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Posts Tagged ‘Aron Baynes’

MAILBAG: APR, the starting five, and recruiting

Posted by Jeff Nusser on May 19, 2008

Welcome to our first edition of the mailbag, where I will attempt to answer your inquisitive questions with my awesome ability to speculate despite a total lack of access to any kind of insider information!

Mike R. wonders about the effect of Thomas Abercrombie’s departure on the team’s APR:

“Perhaps this should be a mailbag question (feel free to answer it then), but what kind of impact will this have on our APR score? Obviously, it’s not as bad when guys leave while in good academic standing, but will this still have a negative impact?”

In a word, yes, it will have a negative impact. But it will be minimal.

The important thing to remember is that while any departure from the program does hurt you a little bit, it only really hurts you a lot when the guy leaves the program academically ineligible or having not made what the NCAA deems as satisfactory progress towards a degree. (Vince Grippi does a great job explaining it here.) We have no reason to believe that was the case with Abercrombie.

And even then, that’s only if the average of the previous four years is below 925. This basketball program is going to soar well over that 925 mark next year, thanks to the abysmally low score in Dick Bennett’s first year finally leaving the four-year average. Even if Abercrombie did leave the program ineligible, chances are good there would be no penalty, anyway. It’s this progress that’s allowed Bennett to take a chance on a talented guy like DeAngelo Casto, who might be a litle bit of a question mark in the classroom. If he doesn’t pan out, no harm, no foul.

Grady over at Stadium Way wonders about the starters in 2008-09:

“Hey, I’ll bite on that mailbag request. What do you think the starting five will be for the Cougs next year?”

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Posted in Mailbag | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

One down, five to go

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 20, 2008

So, how about those halftime adjustments?

With WSU and Winthrop tied at the half, I identified five things that were going wrong for the Cougs that allowed the Eagles to hang close. Some of it was Winthrop; most of it was our own doing. TB and the boys must have had the blog on the laptop at halftime, because here’s what happened:

  1. Too many turnovers — 1st half: 5; 2nd half: 3.
  2. Too many offensive rebounds — 1st half 5; 2nd half 1.
  3. Too much Taj McCullough — 1st half 15 points; 2nd half 2 points.
  4. Too many 3s given up — 1st half 4-for-8; 2nd half 2-for-11.
  5. Too little Low — 1st half zero points; 2nd half 11 points.

I honestly don’t have enough superlatives to describe that second half of basketball. What a veteran, gutty performance. It was so calm, so collected, that you’d hardly know they were being threatened by a lesser team. They knew, if they shored up a few things and kept doing what they were doing, that they were going to be able to stop Winthrop and get some things going offensively.

To me, this game illustrates perfectly the difference between last year’s team and this year’s team. With the offense sputtering tonight, Kyle Weaver was able to carry us until the rest of the team got going. Not only that, but our offense was able to keep us in it, even as the other team played out of its collective mind. And of course, Aron Baynes had just the kind of game we all thought he could — some nice post moves against smaller guys and dunks off guard penetration.

That was as dominant a stretch of basketball as you’ll see in this tournament, No. 1 seed or otherwise. To hold any tournament team that’s not a No. 16 seed to single digit points for the vast majority of a half is just spectacular. It even allowed us to get a little rest for the regulars, which is no small thing this time of year.

And don’t take it for granted that that’s what high seeds do — just look at all the trouble Duke had with Belmont and Xavier had with Georgia. (And Wisconsin is having with Cal State-Fullerton. Go Josh Akognon!) This was just what the doctor ordered. If a deep run into this tournament isn’t in the cards, it won’t be because this team isn’t ready.

I’ll probably have some additional thoughts tomorrow once all the stats roll in, but you should be doing what I’m doing right now: Basking in the glow of a tremendous victory.

One down, five to go.

Posted in Game Analysis, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

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

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.

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Posted in Game Threads, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

A day I’ll always remember

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 10, 2008

I have a lot of conflicting feelings about what I witnessed in Pullman on Saturday, mostly because I think the game represented two very separate and distinct experiences as a Cougar basketball fan.

