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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? Read the rest of this entry »


Posted in Breakdowns, News, Schedule | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

Domination by elite teams becoming more regular

Posted by Jeff Nusser on April 6, 2008

If you took the time to listen to me blab on that New York guy’s radio show back in February, you might remember me saying that the reason the NCAA Tournament is so spectacular is that you get a wild first couple of rounds (complete with unexpected upsets), but by the time you get deep in the tournament, the cream has risen to the top and the heavyweights duke it out for the ultimate prize.

Although there weren’t a ton of early upsets this year coupled with a surprising number of blowouts, this obviously has become the ultimate example of that with four No. 1 seeds making it to the Final Four. This continues a recent trend of a handful of national powers making up the bulk of the tournament’s final weekend (table courtesy of John Gasaway at Basketball Prospectus; more on him in a second):

Snootiest Final Fours
1985 to Present

       Avg. Seed
2008     1.00    (North Carolina, Memphis, UCLA, Kansas)
1993     1.25    (North Carolina, Michigan, Kentucky, Kansas)
2007     1.50    (Florida, Ohio State, Georgetown, UCLA)
2001     1.75    (Duke, Michigan State, Arizona, Maryland)
1999     1.75    (Connecticut, Duke, Michigan State, Ohio State)
1997     1.75    (Kentucky, North Carolina, Minnesota, Arizona)
1991     1.75    (Duke, UNLV, North Carolina, Kansas)

Gasaway explores this phenomenon, and what might explain it, which I found highly interesting. He chalks it up to the freshmen, and their opportunity to contribute not just because of the forced year in college, but because of the voids left by other early defectors. I think that only partly explains it. After all, North Carolina and Kansas don’t have any of those heralded freshmen — they’ve got deep squads filled with guys who are very good, but not quite good enough to make that jump so fast.

My take? It all comes down to how many athletes a team has. It’s a tall order to win six games in a row (or even the four in a row it takes to get to the Final Four), and teams are going to have an off performance somewhere in there. Supreme athleticism — while no guarantee of success (hello, Kansas State and USC) — allows very good teams to overcome games in which they perform below their normal level. Memphis had Mississippi State, UCLA had Texas A&M, Kansas had Davidson.

Speaking of Davidson, I think my theory applies there, as well, despite their No. 10 seed and “mid-major” status: It took some superhuman efforts by Stephen Curry for the Wildcats to get as deep as they did. Without Curry — a good athlete who somehow got missed by the ACC — there is no possibility of the Elite Eight.

As a side note, if you like what we do here with statistical analysis, you’ll love what they do at Basketball Prospectus, and you ought to be reading it regularly.

Posted in Around the 'Net, Breakdowns, NCAA Tournament | 1 Comment »

Can the Cougs overcome the fear factor?

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 26, 2008

I’ve said since the beginning of this tournament that North Carolina might be the most beatable No. 1 seed in the Dance for the Cougs. A lot of people thought I was nuts (and I must admit, I’d probably rather be playing Memphis right about now), but nothing that happened in the first two rounds of the tournament has led me to believe that the Cougs can’t beat the Heels.

The question, though, is this: Do the players believe they can beat the Heels?

You would hope that the answer would be a resounding yes, but unfortunately, history this season suggests that it’s at least valid to ask the question.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Breakdowns, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: , , | 9 Comments »

So, about that road contest

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 26, 2008

A lot of people have come up with a lot of reasons why the Cougars won’t be able to hang with North Carolina, and a lot of them are valid.

Then, when they run out of rational reasons (if they had any to begin with), they throw this in for good measure: “Well, North Carolina just has to get on a bus and drive down the road; those Cougars, they have to fly aaaallllllll the waaaaaaay from PULLMAN — which, incidentally, is in the middle of nowhere — to North Carolina to play in front of a hostile crowd. That’s just too much!”


There are a lot of things this Cougar team has proven this season, and one of them is that they simply are not phased by traveling to another team’s arena.

