UW and OSU will carry identical overall records into Thursday's contest, yet the two teams are headed in very different directions roughly two weeks into the conference schedule.
The Huskies, as you well know, have lost four straight. Starting with a loss to Stony Brook that soured an otherwise undefeated non-conference record, this ugly run could not have been more poorly timed.
A team that looked set to carry a top-15 record into Pac-12 play until Stony Brook came to town is now 0-3 against the conference, including an indefensible home loss to WSU this past Saturday.
What has Oregon State been up to during UW's losing streak? The Beavers have gotten off to a 2-1 start in the Pac. Only a day after the Huskies blew it against the Cougs, Oregon State was busy knocking off Arizona in a 58-56 court-storming upset.
So, the momentum (if you believe in that sort of thing) is firmly with OSU, even with this game taking place on Washington's home court.
Likely Starting Five: Gary Payton II (Jr., 6-3, 175), G Malcolm Duvivier (So., 6-2, 205), G Langston Morris-Walker (Jr., 6-5, 215), F Daniel Gomis (Jr., 6-10, 223), F Olaf Schaftenaar.
Key Bench Players: F Victor Robbins (Jr., 6-7, 197), F Jarmal Reid (Jr., 6-7, 231), G Tanner Sanders (Fr., 6-4, 201), C Cheikh N’diaye (So., 7-0, 230).
Obviously the name that pops out is Gary Payton II. The junior point guard is the linchpin of OSU's rotation. He plays a team-high 35 minutes and no guard coming off the bench averages more than 8. In Oregon State's biggest game of the year against Arizona, Payton played all 40 minutes.
That means Nigel Williams-Goss, who also averages 35 minutes, will spend nearly the entire game going up against Payton. Neither team has the depth at point guard to afford granting much rest.
The similarities don't necessarily end there. Like NWG, Payton is an exceptional rebounder for the position. He leads the entire team with 8.2 boards (surpassing NWG's 5.4 rebound average by a wide margin) despite standing only 6-3.
Both players lead their teams in scoring (12ppg for Payton, 14 for NWG) without being shoot-first guards.
Payton only averages 3.0 assists to NWG's conference-leading 6.7, but Payton averages a mere 1.7 turnovers (to NWG's 2.9), preserving a solid assist to turnover ratio.
The other two starting guards, Duvivier and Morris-Walker, both play over 30 minutes, both score right around 10 points, and both shoot below 40% from the field.
However, Duvivier actually leads the team in assists (3.6) and serves as the only trusted ball handler aside from Payton.
Gomis has only averaged 17 minutes, but in the past two contests (ASU and Arizona) he started and averaged over 30 minutes. He has scored and rebounded modestly, but did contribute 3 blocks vs. ASU and an additional 2 in the upset win over the Wildcats. His size and length (superior to alternate starters Robbins or Reid) should be valuable when Washington plays both Kemp and Upshaw simultaneously.
Olaf is a versatile Dutchman that is highly capable shooting out past the three-point line (43% on over four attempts per game). He is one of four Beavers that averages double-digit scoring, and considering Washington's questionable defensive discipline as of late, one of the players Husky fans should be most worried about.
During the 11-game winning streak, the Huskies won because they defended extremely well. They may have benefited from some luck here and there, but you do not hold opponent after opponent below 40% from the field if you are not defending well.
Recently, that quality defense has vanished. And while OSU is far from an elite offensive team (117th in points per possession, 129th in field goal percentage, 118th in offensive efficiency), the loss to WSU made it abundantly clear that even a mediocre offense is capable of scoring 75-80 points on this defense in its current state.
Considering that Oregon State is a very good defensive team (37th in points per possession, 4th in field goal percentage, 37th in efficiency) less than a week removed from holding Arizona below 60, it seems very likely that 75-80 points will be enough to knock off the Huskies.
Washington just doesn't have an answer offensively. The offense is completely dependent on NWG to function in the half court, extremely turnover prone, and lacking in any above-average three-point shooters.
Quality defense allowed Washington to survive these deficiencies against weaker opponents and in a handful of games against quality foes (though SDSU faded almost immediately after losing to the Huskies).
Now that the defense has declined back to the familiar mediocrity of the past two or three seasons, that is no longer the case.
It just seems silly to favor the Huskies (though they are certainly capable of winning this game) until we see them snap this streak.
Oregon State 78, Washington 69