The first experience, and obviously the one I will remember most fondly once this season is in the rear view mirror, is of being able to give these five seniors the hero’s send off they all so richly deserved. As I contributed my voice to the cheers that descended from the rafters, I thought of all the joy these guys have brought us — not only in the successes of the past two years, but in the lumps they took the first two years as we learned to love Bennett ball.

In that respect, the game did not even come close to disappointing. As Ryan Appleby’s last chance to send the game to a third overtime clanged off the rim (do you realize that guy never beat WSU in his three years in Seattle?), Aron Baynes practically stomped a hole in the Friel Court floor, the seniors smiled weary, exhausted smiles, and I high-fived anyone within reach of me. (Except for the guy to my left who spent the entire game trying to impress his girlfriend with his “knowledge” of basketball and superfluous string of profanties. I didn’t high-five him. But that’s another story.) Watching the players gather at midcourt for one final time at Beasley and then thank the fans back for their support — specifically the Zzu Cru, which stepped up huge with spring break already underway — just made me feel so proud to be a Coug.

But during the game itself, I had a heck of a hard time separating that experience from the one that kept staring me in the face — the one that let the Huskies hang around far longer than they should have, the one that scares me to death going forward from here, now that the postseason is upon us.

For the fourth time in five games, the offense performed well below its season standard. What’s weird about it is there’s not really one thing you can point to as a neat and tidy explanation for the issues that have caused the funk. In two games, it was simply poor shooting (Arizona State, Arizona); in another, an inability to get anywhere near the rim or to the free throw line for the most critical stretch of the game (Stanford); against Washington, it was turnovers and poor free throw shooting.

The problem with having no tidy explanation, of course, is that there are no tidy fixes, either. So we’re left to wonder: Is there something bigger going on here? At various times throughout the year I’ve openly wondered if this team is tiring, given not only the heavy minutes most of our starters log but the nature of those grinding minutes thanks to the Cougar basketball style. And I’ll openly wonder it again.

I think this team is a lot more worn down and banged up than anyone is letting on. Daven Harmeling was completely ineffective again, getting absolutely abused on defense, thanks to his lack of lateral movement, to the tune of three fouls in four minutes. Kyle Weaver clearly is playing hurt, something that was exacerbated when he landed hard in the game. I don’t know if they showed it on TV, but many times Weaver was the last to leave the huddle, sitting on his chair until the very last second he had to get up and limp his way into position. He is battling, but he made some uncharacteristically boneheaded decisions with the ball in that game, which makes you wonder if his pain is getting into his head.

Then, there is the not-so-obvious candidate. For about 38 minutes, Aron Baynes was having a flashback to his freshman year, and someone close to the program speculated after the game that he might be playing through some back issues. It would make sense, because he just didn’t look like the same guy out there for most of that game, allowing a lot of rebounds that he normally just does not give up. It also might help explain his sudden ineptitude from the free throw line — when you’re dealing with that big of a body, it doesn’t take much to throw off a shot.

For the Cougs, Weaver, Baynes and Harmeling are three important cogs that serve distinctly unique and important roles on this team. For all that Ptowncoug wants to rail against Baynes being a focal point of the offense, you saw how much the game changed once Baynes started being aggressive around the basket, how the threat of him scoring opened things up for everyone else. You’ve also seen at times this year how a healthy Harmeling completely changes the way teams defend us. And it doesn’t even need to be stated what Weaver means to our offense.

Additionally, I think it affected us on the defensive end, too. We’ve been doing such an outstanding job of rebounding as of late that we’ve started to take it for granted. We did a spectacular job of keeping the Huskies from making shots on Saturday, but we got absolutely destroyed on the glass. A lot of the credit has to be given to Washington, which was relentless in its pursuit of the ball. But how does Weaver play 44 minutes and grab only three rebounds? Or Baynes play 38 and grab only eight? How do we get outrebounded by nearly 20? We know what the point of emphasis will be heading towards Thursday, especially after Oregon did a similar thing to Arizona on the glass in its win on Saturday.