No decent non-conference opponent wanted to come to Pullman this year to play a game in a style that’s been compared to a root canal. Scheduling was difficult, so Tony Bennett did the only thing he could to toughen his team up: Play a lot on the road. It was lamentable early in the season, but it has paid dividends, as statistics show that the Cougs learned to perform equally well in both friendly and hostile confines.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Breakdowns, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

The two best teams in the tournament: UNC and WSU

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 25, 2008

The two best teams in the NCAA Tournament are meeting on Thursday night at 4:27 p.m. in Charlotte, N.C.

It might be a little bit of an exaggeration. But it’s not as ridiculous as it might first seem to some outsiders: Statistics from the first two rounds suggest that, at the very least, North Carolina and WSU are the two most impressive teams of the first weekend of the tournament.

All the media pundits are talking about how great the Heels have been in this tournament, and the recognition certainly is deserved. After all, they’ve scored 100-plus points in their first two games, something nobody had done in nearly 20 years. But what if I told you the Cougs — of “they can’t possibly compete with North Carolina” fame — have been nearly as good as the Tar Heels through the first two games, and better than every other team in the tournament?

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Breakdowns, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: , , | 13 Comments »

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.

Posted in Breakdowns, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: | 16 Comments »

Surprise! It’s North Carolina

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 23, 2008

Jo~Jo said in a comment on one of the previous posts that he’s officially scared of North Carolina.

We should be: UNC just posted an offensive efficiency rating of 160.6.

That is not a typo. The Heels scored 108 points in a 67-possession game, which is beyond ridiculous. An average rating is around 101. A normal team gets pretty excited about something above 120. North Carolina shrugs is collective shoulders and scores 1.6 points per possession.

The good news is that they haven’t done that all year — their previous high against a major conference opponent was 135.2 (Miami FL) — and their defense hasn’t been all that great in the two blowout wins. Really, it hasn’t had to be. But it will have to be on Thursday against us.

It’s tough to identify weaknesses in a team that has only lost two games all year, because that means the team won a lot of games even when it wasn’t playing at its best. But I think the key is that you can’t try to run with North Carolina, and you have to play outstanding transition defense so the Heels don’t get easy buckets. Arkansas really tried to push the tempo early and got buried. Obviously, the Cougs won’t make that mistake.

The other key? Keeping the Heels off the offensive glass. shows a pretty strong correlation between offensive rebounding percentage and UNC’s offensive efficiency, which makes sense — Tyler Hansbrough is an absolute rebounding machine, 80th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.

There are a lot of other things Hansbrough does well, and while you’ll get dang tired of hearing about “Psycho T” this week, there’s a ton of substance there.

You know we’re not big fans of traditional stats around here, so here’s one for you: Hansbrough is second nationally in’s individual offensive rating among players who have used at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions (meaning at least 24 percent of his team’s possessions end with him doing something with the ball). That’s really, really good — better than guys such as Kevin Love (third), Ryan Anderson (eighth), Stephen Curry (11th), Michael Beasley (12th), Roy Hibbert (17th) and Chris Douglass-Roberts (23rd). For perspective, the only player for the Cougs to rank in the top 100 is Aron Baynes (93rd).

Hansbrough also ranks in the top 100 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (80th), which leads to a ridiculous free throw rate (36th). In short, it’s nearly impossible to stop the Tar Heels, but in the effort to slow them down, keeping Hansbrough off the offensive glass and off the free throw line would be a really good place to start.

Oh, and he’s also in the top 100 in turnover rate (70th), so don’t expect those double teams to work against him like they did against Luke Harangody.

I could go on and on like this about the rest of the Heels — they’ve got three other players in the top 151 in offensive rating — so the message is clear: The Cougs have a very tall order in front of them. But the reality is this. You want to go to the Final Four? You want to win a national championship? There are no easy roads there. You’ve got to beat great teams to get there, and this is one of them.

Posted in Breakdowns, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Cougs’ draw not as tough as you might think

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 18, 2008

Raise your hand if your thinking on Sunday as the bracket was unveiled went something like this.

“Sweet! We’re a No. 4 seed! That’s even better than I thought. … Winthrop, huh? Didn’t they beat Notre Dame last year? That sounds like a trap waiting to happen. … Crap! We’re in the same region as North Carolina. Bye-bye Elite Eight. …”

Based on the responses I’ve seen over at SportsLink and heard from friends, most believe we didn’t get a favorable draw.

