WSU HOOPS

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Finally, a major non-conference opponent

Posted by Jeff Nusser on April 24, 2008

The rumors have been circulating for months that the Cougs were on the verge of upgrading their non-conference schedule, and they finally were confirmed yesterday: WSU will travel to Louisiana State next year in the first game of what appears to be a true home-and-home series with the Tigers.

How long has this agreement been in the works? Given the rumblings we heard all year, we can safely assume this was being discussed long before Trent Johnson took the job. However, since coaches pretty much have all veto power over the schedule, it probably didn’t hurt that Johnson is now the coach, given his four years in the Pac-10.

Much like the recruiting class Tony Bennett signed this year, this piece of scheduling also represents just how far this program has come.

It’s not just that someone is willing to play us; after all, you might remember that we regularly appeared as sacrificial lambs on other major conference opponents’ schedules in the down years. It’s that LSU is playing us because the Tigers wanted to strengthen their schedule — it is benefiting them to play the Washington State University Cougars because of the level of excellence the program has reached. Heady stuff.

The game is scheduled for Dec. 27 in Baton Rouge, right before each team is scheduled to begin the conference slate, which makes a lot of sense for the Cougars. We all figure the Cougs will be counting substantially on the freshmen to contribute, and giving them a taste of major conference competition — on the road — before Pac-10 play should be just about perfect.

What can the Cougs expect to see down there? Well, you might remember that LSU was in the Final Four just two years ago. But this is a program that has fallen nearly off the map since then. There’s a reason John Brady lost his job this year, as the Tigers stumbled out of the gate and never really found their footing en route to a sub-.500 record and fourth place finish in the SEC West.

But this is a team that should be back on the rise next year. Although superfrosh Anthony Randolph was one-and-done on the bayou, the Tigers will be led by a pair of talented seniors: sharpshooting guard Marcus Thornton and center Chris Johnson, a shot-blocking machine. Barring some kind of injury that changes the complexion of LSU, this game should provide an excellent litmus test heading into conference play.

The potential of next year’s experienced squad probably is no small part of the reason Johnson bolted form Stanford, proving more and more that he is the master of striking while the iron is hot. I meant to write about this when he took the job, but consider the following.

Johnson was at Nevada for five years, culminated by a Sweet 16 appearance behind a pair of future NBA players — Kirk Snyder and Nick Fazekas — that he turned into the job at Stanford. As Clay Bennett would say, that’s a sweet flip.

Then, he was at Stanford for four years. After having taken over a program that averaged nearly 27 wins a season in Mike Montgomery’s final seven years, Johnson never won more than 18 games or advanced past the first round the NCAA Tournament until this past season — the season in which he had a pair of 7-footers that gave his team a sizable physical advantage in nearly every game it played. And oh, by the way, those 7-footers are headed to the NBA, leaving the Cardinal in position for a major fall. Another sweet flip.

Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby has been getting crucified in the Bay Area for not locking Johnson up to a long term deal and letting him get away, but I’m betting he’s the one who ends up looking good in this deal when all is said and done. Johnson might have won 28 games last season, but I’m pretty sure Ptowncoug could have coached the Lopez twins and three midgets into the Top 25.

Johnson bolted for bigger money before anyone could remember what a mediocre coach he was for his first three years.

I’m not saying he won’t turn out to be moderately successful at LSU. One of the first things Johnson talked about upon accepting the job was that he found Stanford’s academic standards a difficult part of the recruiting process, something he’ll have absolutely no trouble with in Baton Rouge. He proved that he was able to recruit at a public school in Nevada, so he should be able to be successful on that front at LSU.

But Bowlsby was rightly skeptical of Johnson’s “success,” and this is a move that probably will end up benefiting both parties — Johnson in his pocketbook, and Stanford in getting a better coach.

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8 Responses to “Finally, a major non-conference opponent”

  1. MikeR said

    Please, please, PLEASE, don’t use the words “sweet flip” ever again. I’m not even a Sonics fan, and just reading those words pisses me off. Throwing Clay’s name in there doesn’t help. đŸ™‚

    I too like this choice of opponent, as well as where the game falls on the schedule. I agree with your take on Johnson — he certainly benefitted from Montgomery building the foundation (not to mention the Lopez twins falling into his lap), and I haven’t been that impressed by his player development.

    That said, he’s a solid coach, and after facing BennettBall for the past four seasons, he’s not going to be surprised by anything we throw at him in Baton Rouge. Many coaches unfamiliar with our system don’t know how to attack us, and that’s certainly worked to our benefit in our OOC games over the past couple of years. We won’t have that advantage in this one.

  2. Ptowncoug said

    A shout out to Ptowncoug in your column! I am moving up in the world. By the way, I would have won a national title with the twins because I would have never played Johnson and his ugly looking shot put shot.

  3. Nuss said

    Ha! You know, I try to reward the faithful from time to time. Could you imagine how good that team would have been with any semblance of guard play? The fact that he had to play Mitch Johnson tells you all you need to know about how little real talent he surrounded the twins with. He bolted at the right time — that team was going nowhere fast with those guys gone.

  4. coug1990 said

    What I find amazing is that his his dad, Johnny Johnson, was a long time NBA player and he was a high school head coach (I think it was at Bellevue, but I could be wrong) and Mitch still has bad shot mechanics.

  5. cfred said

    Hey, who do we get to play next year in the Big 12 v. PAC 10 matchups? And assume they will be coming to Pullman this year?

  6. Coug1990 said

    We played at Baylor this year, so Baylor will be the return matchup next year.

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  8. NyCOUG said

    Great to see a (somewhat) big name on the OOC schedule next year. I would love to see them get into a pre-season tourney somewhere to really sweeten the deal. NIT anyone? As an NYC resident, that would be a dream come true! Go COUGS!

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