Young and dangerous Cougs could surprise many
With a relatively unknown team comes unknown expectations. The Washington State Cougars, returning just two starters from last season, are a team that many have predicted to struggle with a vastly improved Pac-12 schedule. The losses of seniors Marcus Capers, Abe Lodwick, and Charlie Enquist, coupled with the dismissal of senior point guard Reggie Moore, has resulted in a serious lack of depth at several key positions.
The media has pegged the Cougars to finish 10th in the Pac-12 this season, due largely in part to the previously mentioned unknowns.
Who is going to run the point? Outside of Brock Motum, where is the scoring going to come from? Can the Cougars effectively work the paint with no true center and the absence of quality big men?
All of these are valid questions, but the Cougars can, and in my honest opinion will be, a team that is going to surprise a lot of people.
Ken Bone — like him or not — has a method to his madness. His offenses have always found ways to produce within a guard heavy system lacking true playmakers, and he has shown a knack for executing exotic defensive techniques to stall opposing offenses.
Believe it or not, there is reason to be excited for this Washington State basketball team. They may not have the experience and talent to make a serious run at the Pac-12 title this season, but they will pick and claw their way into the conversation.
Royce Woolridge Will Emerge As a Top-Flight PG
The position receiving the most concern heading into the season is at point guard, where the Cougars have a serious void to replace.
Filling the shoes of Moore, last season’s Pac-12 assists champion, is Kansas transfer Royce Woolridge, who played his first game in over two years in a win against Eastern Washington. Against the Eagles in his Cougars debut, Woolridge recorded seven points and two assists, a modest output from your starting point guard, but his performance goes far and beyond the stat sheet.
Woolridge has embraced his role as point guard despite Bone’s proclamation that the Cougars would be orchestrating the position by committee.
He attempted just five shots and was a key part in creating for his teammates, regardless of the lack of assists. He has a knack for getting in the lane and, when called upon, can finish at the rack. But he’s already showed during this young season that he wants to be a pass-first point guard—something the Cougars desperately need.
The redshirt sophomore followed up his debut against Utah Valley on Wednesday night with a career-high six assists and, once again, proved he is ripe for a breakout year as the Cougars starting point guard.
When you look at effective point guards, it’s easy to look directly at their average assists and judge them. However, the most important statistic to look at when grading your floor general is turnovers. In two games, Woolridge has just three turnovers to his eight assists in 56 minutes of play.
I expect Woolridge to be a breakout performer on the Pac-12 scene, putting to rest the concern that the Cougars don’t have a bonafide point.
Brock Motum will win Pac-12 POY
The Cougars return the Pac-12′s leading scorer from last season, Brock Motum, a senior who is easily the engine that makes their train go. Motum, who averaged 18.0 points per game last season, was beat out for last year’s Pac-12 Player of the Year by California’s Jorge Gutierrez—something that was expected and certainly deserving.
Although, the honor typically goes hand-in-hand with team performance, and because the Cougars were so sub-par compared to their competition last year, the award went to the player that was most valuable on the best team. That’s typically how those types of awards go, so it’s hard arguing in Motum’s favor.
However, this season the load weighs squarely on Motum’s shoulders.
The Aussie erupted in style to begin the year against Eastern Washington with 23 points and 10 rebounds. It was just his fourth double-double of his career, but he looks primed to back up his Most Improved Player award with some more hardware on his mantle after his senior season.
Whether the Cougars have the win-loss record to validate a Player of the Year award by recent trends is up for discussion, but Motum will most likely improve his numbers vastly, making it tough for voters to snub the big man two years in a row.
Motum’s scoring numbers will be hard-pressed to exceed 20 points on average, but his rebounding numbers will inflate from last season’s 6.4 rebounds-per-game output due to the Cougars lack of height in the post.
If 19 points and around eight rebounds a contest isn’t deserving of Pac-12 Player of the Year recognition, I’ll be damned.
The Cougars will sweep the Huskies
Now, let me begin by saying that I’m not going to poke fun at the Huskies for losing to the Albany Great Danes. I mean, come on, it’s no big deal losing to a team that has never beat a Division-I school. Not to mention, lose to that same team on your head coach’s birthday.
The Huskies’ loss puts a dent in the Pac-12 as a whole, but who am I kidding? I’m still chuckling inside that they lost to a team no one has ever heard of on their home court.
As we approach Apple Cup, it’s easy to get into rivalry mode, and I won’t sway from that mood during this ensemble. The Huskies aren’t a good basketball team. C.J. Wilcox is an absolute stud, and he reminds me of a young Ray Allen, but outside C.J. Wilcox, who is going to step up and make that team a dangerous threat?
Aziz N’Daiye is hands-down my favorite Husky to play any sport of all-time, but he’s easily defended — if you even have to defend him — and he is prone to the hack-a-Aziz strategy due to his horrid free throw shooting.
Washington State plays as a team on both ends of the court, something the Huskies have failed to do on a consistent basis under Lorenzo Romar. The Cougars have had their fair share of success against the Huskies in recent memory, and I expect that trend to continue this season.
Team play beats individual play, and the Huskies don’t look like they’ll have either one this season with the losses of Tony Wroten and Terrance Ross.
Chalk up two wins for the Cougars.
DaVonte Lacy Earns Pac-12 All Second Team honors
DaVonte Lacy came on strong to end last season after senior guard Faisal Aden went down with a knee injury. Lacy was depended upon to pick up the scoring slack that was diminished when Aden went down, and he did just that.
As a true freshman, the Curtis High School alum averaged 8.5 points per game and earned Honorable Mention All Freshman team honors.
It wasn’t the honor the guard was shooting for, but he has a chance to make his mark on the Pac-12 this season with a defined role in the Cougars offense: score points.
Lacy looks to have slimmed down from last season and it has shown with his quickness and off-the-ball movement to create open shots early in the year. In two games thus far, Lacy has averaged 13.0 points, and against Utah Valley, he recorded a career-high six assists.
The sophomore will be asked to handle the ball more this season at the point guard position, and he showed that he’s more than capable of being, not only a scorer, but a valuable asset distributing the basketball.
The Cougars will be playing in the postseason
At first, I wanted to fearlessly predict that the Cougars would make the NCAA tournament, but after watching the Huskies fall flat on their face against who-know’s, and No. 12 UCLA struggle with UC Irvine, I honestly don’t believe the Pac-12 will be good enough to get more than two or three teams in the tournament.
With that said, I think the Cougars cut their preseason pegging in half and finish fifth in the Pac-12, earning themselves the dreaded NIT bid. That’s obviously not where this team wants to go, but given how young they truly are, they’re a year or two away from making a serious run at a legitimate NCAA bid.
Senior Mike Ladd will provide much-needed experience and is expected to become a vital component not only on the offensive end, but on the boards where he has excelled in season’s past. Also, D.J. Shelton is coming into his own at the center position and the uber-athletic big man is showing life of becoming a force in the paint.
With hyped four-star guard Demarquise Johnson eagerly waiting in the wings, in addition to inking four-star point guard Ikenna Iroegbu from the prestigious Oak Hill Academy, Bone is setting this team up for serious success.
It’s taken awhile to build this team into the winner that it was during the Tony Bennett days, but the pieces are starting to fall in place. If the first two games of the 2012-2013 season are any measure, this Cougars basketball team could be the cinderella of the Pac-12 and create headaches for the rest of the league.
Patience is a virtue—a virtue that Washington State fans have become rather accustomed to over many sports—butt our time is coming. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s getting brighter each week.