Now, I know everyone is banged up this time of year. But one of the interesting things about the way this team is constructed — besides lacking a lot of depth — is that it’s not a team full of interchangeable parts. When one of these guys isn’t able to do his job, it’s to the detriment of the whole. And this whole needs to be functioning at its tip-top level very soon. Let’s hope some of this stuff heals up a bit between now and Thursday.

That said, nothing can take away from the fun I had this weekend, and the memories I made. I couldn’t stand the thought of having to get to November’s Apple Cup with the Huskies finally breaking the streak. Thank goodness I don’t have to.

Seven in a row, baby!

Posted in Game Analysis | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

GAME THREAD: Arizona State at No. 17 WSU

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 21, 2008

Sun Devils (16-8, 6-6) at Cougars (20-5 overall, 8-5 Pac-10)

Beasley Coliseum (Pullman, Wash.), 6 p.m. PT

The Cougs face a desperate team tonight. While ASU’s overall record looks OK and that .500 conference mark doesn’t look terrible given that four other teams in the Pac-10 have virtually the same record, those six losses have come in the Sun Devils’ last eight games.Make no mistake about it — thanks to the Sun Devils’ middling conference record and poor road play (2-4 in just six true road games), Arizona State is squarely on the tournament bubble. Of particular dismay to ASU fans has to be Saturday’s head-scratching loss to Cal after knocking off No. 7 Stanford.

But losing streaks and inconsistent performances can happen sometimes when a team relies so heavily on young players — of the five starters, two are sophomores and two are freshman, including leading scorer James Harden (right).

Arizona State has leaned heavily on Harden, who was all over the floor in the first meeting against the Cougs, and it seems to have really taken its toll on the young man. How heavily have they leaned on him? According to, he “uses” 28.6 percent of ASU’s possessions when he’s in the game, which is 80 percent of the time. So, not only is he playing the most minutes on the team, more than one out of every four possessions ends with him taking some sort of shot which usually requires making some sort of move, all of which drains a player.

The result has been rough for ASU. After scoring 15 or more points in 18 of his first 20 games, he now has failed to score more than 11 points in three of the past five. His shots are down (usually a sign of a reluctance to work hard to get open), his turnovers are up and his fouls are up (also a sure sign of tired legs, especially in a zone defense). Will he want to work as hard as he’s going to need to against the WSU defense this time around, without a favorable crowd behind him to get that extra adrenaline shot? I suspect not, but we’ll see.

One big key tonight will be rebounding. Arizona State’s offense is heavily dependent on offensive rebounds and second-chance points — according to, the Devils have a fairly strong correlation between offensive rebounding percentage and offensive efficiency. If the Cougs rebound the way they have against the last three opponents — all wins, not coincidentally — they should be in very good shape defensively tonight.

But let me pose a couple of questions to you. Anybody notice how we dominated Oregon on the glass? Anybody notice that Aron Baynes played 34 minutes in that one? Yeah, not a coincidence, those two things. The problem, of course, is that there isn’t really any room on offense for a post-only, not-so-good-passing big man against a zone such as ASU’s — Baynes played only 20 minutes in the first contest, some of it because of foul trouble, some of it because of offensive ineffectiveness. How we rebound with if our best rebounder is playing reduced minutes again tonight will be a major key.

The guy to watch out for on that front, of course, is Jeff Pendergraph. He’s the main reason for ASU’s success on the boards — he’s 77th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage — but his inconsistencies have made him one of the bigger disappointments in the Pac-10, in my book. He’s a foul waiting to happen, and it was that foul trouble that kept him out of most of the game against the Cougs the first time around, when he played 30 minutes but was hardly effective. Pendergraph isn’t exactly a load, so look for Tony Bennett to put Robbie Cowgill on him plenty to try and combat his activity.

But while Harden and Pendergraph tend to get all the pub, don’t sleep on Ty Abbott. The freshman, who was recruited heavily by WSU (and UW) before electing to go to the hometown school, is a very good 3-point shooter. And if there’s anything that we know can bust the Cougs’ D, it’s 3s. Thankfully, the Sun Devils were unbelievably poor in that department last time. Bet your bottom dollar that Tony Bennett is making sure the Cougs know where he is on the floor at all times.