I happen to totally disagree. Let’s start with the opener.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Breakdowns, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Tony, the Zone is Your Friend

Posted by Jo-Jo on March 17, 2008

I want to preface this post by letting all you readers know that I started writing this thing well over a month ago. It was table, along with most of my other feeling on this site while I was dealing with off the site issues. But, now that I’m back, and inspired by the glimpse of the 2-3 zone we witnessed last week against the Cardinal, it’s time to drop the hammer. Here we go . . .

A sign of a great coach is that they can adjust to their personnel. I have seen highly respected coaches over the years begin to flounder because they try to force player into a style of play that does not match their skill sets or athletic abilities. Players are what they are on a daily basis and development doesn’t happen over night. But, a game plan can.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Breakdowns | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Where will the Cougs end up?

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 15, 2008

Jo-Jo should be along later today for his take on last night’s game — I was relegated to following it on autorefresh on my phone’s Web browser thanks to traveling over the mountains — but I figured as we wait for that, now’s obviously a great time to take a look at how our resume stacks up for potential seeding.

The short answer? Your guess is as good as mine — or Joe Lunardi’s, or Jerry Palm’s.

The NCAA Tournament selection committee is meeting and hashing out scenarios as I write this, and the members have probably as difficult a task this year as they’ve ever had in the past, what with all the mediocre teams trying to be the last few least bad teams in the tournament. But the muddled nature of this tournament isn’t just at the bottom; anything outside the top two lines of seeds is up for some serious debate as well.

Now that the Cougs’ have played out what I pegged as the most likely end-of-season scenario, what exactly that means for the Cougs still is up for a good amount of debate.

As I’ve written before, though, where a team ends up seeded (especially in these last few days) has as much to do with how the teams around them finish up as it does with how they finish up themselves. Also remember that unless you’re in one of those top four seeds, the committee can move teams up or down a line to “make things work.” So take any of these seeding projections with a little bit of a grain of salt.

The Cougs have pretty much been as much the definition of solid as a Tournament candidate gets over the past month. They’ve beaten who they were “supposed” to beat, and lost to teams they were “supposed” to lose to, so there hasn’t been a lot of variation up or down in terms of bracket projections. However, how the committee will ultimately view this team isn’t so clear.

Lunardi and Palm are the two most respected bracket projection guys around. Lunardi is of course the most famous, what with the power of ESPN behind him and a cool, catchy name like Bracketology. But savvy college hoops fans know what Palm does over at, and know that even though he doesn’t have a fancy name or flashy site, he’s one of the best bracket projectors around.

And they disagree on the Cougs.

Lunardi has the Cougs currently slotted as a No. 6 seed, and that’s pretty much where he’s had them in the past month or so. He’s moved them up to a No. 5 and down to a No. 7 periodically, but it’s always been right around that No. 6, so it’s pretty clear how he feels about WSU. Palm, though, has the Cougs slotted as a No. 4, and that’s more or less where he has had them for a while, too.

What I think it’s going to come down to is how the committee views the difficulty of the Pac-10, because I think that’s the fundamental difference between Lunardi and Palm. They agree on the strength of UCLA and Stanford, but it appears Palm thinks the committee will take the strength of the Pac-10 into account more than Lunardi does. Here are their seeding projections each for the Pac-10 teams:

  • UCLA: Lunardi 1, Palm 1
  • Stanford: Lunardi 3, Palm 3
  • WSU: Lunardi 6, Palm 4
  • USC: Lunardi 7, Palm 5
  • Arizona: Lunardi 11, Palm 10
  • Oregon: Lunardi 12, Palm 11
  • Arizona State: Both have the Sun Devils out. Lunardi has them as one of his last four out.

Honestly, I think a No. 4 seed for the Cougs is best case scenario. I’d have a hard time seeing UCLA as a No. 1, Stanford as a No. 2 and WSU as a No. 3, but then again, I thought a No. 3 was just wishful thinking last year — and we all know how that turned out. In the end, I think a No. 5 is probably where it’s at.

Posted in Breakdowns, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »