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Putting the Sweet Sixteen in perspective

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 23, 2008

My head is still spinning a little bit from the idea that the Washington State University Cougars are in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. My buddy Chris must have thought I was going a little loony — I just kept saying, “Dude! We’re in the Sweet Sixteen!” randomly throughout the night.

Honestly, I rank this right up there with the Pac-10 championship and Rose Bowl in 1997. This is that significant.

Making it to the second round of the tournament last year was nice, but making it to the Sweet Sixteen is something else altogether. It means that for another whole week, every major media outlet is talking about the Cougars — especially because they’re playing North Carolina, the No. 1 seed in the tournament and one of the most storied programs in college basketball history. You can’t even begin to measure the worth of that.

It’s been a little irritating to me that it’s been a little late in coming, that the Cougs haven’t received any more attention than they have for absolutely dismantling two opponents (more on just how dominating those two performances were tomorrow). I think it’s because beating up two teams the way we did just doesn’t make for great television theater on SportsCenter — no high-flying dunks, no last-second heroics … just the cold efficiency of an assassin.

But the reality is that they will have to talk about WSU basketball this week, even if it’s only to say we don’t have a chance to beat North Carolina (as Digger Phelps and Steve Lavin did tonight). And at the end of that week, we’ll be on national TV, playing the No. 1 team in the country. It’s not great that we’re playing them at 4:30 p.m. on the west coast, but the people that want to see it are going to see it — including all those potential recruits.

And if we can somehow beat UNC? That’s even better. Go to the Final Four … well, all bets are off at that point. The way we’re playing right now, I wouldn’t put anything past this team.

But this much is certain: We’ve already cleared a major hurdle towards putting this program on the map, not just for last year and this year, but for years to come.

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16 Responses to “Putting the Sweet Sixteen in perspective”

  1. Ptowncoug said

    I am playing the role of the media today. Convince me on how does Wazzu beat a bigger and faster version of AZ. As far as size advantage they really don’t have it, so they are not UCLA or a Stanford. UNC does compare real well with AZ, the other team that has given trouble, except UNC defense is way more agressive than AZ.

  2. Nuss said

    Well, I would first start by arguing that with the way we’re playing right now, we’d beat Arizona handily. But I’ll leave the rest of the analysis on that to everyone else today, since that’s what I’m going to tackle in my game thread on Thursday.

  3. Nuss said

    Oh, and Ken Pomeroy gives the Cougs a 45 percent chance of winning, too.

  4. Michelle said

    with the way we are playing, we would beat any of the teams we lost to this season. Easily.

  5. Nuss said

    Well, I’m not sure I’d go that far — UCLA and Stanford still supply huge matchup problems for us that won’t go away just because we’re playing well. But I don’t think UNC gives us the same matchup problems that those two teams do. No ridiculous defense, no ridiculous shot blockers.

    For all the pub about how we’re not going to be able to stop UNC, I’d like to know how UNC is going to stop us. Imagine what a colossal blowout that would have been on Saturday had we hit a few more wide open 3s?

  6. Ptowncoug said

    I was just attempting to get your analysis out earlier than Thursday:)
    I think we match up much better with UNC size-wise than against UCLA and Stanford. Moreover, Love can shoot from the outside which completely messes up our pack D and the Stanford twins make almost impossible to double, especially Brooke who seems to be able to pass out of any double team.
    Stay out of foul trouble Baynes!! You know I don’t love Baynes offensively in set post possessions, but when we play these 6-8 250 fellas, we need Baynes standing tall like a 200 year old evergreen on defense unable to be budged with elbows and forearms.
    Alo need to be agressive offensively like we were against ND. Attack the hoop. Look for shot and then dish to big Baynes when they collapse. However, we are going to have to be more adept at passing then we were against the Irish. If they had athletic guys like UNC, we would have had a number of passes stolen.

