Projected Starters: PG Ny Redding (Fr., 6-2, 180), G Ike Iroegbu (So., 6-2, 190), G DaVonte Lacy (Sr., 6-4, 210), F Josh Hawkinson (So., 6-10, 245), C Jordan Railey (Sr., 7-0, 245).
Given how badly the Cougars have struggled over the last few years, and considering the rough start to the non-conference schedule, it's easy to assume Washington is the much better team.
Washington may possess more talent, but since the New Year both teams have played at Cal and Stanford and only WSU can claim a Pac-12 victory after defeating Cal 69-66 on Sunday.
That win represented WSU's third in four games. It was notable in that four of five starters scored in double digits.
DaVonte Lacy (16.4ppg, 2.6rpg, 2.4apg, 39% field, 35% three), who many in the preseason assumed would be WSU's only consistent source of offense, actually ranked third with 14 points. Railey chipped in 17 and Hawkinson managed a team-high 18.
Lacy still leads the team in scoring, and definitely leads in shot attempts, but Hawkinson has emerged as a consistent contributor. Through 14 games he has averaged a double-double (15.5ppg, 11.0rpg, 1.4bpg) in 31 minutes.
Railey, on the other hand, had played sparingly until the past four contests. Over that span he has averaged 22 minutes, including two starts at Cal and Stanford. Next to the 6-10 Hawkinson, the 7-0 Railey gives WSU the frontcourt size to bang with Washington.
Railey is hardly a world-beater, but he's averaging 12 points, 4.5 boards, and 2.0 blocks over that four game stretch. At the very least he will keep Upshaw honest in a way that Junior Longrus (Jr., 6-7, 240), whom Railey recently replaced in the starting five, likely could not.
At first glance, the glaring weakness for the Cougars should be Ny Redding, a true freshman starting at point guard. Given that he was not even a particularly heralded signing, Redding has held his own so far.
He has scored sparingly (6.5ppg), but he has averaged 4.2 assists compared to an understandable 2.4 turnovers. For the sake of comparison, NWG averages a conference-high 6.7 assists to 3.0 turnovers.
Iroegbu has provided 8.7 points per contest with 45% shooting from the field and 33% from three-point range.
Que Johnson (So., 6-5, 205) leads the bench in scoring by a slim margin (5.7ppg), but in doing so he has shot 33% from the field and 29% from deep and both his production and his minutes have decreased slightly from last season.
Along with the aforementioned Junior Longrus, F Brett Boese (Jr., 6-7, 230) and G Dexter Kernich-Drew (Sr., 6-7, 190) make up the rest of the regular rotation.
Even if the WSU offense is looking up as of late, Washington has actually defended well even through the last few losses. Sure, they have failed spectacularly a few times down the stretch (most notably against the deep ball in the Stony Brook game), but the losses have had more to do with turnovers and offensive ineptitude than defense.
Over the past five games, only Cal has managed to shoot over 40% (42%, to be exact) from the field. On their home court, the Huskies should have no trouble holding the Cougars well below that number.
Still, UW will need to score at respectable level and, for the love of god, quit turning the ball over at such a comical rate. In the two bay area defeats, the Huskies turned the all over a total of 31 times compared to only 13 opponent turnovers.
In both cases, UW actually shot roughly the same percentage from the floor as its opponent. Both games were roughly even in terms of rebounding as well. The Huskies lost because turnovers gifted opponents too many extra offensive possessions.
The two biggest culprits have been NWG and Andrews. Look for NWG to play better after having a chance to rest whatever bothered his back at Cal, and pray Andrews can be Good Andrews instead of the Bad Andrews that has consistently taken the floor throughout the losing streak.
The Cougs rank 336th in the nation in steal percentage (6.8), 300th in defensive efficiency (106.1), and 313th in points allowed per game (72.9). So, if the Huskies shoot themselves in the foot for the 4th straight game by turning the ball over 15+ times while once again shooting around 40% from the field, they will likely have only themselves to blame.
Washington 74, WSU 61