On offense, the key for the Cougs will be penetrating that zone. In the first matchup, WSU looked terrible, then very good, then terrible against it. All of it had to do with how effectively the Cougs got the ball to Kyle Weaver in the high post. Early on, they weren’t even trying; late, ASU did an outstanding job denying entry passes to him. The Cougs will want to get him the ball in that triple threat position as much as possible, and if the Sun Devils overplay the high entry as hard as they did in the second half of the last game, Bennett will have to get creative — some pass fakes and dribble drives into the gaps should do the trick.

Bottom line? This is a game ASU must have, but I see two teams going in opposite directions. I think the Cougs handle and frustrate a young, tiring team to a relatively comfortable win.

Posted in Game Threads | Tagged: , , , , , , | 90 Comments »


Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 7, 2008

Bruins (20-2 overall, 8-1 Pac-10) at Cougars (17-4, 5-4)

Beasley Coliseum (Pullman, Wash.), 7:30 p.m. PT

A week ago, this looked like it could be another showdown for first place in the Pac-10. It’s still a big game for WSU, but now it is classified as such because it presents a tremendous opportunity for the Cougs to prove their relevance both in the conference and on the national stage once again.

We all know what happened in the first matchup, so there’s not much need to rehash that. The Cougs came out flat and tense and UCLA rode the momentum of a fast start and a raucous crowd to knock off then-No. 4 WSU.

The halfway point is one of the most fascinating times in the Pac-10 schedule every year. There are no secrets anymore between these teams, and this is where great coaching often can show up. These players are intimately familiar with each other, and the tweaks in strategy coming from the bench can make all the difference in the outcome.

What kinds of tweaks might the Cougs make tonight?

Well, for one, you might see them employ a different strategy on the perimeter, because they’ve got to change something strategy-wise to try and contain penetration. I’d expect to see them doing a lot less switching on high ball screens so there is less scrambling on defense.

I’d also expect to see them try to do something — anything — to protect Aron Baynes from foul trouble. They’ll probably double him hard every time he touches the ball in the post, because they absolutely need him on the floor to combat Kevin Love’s rebounding prowess and to attempt to keep him away from the basket. Will doubling work? Love is an exceptional passer, so it will only work if the Cougars do a really good job cutting off angles to the open men and stay with the cutters. It’s risky, but it’s a risk the Cougs probably will take in order to take some of the pressure off Baynes.

Don’t be surprised if Robbie Cowgill takes some turns on Love, too. He’s better able to stay with Love on the perimeter. Remember, that game in Los Angeles didn’t truly get out of hand until Love started burying 3s in the second half. When that started happening, there was simply no way to defend UCLA, and the game was, for all intents and purposes, over.

Despite what I’ve written the past few days, this team is still good, and this team can still beat a very good team. It might take an exceptional offensive effort or a bit of an off night from UCLA or even just a few fortuitous bounces, but it can happen.

Tonight’s as good a time as any, because the Cougs are quickly running out of time to make statements.

Posted in Game Threads | Tagged: , , , , | 80 Comments »

‘Do better’ and ‘try harder’ are not sufficient solutions

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 7, 2008

Vince Grippi over at the Spokesman-Review has been doing an awesome job covering the Cougs this year, especially since he was thrust into the role unexpectedly at the end of last basketball season. But his most recent article, looking at what the Cougs need to do in the second half of the Pac-10 season, really kind of irked me this morning.

If you’ve read Grippi over there at all, you know that essentially he’s an eternal optimist, which of course is a rare quality among journalists. He spent the bulk of the football season defending Alex Brink — not exactly a popular stance — and often tries to talk fans down off their ledges, which is important. But, sometimes, I think his rose-colored glasses keep him from seeing reality.

In his story today, he addressed five things the Cougs need to do better in the second half to be successful, one of which I outright disagree with. And while I agree that doing the other four of them will make the Cougars more successful, I disagree that they actually will be able to do the most important key, which comes without a suggestion from either himself, Tony Bennett or players as to how the Cougs are going to make it happen.

