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Posts Tagged ‘Robbie Cowgill’

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 »

Robbie Cowgill: No. 34 in your program, No. 1 in the classroom

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 13, 2008

Robbie Cowgill was named the Pac-10 scholar-athlete of the year today. Here’s an excerpt from the WSU release.

A management and operations major, Cowgill is a two-time CoSIDA Academic All-District honoree. He has been named to the Pac-10 All-Academic First Team the past two years, the WSU Athletics All-Academic Team all four years, and is a two-time Cougar Pride Academic Salute and WSU Libraries Scholar-Athlete of the Week honoree. An honors college enrollee, Cowgill has a 3.36 grade point average and will graduate in May.

Congrats, Robbie. Winning with class.

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In praise of the Cougar defense, rebounding – and Robbie Cowgill

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 29, 2008

Given the stakes, last night was our most important win of the season.

To go on the road and not just beat a team we’re supposed to beat, but annihilate them, is huge. I know home teams have had their fair share of troubles in this conference, but the selection committee won’t look at that. They’ll look at the fact that the Cougs now have a 14-2 record away from Pullman with true road wins over USC, Gonzaga, Baylor, Arizona State and Boise State — all teams projected by’s Joe Lunardi to be in the NCAA Tournament.

The best part about last night, though, is that it validated where this team was heading before the Arizona game, as the Cougs have now won five of six games and done it in a fashion that is sustainable as we roll toward the postseason.

You know that we harp on and on about defense around here. Well, last night was a defensive-minded coach’s dream. I think we all know that Cal is a potent offensive team, but let me throw some stats your way that ought to give you a pretty good idea of just how amazing last night’s defensive performance was.

This is a Cal team that ranks 17th nationally in‘s adjusted offensive efficiency rating at 116.9. Last night, the Cougs held the Bears to a 79.5 efficiency rating. If you don’t understand just how unbelievably dominant that is, let me translate. Last night’s game contained 61 possessions. Captain Math tells us that when we multiply 61 possessions by the 1.169 points per possession the Bears typically score, Cal will post around 71 points in a game. Last night, the Bears scored 49.

Digest that for a second. In essence, the Cougs held the Bears 22 points below their season average.

And it wasn’t a flash in the pan. In that four-game win streak, we did the same thing to …

  • USC: 111.1 adjusted efficiency overall but 88.5 against the Cougs, essentially 12 points below the Trojans’ average performance;
  • Oregon State: 95.6 vs. 92.6, 1 point below average;
  • Oregon: 120.0 vs. 96.2, 13 points below average;
  • Arizona State: 111.1 vs. 83.1, 15 points below average.

Think about that. We’re not just holding our opponents below their season averages; since the end of that miserable stretch of four losses in five games, we now have held four of our six opponents to double digits under their season average. Heck, even in the loss to Arizona we held the Wildcats below their season efficiency rating (although admittedly not by a whole lot).

That, my friends, is what we call a bona fide trend. And it ought to give you pause.

Now, I’m not a big X’s and O’s guy, so I can’t exactly tell you what the difference has been schematically, but I can tell you two things that are pretty obvious from a statistical point of view: Teams are not shooting as well on us as they were earlier this season, and they are getting far fewer offensive rebounds.

We constantly talk about getting out on shooters, which we did an exceptional job of last night, and that’s important. And I think the explanation there is pretty simple — we’re not trapping as much as we were, which means we’re not scrambling to get back into position to guard shooters on the perimeter (kinda like what you see in the NBA every night). We’re playing sound, stick-with-your-man defense. Additionally we just seem to be exhibiting a high amount of effort in getting out on shooters.

But I think the improved rebounding is one huge aspect of our defense that is being overlooked by most everyone. It’s so very important to end possessions after one shot, something we were doing a horrible job of early in the conference season. But we are doing a dramatically better job of it in winning those five of six games.

While there are other factors in play we’ll get to in a minute, you can credit one man for a lot of that turnaround: Robbie Cowgill.

Over the first 10 games of the Pac-10 season, Cowgill was averaging just 3.7 rebounds. He often looked timid — shocking for a guy that was so active last year — and we all lamented the loss of his activity around the floor. But something has gotten into him since then. In the past six games, his rebounds are way up, all the way to 6.5 a game. That might not seem like that big of an increase, but when you’re playing games that only have 55-60 possessions, three more rebounds is positively huge. He’s playing great defense and he is crashing the glass — exactly what this team needs from him. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that his points per game are up over that stretch, too (6.7 vs. 4.7).

