This section of the previews is starting to get a little repetitive. Washington is still in the midst of a long losing streak and has still not displayed much in the way of improvement.
There is only one major difference: Jernard Jarreau will return to the court after missing several weeks to a knee injury. Romar had enough faith in the junior forward to keep Robert Upshaw on the bench in favor of starting him, so obviously he was a major part of the team's plans to start the year.
Even before the injury he never seemed completely comfortable (after all, it was his first year back from a separate season-ending knee injury), but his value is increased in the wake of Upshaw's dismissal.
It's unclear of JJ will start or come off the bench, and either way his minutes will probably be modest. It is unreasonable to expect much in his first game back. That being said, simply having a second Pac-12 quality big man available will be a huge asset, especially on the defensive end.
As you likely remember, the Cougars defeated the Huskies in Seattle back in January. Since that game, WSU is 3-7 including an 86-59 beatdown at the hands of Arizona. All three wins have come within a single possession, and all three were at home.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where the Cougars will be. The Huskies have won exactly one genuine road game (if you want to count the win over Seattle U at Key Arena, the number jumps up to two), at Colorado back on January 22nd. They have not won a game since.
WSU is extremely beatable, but when you consider UW's road woes and the fact that Coach Kent's team has already come out on top in more difficult circumstances, the Cougars deserve to be favored.
Probable Starters: G DeVonte Lacy (Sr., 6-4, 210), G Dexter Kernich-Drew (Sr., 6-7, 190), G Ike Iroegbu (So., 6-2, 190), F Josh Hawkinson (So., 6-10, 245), C Jordan Railey (Sr., 7-0, 245).
Key Bench Players: G Que Johnson (So., 6-5, 205), F Brett Boese (Jr., 6-7, 230), G Ny Redding (Fr., 6-2, 180).
For most of the season, WSU has boiled down to two key players: Lacy, the high-volume scoring guard out of Tacoma, and Hawkinson, the double-double machine from Shoreline. Both play almost 32 minutes per game, and they are the only two Cougars averaging double-digit scoring.
Lacy will score in double figures almost without question, but he is prone to inefficient performances like his 13-point, 4-14 night in a loss to Oregon back on February 8th or his even rougher 2-10 game in Corvallis. Back when the Cougars traveled to Seattle, Lacy poured in 25 points in one of his finest performances of the season.
Hawkinson has been consistently impressive. He does not possess a ton of offensive skill, but he is good for 10 and 10 on any given night, and he also leads the team with 1.2 blocks per game. Starting alongside him in the front court will be the seven-footer Railey, who tends to make a moderate impact in his twenty-or-so minutes.
Having Jarreau back will give Kemp a little help against WSU's big men, as opposed to playing four guards when he's out there and five when he's not. Coach Romar has to be hoping that JJ's length will be enough to return a little potency to Washington's zone, once so threatening with Upshaw as an anchor.
Iroegbu is a solid role player, though he has struggled to hit his three-point shot over the past two or three weeks.
Kernich-Drew, largely unremarkable through the first three-fourths of the year, has exploded over the last three contests. First a solid 18 points in a loss to Oregon, but then 27 on 9-12 shooting vs. ASU and another 20 in the Arizona beatdown. A lot of his damage has come via the deep ball, and I worry that Washington's passive perimeter defense will invite him to continue the hot-streak.
Que Johnson is a typical scorer-off-the-bench, but he has not provided much of a boost in the past two weeks, and his skill set is less necessary when Kernich-Drew is scoring with such efficiency and volume.
Redding figures to run the offense off the bench, while Boese will log a token 10 minutes to allow Hawkinson a little rest.
In Seattle, I might think JJ's return would provide enough of a boost to allow Washington to snap the losing streak. However, this team certainly does not deserve the benefit of the doubt away from home when they have failed to win in any setting for so long.
Washington State 72, Washington 67