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Posted in Around the 'Net, Breakdowns | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

If you aren’t convinced now, you never will be

Posted by Jeff Nusser on December 6, 2007

So rarely does a game live up to its hype. Last night, the No. 8 Cougs’ 51-47 win over No. 17 Gonzaga at raucous K2 did that — and then some.

Some might look at the score and shooting percentages and say it was an ugly game. I couldn’t disagree more. If you need dunks on every other possession and one-on-one isolation plays to entertain you, there’s a three-letter association that’s tailor made for you that was hogging the airwaves on FSN last night.

But, if you — like me — enjoy watching two hard-nosed, well-coached, talented opponents slug it out with great gameplans and great defenses, well, last night was your paradise.

First, let me take this moment to officially welcome the WSU defense to the 2007-08 season. That was absolutely vintage Cougar basketball, the kind of stuff that vets all of the thoughts we’ve all had about this maybe, possibly, being a Final Four team. There is not a team in the country — and I am not exaggerating when I say that — that could have penetrated that defense last night. Not North Carolina. Not Memphis. Not UCLA, or Kansas or Texas. Maybe some of them could have shot over the top of it, but that thing was an iron fortress around the basket.

I’m not even sure I can fully convey what a dominating defensive performance that was, but I’ll try. If you watched it, you know. But it becomes even more staggering when you try to quantify it.

First off, the raw numbers. The Zags …

  • … shot 15-for-52 overall — a paltry 25.9 percent. They have shot 45.3 percent on the season.
  • … shot 5-for-16 from 3-point range — 31.3 percent.
  • … grabbed only eight offensive rebounds. They average more than 12 a game.
  • … got just 17 points combined from leading scorers Matt Bouldin, Jeremy Pargo and Austin Daye. They normally combine for 37.2 a game. Additionally, Bouldin came into the game 26-for-48 over his past five games. He was 0-for-9. Zero points.

The performance becomes even more jaw-dropping when we look at other stats such as efficiency and rebounding percentage (what are those?).

In the previous three games — all on the road — Gonzaga’s offensive efficiency had not dipped below 95, and had been excellent at 115.8 and 124.5 against UConn and Virginia Tech, respectively. Against WSU? Just 75.8, more than 25 below Gonzaga’s season average. How big is that? Think about it this way: If the Zags had performed to their average offensive level over last night’s 61 possessions, they would have scored 65 points. Instead, they scored 47. In other words, the defense last night was 18 points good. That’s the kind of stuff of legends.

Perhaps the most underrated aspect of last night’s defensive effort is what an amazing job WSU did on the defensive glass. I mentioned in the game thread that Gonzaga was a team that thrives off creating extra possessions through offensive rebounds. Last night, though, the Zags claimed just 20 percent of the available offensive rebounds — far below their season average of roughly 40 percent. In such a close game, that was huge.

There are nits to pick offensively. Where is Derrick Low? Why does a team laden with upperclassmen sometimes have rashes of silly turnovers? When will Aron Baynes quit committing silly fouls so he can truly be a force on the floor? But, really, they simply aren’t pressing enough to take away from this performance.

While we have acknowledged the awesomeness of the offense so far, we all know that defense is where our bread is buttered, and last night showed why: Even when we have an off offensive night against a quality defensive opponent, we can still win a game. And comfortably. The final margin was four points, but at no point did it feel like the Cougs were in danger of losing control of that game. That’s the power of defense. That’s what this team is capable of.

To be frank, this truly is the kind of performance that proves once and for all that this team is the real deal, that it absolutely belongs in the top 10, and that it absolutely should be mentioned in the same breath as the nation’s elite. The defense had been the one missing cog this year, but no longer. The Cougs should coast through the remainder of their nonconference schedule before waltzing into Hec-Ed for it’s Pac-10 opener on Jan. 5 ranked as one of the top 5 teams in the country. And it will be entirely deserved.

I said it below, and I’ll say it again: Enjoy this. These are awesome times.

Posted in Game Analysis | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »