Date: Sunday, 2/9/20
Tip-Off Time: 3:00 pm PT
Radio: KOMO 1000
Location: Pullman, Washington
Betting line: Washington -3
Washington State 2019-20 Statistics:
Record: 13-10 (4-6)
Points For per Game: 70.1 ppg (177th)
Points Against per Game: 67.7 ppg (120th)
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 101.5 (196th)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 97.7 (87th)
Strength of Schedule: 126th overall
Washington State Key Players:
C- Jeff Pollard, Sr. 6’9, 240: 9.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 0.3 bpg, 51.6% FG, 23.8% 3pt, 74.5% FT
Pollard is an extremely efficient scorer around the basket but is a huge minus on the defensive end and as a rebounder. He’s essentially Hameir Wright on the glass which is a good sign for UW potentially not getting killed by offensive rebounds. Pollard isn’t a shooter but Kyle Smith has given him the green light to try to open up the paint and he’ll take a few a shots per game from outside.
F- C.J Elleby, So. 6’6, 200: 18.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, 41.0% FG, 33.6% 3pt, 79.3% FT
Elleby is a one-man band for Wazzu and is essentially average to above average at everything on the basketball court. His 3pt shooting has really picked up in conference play (39%) which is part of why Washington State has surged (for them) in the win column. Since December 1st Elleby is averaging 12 ppg in WSU’s losses and 21 ppg in their wins. If Elleby gets shut down then there’s not really a plan B for the Cougars. Taking him out of the game is priority #1 for Washington.
G- Noah Williams, Fr. 6’5, 192: 5.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.7 apg, 39.8% FG, 20.0% 3pt, 61.5% FT
The true freshman out of O’Dea has seen his playing time increase over the course of the season but the concerns about his shooting have proven to be legitimate. Williams may not be able to hit an outside shot but he’s very good at driving to the hoop and getting fouled and a solid rebounder for a guard.
G- Jervae Robinson Sr. 6’2, 185: 4.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, 34.2% FG, 29.0% 3pt, 70.0% FT
Robinson still hasn’t figured out how to score as a senior but has seen his assist rate almost cut more than half since he’s playing a lot more off the ball. He has the potential to be a pest on the defensive end but Washington will be ok if he has the ball in his hands during the course of the game on offense.
G- Isaac Bonton, Jr. 6’3, 185: 14.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 4.0 apg, 35.2% FG, 33.3% 3pt, 78.3% FT
The transfer from Montana State has been a much less effective Robin to C.J Elleby’s Batman. One of them has the ball in their hands at almost all times and both have more than doubled up everyone else on the roster in shot attempts. Bonton’s not a great shooter but he’s essentially average from everywhere on the perimeter. Where he really struggles though is driving to the hoop (36.3% shooting in the paint) and is the most likely candidate to take a midrange shot.
2019-20 Washington State Shot Chart
As you can see from the chart above this is not a very good shooting Washington State team or even a very good scoring team in general. They are above average hitting that 10 foot jumper from the elbow which normally an open shot against UW’s zone so I’d expect them to be willing to attack from there. However, under Kyle Smith you can see the shot distribution is very modern analytics mostly coming at the rim or behind the 3-pt line.
We’re not to the midpoint in February and Kyle Smith has already equaled the conference win total from both of Ernie Kent’s final two season in Pullman. How? The answer is largely twofold.
The first is that WSU is the anti-UW in how they’ve closed out games recently. The Cougs have only played 3 conference games that were still within doubt in the closing minute of regulation but they won all 3 including one in overtime over UCLA and a near buzzer beater game winning 3-pointer against Arizona State. It hasn’t hurt that 7 of Wazzu’s first 11 games in conference play will have come at home and they’ve started out 4-2 so far (a good reason to sell your WSU stock regardless of the outcome today).
The second is the superlative play of C.J Elleby. Last season there was reason to say that Elleby was a “good stats/bad team” guy. This year he’s taken his play up a notch while having to increase his usage and it’s resulted in more wins. He’s 2nd in usage rate during in conference play and yet is 9th in 3pt%, and 3rd in defensive rebound %. There aren’t many players with that kind of statistical profile. In Washington State’s Pac-12 wins he has stat lines of 25 points/14 rebounds, 22 points/9 rebounds/5 assists, and 27 points/12 rebounds.
The Cougars need Elleby to be spectacular because this offense struggles to put the ball through the basket even when he’s on his game. They rank just 289th nationally in effective field goal percentage. Since they can rarely ever beat an opponent on a points per possession basis the Cougs rely on gaining extra possessions. Washington State really takes care of the ball and almost never gives opponents live ball turnovers for fast break points. If Washington’s zone gets them to turn it over 14+ times it’s unclear how the Cougars win this game.
Kyle Smith has embraced analytics and it’s resulted in a very lopsided approach. Washington State will try to prevent the 3-point shot at all cost. Opponents take 7% fewer shots from behind the arc against Washington State than the average team and also are shooting about 3% worse* when they do get off the look. That combination means Wazzu’s opponents are 341st in the percentage of their points coming from 3-point shots. For a Washington team that already struggles to make outside shots it might not be a bad thing to have a reason to stop even trying.
*It’s worth noting that Washington State is leading the country in points per possession on opponents’ unguarded catch and shoot looks. Teams actually shoot worse when left unguarded against them. Either they goad very bad shooters into shooting or else that is pretty lucky and may regress towards the mean eventually.
The flip side of that is of course that the paint becomes wide open. Opponents have had a ton of success isolating their best wing scorer against any non-CJ Elleby defender and taking them to the hoop as WSU plays the kick out rather than the drive. Teams are shooting 57% on shots in the paint against the Cougs and are 8th in percentage of their points coming from 2-point baskets. We’ll see if they decide to take their chances playing Isaiah Stewart in single coverage or if he simply eats them alive inside.
During conference play Washington is 9th in offensive efficiency and 4th in defensive efficiency. Washington State is 11th in offensive efficiency and 9th in defensive efficiency. Washington has a +4 point differential. Washington State has a -41 point differential. And yet the Huskies have 2 fewer wins. Can the Huskies continue to blow it in close games? Of course. Do I think that eventually these two teams eventually have to regress to the mean? Yes. Will it happen tonight? Maybe. But I certainly hope so.
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