Happy Saturday to you all, Cougar Nation.
Hard to believe, but today is GAME DAY for the 2008-09 Basketball season, so I thought I'd give you my annual PRE view of the upcoming tilt.
Like my dear friend and colleague Vincent Grippi noted last week on Sportslink, there are a lot of Blogs out there with a bunch of yahoos who have not been to practice, not watched video, and not talked to any players, coaches, or anyone who has a real idea about what is going on inside the program.
Sound like anyone to you?
Which is why I once again am going to give you all a quick glimpse into what I am looking for heading into this very important 2008-09 campaign.
But first, here's the BIG picture:
1) This basketball season portends to be the equivalent of our 2003 Football team. I am actually expecting big things out of this group.
2) Next year will be a somewhat down year for the program, so I urge you all to really enjoy this year. I think its going to be really fun!
3) Brinkhater is predicting a 9-4 preseason.
4) Brinkhater is also predicting an 11-7 conference (t-4, Pac-10 gets five births with a low seed for us because of few quality wins).
5) Brinkhater is further predicting an 11 seed in the NCAA tournament.
6) Brinkhater sees us winning a 1st round NCAA game, winning a second game, and bowing out once again in the Sweet 16.
But for this fairy tale season to reach its fruition, let me give you what I think NEEDS to happen and then follow up with what I am assuming will happen.
THINGS THAT NEED TO HAPPEN
1) Marcus Capers' Floor Leadership
If you all have been reading, you know that Marcus is the 6 foot 4 point guard out of Florida that Rochestie gave his scholarship up for (initially). Of all of the accolades thrown at this kid, the biggest upside he is supposed to carry is his defense--which is a good thing! But what this team is going to need more than that is for him to become a steady floor general.
Last year, one of our main achillees heels was our lack of depth in the backcourt. Thankfully, we overcame that depth issue because both Low and Weaver were able to assume the point guard duties when a) we needed Taylor to shoot the rock and b) when the guy sat down to get a blow.
Unless I missed something, we have no Weaver, and while I love Cassius Klay Thompson (see next), he isn't a point guard. Capers will have to play well in the conference for us to do anything. Thus, I will be looking closely at his minutes in the pre-season. Hopefully, T-Bone will throw this kid to the Wolves even if it costs us against Pitt, Baylor, and/or LSU. We need this kid to develop in a hurry.
2) Cassius Klay Thompson MUST be Efficient
Nation, there's a lot about this team that I haven't seen. But, Klay Thompson I have seen--in the 2008 California State Championship game. Nation, this guy is a Kyle Weaver (not as good defensively, but who is or ever will be?) and Ike Fontaine mix. He is NBA special.
That said, we all remember the type of "off" nights that freshmen stars OJ Mayo had last year don't we?
With the make-up of our team, we simply will not be able to stand many 7-20 nights because we don't create enough possessions to compensate for being innefficient. I look for Thompson to get a few Dick Bennett style lashings from T-Bone early on.
But then, look out. This kid WILL score over 30 in a game this year.
3) Baynes' Feet and (Half) Courtvision MUST Improve
Last year in the NCAA tourney Baynes was the only Cougar in my book who rose to the moment on the national stage. Now, with Love and the Dummy Twins out of the League, Baynes figures to be your first team All-Conference center.
But, in order for him to ascend to such honors, there are two basic things he must do to improve his offense and defense.
First, on the defensive side, he needs to keep his feet. Last year, on two many occasions, Baynes was airborne after the first pumpfake. The result: fouls and duck-unders by Love and other savy 4's and 5's which would also give away the glass. This year, with the potential talents of Casto (and maybe Watson) in the mix, Baynes should realy just make people shoot over him. If he does, his rebounding totals should increase nicely. Even more importantly, he'll be in the stinking game.
Now on offense, Baynes needs to be quicker to recognize the double team and needs to distribute much better than he's done in the past. Last year, when we tried to establish Baynes early, he was often painfully slow and deliberate, and as a result, so were we. This year, we won't be good enough defensively to score only 4-6 points in the first 8 minutes of games. Baynes will average 14 and 8 this year. But HOW he does that will be what matters for our fortunes.
3)Harmeling's Jumper Must Have a Prayer
Two years ago, Harmeling was the 28 point bombshell against Gonzaga and Arizona. Last year, he fell off the map.
This year, he simply needs to shoot well from anywhere. If he can shoot well from behind the arc, then we will challenge for the second spot in the conference. But what we really, really need is for him to just shoot well in the midrange game. Remember, in games last year where Cowgill hit the 12-15 jumper off the glass, we KILLED teams. If Harmeling can stretch the defense at the 4, then Baynes has space to go off and the slashers like Nick and Thompson have room to take the ball to the rack. THAT leads to dish-offs to Baynes and the take-off of this basketball team.
Just like last year, Harmeling is your X man.
WHAT BRINKHATER'S BANKING ON
1) Nick's Steady Play
There's going to be a lot of pressure on Nicky boy to fill the shoes left by Kyle Weaver. But, I'm trusting that he's been through enough to not get bogged down by that pressure. I think Nick is going to be a solid guy on the baseline. And, from what I've seen in past years, a capable man in the pack defense. Remember, this team will be starting FOUR GUYS that have been in the program for three years. So, he should be able to be the steady Eddy that we need him to be.
2) Casto's Emergence as 'The Real Deal' by season's end.
If you want to know why I have the audicity to think that this team is going back to the Sweet 16 it is because of this kid. After decades of watching the tourney, the recipe for advancing is simple: good guard play and shot blocking underneath. With Casto, we're going to have the latter (and the former with Rochestie, Thompson, and bench). While I've heard that his timing is natural, I suspect that there will be some short performances for this kid early on (like 4 fouls in 15 minutes). But, as the season progresses, I am banking that he will develop the discipline necessary for us to emerge among the nation's elite.
3) Improved Shooting
It may be hard to remember this, but there were several games and stretches last year where Rochestie was the only guy on the team that could hit the broad side of a barn. This year, with Rochestie taking more of a role in the offense, with a leaner and more polished Baynes, and with Thompson's long range genius (wait til you see it!), this team will be much improved offensively. The question, of course, is how much we will drop-off defensively. With improved shot-blocking and a deeper 3-Point line, I'm guessing not much.
4) Taylor Stays Healthy
We can't afford to lose Baynes for a long stretch at any time this year. But losing Taylor would flush the season down the toilet. I'm banking that Taylor stays healthy. And I'm also banking that there's nothing called a "Brinkhater Curse."
I really do believe that this is a 2003 WSU Football type season. Enjoy it, enjoy it, enjoy it, because at this point, we all could use a few Cougar Victories.
And, thanks to T-Bone and company, we're going to get about 23-24 of them this year.
(WSU 71 MSVSU 48 in the opener)