  7. Nuss said

    You’ll get bits and pieces of it along the way. 🙂

    I think you’re absolutely right about Baynes. Him staying out of foul trouble and in the game is going to be absolutely huge for us. We literally do not have another guy on our roster who can play adequate defense on Hansbrough, both because of Baynes’ size and his rebounding ability. Cowgill will try — and he did a very nice job on Harangody when he was on him — but Hansbrough is much more like Love than Harangody, and we all saw what Love did to our big men.

  8. Michelle said

    come on Nuss, I love my crimson colored glasses 🙂

  9. Nuss said

    I wish I still had those! My previous life as a journalist kind of irreparably damaged them. Now, I’m forever doomed to be the “voice of reason.” But I LOVE the enthusiasm!

  10. Nuss said

    Here’s something that ought to give you hope.

  11. Ptowncoug said

    I think what a lot of people miss with our slow down offense is that they have the belief that if they press it will speed up the tempo. I agree it generally does with most teams because when you break the press you often have an advantage going towards the basket and often teams go ahead and force their way to the basket to try to score with that advantage.
    That’s not the case with the Cougs. We break the press and simply wait and work the ball around. I would say 90-95% of the time we do not try to take advantage when breaking the press. I’ve been there in my few years of bball. You break it and have 3 on 2, you almost feel like you have to try to score. The Cougs just don’t fall for it.
    I don’t care how athletic you are because when you are pressing and then playing half-court D on each possession for the entire shot clock you will simply wear out.
    Now if UNC shoots 50% from 3 and 67% from the floor it won’t matter what the tempo of the game is because we’ll be down by 20.

  12. Nathan said

    Digger Phelps is an arrogant asshole and I take all of his comments with a grain of salt. He made the same comments about the Notre Dame/WSU game, and then when we demolished the Fighting Irish all he had to comment on was his disappointment in them without ever giving props where they were truly deserved. If I saw his pathetic ass in a dark alley I make sure he never made it on TV again.

    GO COUGS!! Class of 2002.

  13. Nuss said

    You know, that’s the way it is with every commentator, though, whenever the Cougs beat somebody. People associate winning with offense. And when a team has a poor offensive game, the players and coaches are always reticent to give the credit to the opponent, saying things like, “Well, if we’d done this better or that better, we’d have been right there.” Well, there’s a reason why most teams don’t do this better or that better when they play the Cougs. It’s because the Cougs are freaking awesome.

    And there’s a reason why Phelps isn’t coaching anymore.

  14. Peter said

    I dunno if the Sweet 16 equals a Rose Bowl. I know it’s a great feeling, but you guys finished in the top 8 in the country in 97 and got a Pac 10 banner to go with it. Also the Rose Bowl being one of the big 4 major bowls, meant you were on the grand stage with 7 other teams instead of 15 other teams. I’d say a rose bowl run is more like an Elite 8 run.

    But just like facing Michigan in 97, you’re facing the #1 team and one of the most storied programs in the sport. If you’re able to screw up my bracket on Thursday, I wouldn’t put it past you to *gulp* win it all.

    Good luck. I’ll be rooting vehemently against you so I can keep hanging on to saying, “well make it to TWO straight sweet 16’s,” whenever I hear “7.”

    Oh well, at least I still got the CBI – oh wait my bracket got busted in that too.

  15. Nuss said

    What I meant by that is that it’s a benchmark. I know it’s not quite equal, but the Cougs were struggling for legitimacy in ’97 — even though they had a few losing seasons after that, it set the stage for the recruiting needed to go to the Rose Bowl in 2002 and Holiday Bowl in 2003. This legitimizes what Bennett is doing with the program, cementing it as something more than a flash in the pan.

    Now, as YOU know all too well, it can be fleeting if you don’t adequately build on it. But even though Romar failed to get the program back where it was, it wasn’t for lack of landing big recruits. That’s what this can do.

  16. Peter said

    I see what you’re saying in terms of using it as a benchmark, that definitely makes sense to me.

    And yes, I do know that all too well 😦

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