense is going to be able to contain our offense, as long as we do two things: Take care of the basketball and get some offensive rebounds. The Eagles’ defensive efficiency is almost entirely predicated on ending possessions with steals and limiting opponents to just one shot.

While the Cougs’ offense isn’t necessarily any more or less efficient when it doesn’t turn the ball over, the Eagles’ defense is really only good when they’re forcing turnovers, mostly because of steals (point guard Chris Gaynor is fifth nationally in steal percentage). Since we know their offense isn’t very good, it’s not surprising that when their opponents’ turnover percentage is under 20, they’re just 3-6. The Cougars have only been over 20 percent in 11 games all year, so this bodes well.

Winthrop also is heavily dependent on securing defensive rebounds. While the Cougs aren’t exactly an offensive rebounding juggernaut thanks to their defense, which puts a premium on getting back and setting up, Baynes and Robbie Cowgill ought to be able to pick up their fair share of offensive boards given the Eagles’ lack of bulk. Of the eight games in which Winthrop gave up their highest offensive rebounding numbers, three of those were against what we would consider major college teams — teams more likely to have more size. This also bodes well for the Cougs.

The last thing — one big thing I think no one is talking about — is that Winthrop has been off since March 8. Often times, these underdogs have the best chance of pulling an upset when they can get hot early. That’s a lot less likely when a team has been off for nearly two weeks.

As I wrote on Tuesday, I don’t see this as nearly the trap game that a lot of other people will. Winthrop is a nice team from a small conference, but that’s about as far as I’ll go. I think WSU wins this one handily.

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11 Responses to “GAME THREAD: No. 3 WSU vs. No. 14 Winthrop”

  1. Nuss said

    Offensive rebound and a travel! Sheesh.

  2. Nuss said

    I’d sure like to see Low hit a shot …

  3. Nuss said

    Four turnovers already. Five if you count that airball that looked like a foul. That’s why Winthrop is winning.

  4. Nuss said

    Biggest game of the year … am I all alone in here?

  5. Nuss said

    Guess everyone’s at the bars. Have a beer for me and I’ll check in with some thoughts at halftime.

  6. Nuss said

    Well, the problems here are pretty simple, and they are five-fold:

    1) Too many turnovers.
    2) Too many offensive rebounds.
    3) Too much Taj McCullough.
    4) Too many 3s given up.
    5) Too little Low.

    I said before the game that Winthrop relies on opponents stopping themselves, and we’ve done an awesome job of helping them out so far. You really saw the Cougar offense start to take off a little bit during the last five minutes of the first half, and that’s because we stopped turning the ball over. That’s the good news.

    The bad news is that we’re allowing this team to hang around. To give up five offensive rebounds in one half to a team we outsize this badly is just completely inexcusable. That has to stop. If we boxed out the way Winthrop has in the first half — it’s obvious now why they’re one of the best in the country at defensive rebounding — the Eagles wouldn’t have even one offensive rebound. But we don’t, so they have five.

    It might be time to put Weaver on McCullough. I know that leaves Cowgill on a smaller guy, but he is absolutely killing us right now. We need to do something to disrupt his rhythm.

    I’m not super concerned about the 3s, mostly because most of them have been low-percentage shots. Gaynor hit one from 30, and McCullough hit one with a hand in his face. Take those away, suddenly Winthrop’s 2-of-8 and down 6 at the half. Big difference. If we just keep doing what we’re doing on defense — and rebound a bit better — we’ll be where we want to be.

    All I have to say is thank goodness for Kyle Weaver. He is absolutely carrying us right now, as we’ve gotten zero from Derrick Low and nothing from anyone on our bench except for fouls and turnovers. Some other guys have got to start contributing if we don’t want to be laying in our beds tonight shocked that this dream season has come to an end.

    Let’s hope an Oral Roberts repeat is in the cards.

  7. Ptowncoug said

    Negative nancy you are Nuss. I had a buddy who showed up at halftime saying doesn’t sound good. I told him they were simply throwing up lucky shots and we would eventually squeeze the air out, which we did!!!!

  8. Grady said

    God I love this team.

  9. Nuss said

    I wasn’t trying to be negative; you have to admit that our huge second half had to do with completely reversing all those five things that went wrong in the first half.

  10. Jo-Jo said

    That was neat. The Cougs may have just laid the largest beat down of the day. Until UCLA stomps on someone.

  11. Nuss said

    You mean, the team the Cougs beat 71-26 earlier this year?

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