But I think it’s more than Cowgill and Baynes, who is doing what he always does, which is box out like a madman with a body no one can get around. Our guards are rebounding as well as I can remember a team’s guards rebounding in quite a while, which has to be one of the most underrated aspects to this defensive turnaround. I really can think of only one viable comparison to what our guards are doing right now, and that’s the Michigan State championship teams of eight or nine years ago. We are absolutely selling out for every loose ball right now, and our guards are snatching long rebounds away from everyone. It truly is remarkable.

Now, that rebounding skill will be put to the test. This defensive turnaround happened after getting absolutely destroyed on the defensive glass by both Stanford and UCLA at home. If we can control the defensive glass on the Cardinal tomorrow — and that’s a huge if, given that Stanford is 17th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage — I think we can win that game a lot more easily than most people think.

Posted in Breakdowns | Tagged: , , , | 8 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 »

That fine line

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 3, 2008

Tony Bennett has been preaching for months that the line between great success and great failure for these Cougars is as thin as it can possibly be.

As much as we all want to tell people that we’re not as devoid of good players as we’re often made out to be, the reality is that we don’t have the same kinds of athletes as the rest of the Pac-10. We don’t have athletes who can consistently overcome their off days at the free throw line or taking care of the ball — or whatever — with superhuman individual efforts based on their giftings.

And I suppose that’s what was most stunning about the past two games. Over the last year-and-a-half we’ve become so accustomed to our boys pulling out these close games that we’ve begun to take it for granted. When it doesn’t, we’re startled. When we don’t play fundamentally sound basketball and it costs us a game, we wonder if all the pundits were right about our team, that they really are just a bunch of overachievers who caught a lot of breaks last year.

I know that my faith has been shaken quite a bit in these first nine Pac-10 games.

Would I feel this way if any one of the 82 small things that could have gone differently against Cal had gone differently and the Cougs would have won? Would I feel this way if Robin Lopez doesn’t hit the miracle shot of his life or if Taylor Rochestie hits a layup or if Robbie Cowgill or Kyle Weaver hit just one more free throw?

Would I feel the same way if a couple of close wins instead of close losses had left us 7-2?

Probably not as strong as I feel it now, so certainly there is some emotion at play in this moment.

But emotion aside, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion about this team ever since watching it get embarrassed by UCLA and Arizona. That is something that just did not happen last year, and it gave me pause that it happened not just once, but twice. I’ve seen some really disturbing things, especially with regards to the defense, that I fully did not expect to see this season. I’ll go into that in more detail in my post tomorrow, but it’s become fairly obvious to all that our supposed “strength” is not our strength.

It’s not that I don’t believe this team is good; it is. The Cougs will make back-to-back tournaments — a HUGE accomplishment by most any program’s measure — and will probably receive a seed in the top half of the bracket. But it’s also become equally obvious that this team probably isn’t as good as we thought.

A lot of this likely would get masked if the Cougars played in a weaker conference, but they don’t. WSU has now lost four Pac-10 games and are staring No. 5 right in the face with UCLA coming to town on Thursday. (The Cougs only lost five Pac-10 games all of last year, in case you forgot.) There certainly is time for redemption — as I was going to write on the game thread that never got done yesterday, beat Stanford and you forget all about Cal, and a sweep over UCLA and USC will have us thinking Final Four again — but time is quickly running out on these Cougs to have the kind of season they dreamed.

Favorable seeding is so very important to a deep NCAA Tournament run, and a top three seed is looking less and less likely. The Cougs are now just 4-3 against the RPI top 50 and lack any kind of a signature win. Yes, road wins against Baylor, Gonzaga, USC and Arizona State are nice, but they’re not the kind that earn you a No. 2 seed. Wins over UCLA, Stanford and surging Arizona are. We’re 0-for-3 there.

This team already has reached unprecidented heights. But as a wise man in my life once said, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, because that’s what everyone remembers. Let’s hope these Cougars can figure out a way to finish strong, because they deserve it.

Posted in Game Analysis | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

GAME THREAD: California at No. 9 WSU

Posted by Jeff Nusser on January 31, 2008

Cougars (17-2 overall, 5-2 Pac-10) at Bears (11-7, 2-5)

Beasley Coliseum (Pullman, Wash.), 7 p.m. PT
TV: None

Oregon State notwithstanding, Cal is about as close to an easy opponent as you’re going to get in the Pac-10 — which, once I start telling you about Cal, ought to tell you just how freaking tough the Pac-10 is this year.

The Cougs pretty well dominated the Bears last year, and you can chalk that up to one factor: They were horrific from beyond the arc in those two games, just 7-of-29 and 6-of-22 — 25.4 percent. And as was on full display on Saturday, a team shooting the 3 poorly against the Cougs is a team that usually loses.

