The 18th ranked Huskies waltz into the Beasley Coliseum at 7:00 this evening looking to extend their three-game win streak and narrow half game lead over Arizona in the PAC-10 standings. At 15-4 (7-1 in conference play), the Huskies have shown that they can indeed hang with the big boys. While not regarded as a particularly strong conference, some early tournament seeding predictions have as many as four PAC-10 teams dancing come March, and continued strong play in-conference is a must to get a crucial high seed. WSU looks to improve upon their .500 conference record and overcome their weak, 99th ranked strength of schedule--which somewhat invalidates their stronger overall record at 14-6--to show the selection committee they deserve an invite to the best damned playoff in the world.
Throw in the obvious animosity between the two schools, and you can count on a scrappy game. Players from both teams have been vocal in their disdain during the week leading up to an odd Sunday game time. Isaiah Thomas questioned why anyone would ever want to go to WSU, and Matthew Bryan-Amaning threw some more trash into the talk by answering, "[because] it's the No.1 party school."
Cougars coach Ken Bone, who spent 2002 to 2005 as a UW assistant has his work cut out for him, even if Vegas only has the Huskies favored by four. See some specific reasons after the jump.
Bone knows who the Cougs need to stop to win: Isaiah Thomas, who at 30.2 and 16.9 leads his team in both minutes per game and points per game, respectively. Likewise, Lorenzo Romar knows his squad needs to stop Klay Thompson, who, while averaging 22.2 PPG, has also been turnover prone, leading both teams at 3.3 turnovers per game. Thompson possession percentage also leads both teams at 30.2%, which according to basketball-reference.com estimates the percentage of team possessions a player consumes while on the floor, and thus his importance to the offense.
At 6'6" and 220 lbs., Thompson is big for a two-guard, and our traditional ball hawk guards--like Venoy Overton--are going to be ineffective. Luckily, Romar has Justin Holiday to throw at him, who's leading the Huskies with 1.63 steals per game. Holiday's got the length to contain Thompson on the perimeter and off the dribble, but he's giving up 40 pounds to the junior from California, so look to see if Thompson takes his game to the low post.
In order to do that, though, the Cougars are going to have to account for Aziz N'Dyiae, who after missing all of last season with a knee injury has done exactly what the Huskies brought him in to do: clog the lane and crash the boards. Despite giving up almost ten minutes per game to MBA, he's still second on the team in rebounds per game, trailing only 5.94 to 7.74.
Friel Court can get just as loud as the Hec (I refuse to call it by its corporate name), so defensive rotation is going to be more important than it usually is. Look to see sophomore guard Reggie Moore on the drive and dish, as well as operating with Thompson from the high post should Holiday prove to be ineffective at containing Klay's outside game, where he shoots 46.2% and 42.8% from beyond the arc. Continuing the focus on Thompson, look to see him get to the line, as N'Dyiae leads the Huskies in 3.05 fouls per game. Again, either way, rotation will be key, as KT is leading both teams with an 83.8 FT%.
All of this leads me to believe that MBA's play, on both ends, is going to be the ultimate key to the game. Bone and Romar are obviously familiar with one another, and really, the game is going to come down to a few individual match-ups.
Get psyched! It's Bapple Cup no. 1 of the year; more to come during a game thread and a recap, the latter of which may take awhile because, well, I've never done anything like this before. In fact, this preview could be complete bull, but, hey, why not.