One problem: Offensively, these Bears are much better than they were a year ago. Their offensive efficiency (what’s that?) has jumped from 105.1 to 112.8, and their effective field goal percentage (huh?) has jumped from 51.2 to 54.8.

Quite simply, they’re a better offensive team this year because they’re a better shooting team, and they’ve proven they can score on anybody — they’ve exceeded a 100 efficiency rating (the benchmark for solid offense) in every game but three, including all Pac-10 games but the one against UCLA, and they have exceeded 50 percent in effective field goal percentage (another benchmark) in every game but four. That’s not likely to change against WSU, unless they have an uncharacteristically bad shooting night.

But while we can wring our hands over what Cal might do offensively, trust me when I say that the Bears will be rightfully more worried about the Cougars are going to do offensively. Cal is a bad defensive team, something that ought to be obvious from the fact that despite all the offensive fireworks, the Bears are 2-5 in the conference and just a few games over .500 overall.

Cal has yet to even really come close to stopping a legitimate conference opponent. (Oregon State doesn’t count.) While UCLA and USC were around 107 in offensive efficiency, Oregon (116.5), Arizona (121.0), Stanford (121.4) and Arizona State (126.3) all exceeded a 116 efficiency against the Bears. That’s not just bad defense; that’s terrible defense. And as we’ve said here all year, the Cougs are one of the best offensive teams in the country, something that’s lost on most everyone because they don’t score a lot of points per game. Their overall offensive efficiency rating is 114.8 — ninth nationally. They’ve been especially beastly at home.

The moral of the story? The Cougs are going to score points and they’re going to win, but this is the kind of game I wouldn’t bet on if my life depended on it. The Cougs are favored by 11, but the score could be 70-65 as easily as it could be 70-55. It all depends — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — on whether Cal hits some 3s.

Other keys that could influence the flow, if not necessarily the outcome, of the game:

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Posted in Game Threads | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments »

Did I mention that it starts and ends with defense?

Posted by Jeff Nusser on January 27, 2008

There are a few things I want to highlight in the wake of yesterday’s awesome nail-biter, but I can’t really think of a cohesive way to put it all together, so on this non-football Sunday, you get a notebook-style recap.

So, about those keys to the game

If you didn’t believe me yesterday before the game when I said that defensive rebounding would be the key, consider this: How different would the game probably have been if ASU had come up with three more offensive rebounds? That’s what the Sun Devis would have needed to hit their season average, and it probably would have resulted in a Cougar loss.

Tony Bennett thought it was so important that he put Robbie Cowgill back in the starting lineup. Cowgill showed his coach that his faith was well placed, as he was one of the big difference makers in that department.

We still didn’t see the re-emergence of the midrange jumper that made him such an underrated weapon last year — a function of a zone defense, which won’t give up many of those — but we did see the return of the guy who is active on the glass and weakside help defense. He was everywhere yesterday, picking up five rebounds and a couple of blocks. He topped the 30-minute mark for the first time since Washington, which tells you what Bennett thought of what he was doing on the floor.

Gosh, it feels good to write that about Robbie, a truly good guy we all want to see succeed.

Kyle Weaver is the man

Weaver probably won’t get any votes for Pac-10 player of the year because he doesn’t score enough points, but his ability as a basketball player was on full display yesterday. Without him, we don’t win that game — for multiple reasons.

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Thoughts on the Baylor victory

Posted by Jeff Nusser on December 1, 2007

Since I didn’t see the game thanks to it being on ESPNU, and since ESPN’s treatment on SportsCenter last night of this near upset of a No. 6 team amounted to 15 seconds of highlights — you’d think the only two interesting plays of the game were Low’s two late 3’s — I can’t really bring much to the table in the way of first-person analysis. (Several readers did a fine job of that last night.)

But what I can do is look at the numbers and offer up some observations.

First of all, I don’t know what it is about this team and its crappy starts, but they better get it figured out. I understand the whole thing about opponents coming out fired up and riding adrenaline early, but that only explains half the problem — the Cougars simply are not playing well early in games. If they don’t shore it up, there will come a point where they will not be able to dig themselves out of a hole. In fact, they might not have last night if Jerrells hadn’t missed the end of the game.

What went wrong in the first half? Well, the turnovers, for one. Let me hit you with two stats. Heading into last night …

  • WSU was 11th in the country in turnover percentage (the percentage of possessions that end up in a turnover);
  • Taylor Rochestie had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.4, and Kyle Weaver had one of 2.2; and
  • As a team, WSU had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.5.

Last night? Ten assists, 14 turnovers as a team. Rochestie had four assists and three turnovers, Weaver had two assists and three turnovers. Very uncharacteristic, so it gives you hope that it’s something that’s solvable.

What else happened last night that’s solvable? Read the rest of this entry »

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