Happy Hump Day, Cougar Nation! Due to LeachManiaLeachFest Leachapalooza 2011, a crappy showing at a crappy tournament and a woeful television deal, the basketball coverage on This Here Blog has been spottier than Crater Face Coburn’s face. It’s usually been something like, “Mike Leach is the greatest hire in the history of great hires and oh yeah we have a basketball team. Also, Sutra hates them.” On this Hump Day we’ll take a brief break from the football coverage on the WSU Football Blog (ooooh, maybe that’s why we don’t talk about hoops) as I present the 2011-12 basketball preview. You may be thinking to yourself, “What kind of dummy runs a preview after ten games have already been played?”, but if you are a regular Hump Day reader, you probably think this sort of behavior is par for the course. So let’s talk some roundball, shall we? But first, jump (for my love). Jump in!
First, let’s get into some predictions. I believe that the first game against Gonzaga will be a hard fought game where we’ll struggle early and claw back in to the game, but have too little too late. Maybe a final score of something like 89-81. OK, I’m kidding. I won’t really “preview” the first 10 games exactly as they happened. Instead, let’s break the team down in strengths and weaknesses and see how it will translate into wins and losses.
Australianess – Now I’m pretty sure Australianess is not a word, but it certainly represents a strong suit for this year’s edition of the Cougar basketball team. I’m of the belief that the best player on the team this year is Brock Motum. His offensive game has diversified greatly over the last couple years and appears that he’s added enough bulk to be more of a contributor defensively on the glass. I’m also of the belief that Dexter Kernich-Drew is the most athletic player on the team and can play an excellent role as an off-the-bench energy guy. If he can consistently knock down outside shots, his role could expand further. Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oy! Oy! Oy!
Guard Quantity – You could argue that the make-up of the roster is a weakness, but that would step on my joke of “guard quantity” being an area of strength so I’m putting it here. The team is essentially eight guards plus Motum, Abe Lodwick, DJ Shelton and Charlie Enquist. Patrick Simon is listed as a forward, but he’s just a really tall guard, given his style of play. Will DiIorio plays more like a forward, but he only has guard size. This bodes well in terms of keeping guys fresh and potentially creating some interesting match-up situations. Reggie Moore, Marcus Capers, DaVonte Lacy, Mike Ladd, Faisal Aden and Kernich-Drew have an interesting mix of size and skills to give the coaching staff some options if they feel like getting creative. It does not bode well in the event the opponent has any sort of competent big men.
Offensive System (Sans Faisal Aden) – I feel like I’m often the only person who is complimentary of Ken Bone as a basketball coach. He’s not charismatic by any stretch of the imagination and he looked fairly iffy as a recruiter until the last two classes, but I think that strictly as an X’s and O’s coach, he’s pretty darn good. Unfortunately, this only manifests itself when the team is actually playing the system appropriately. Unfortunately, this only seems to happen when the team’s “best scorer” is not playing. Say what you will about the quality of the opponent, but any time you put up 93 points on 63%(!) shooting, you’re doing something right. When things really get clicking and the offense is run through Motum in the high post with Marcus Capers patrolling the baseline, there really are some moments of basketball that is extremely fun to watch.
“Good Reggie” – I think we all know what this means, but when the point guard is driving and dishing or knocking up pull-up jumpers, he’s terrific.
Pac 12 Conference – The conference stinks this year. This can only help since this is the conference we are in.
Offensive System (With Faisal Aden) – I don’t want to completely dump on Aden, but from everything I’ve seen this year, his woeful shot selection can almost single-handedly destroy our offense. You’d think the solution would be for him to pass more, but when he does pass, it seems to often find the hands of the other team. Aden is a valuable player for this team, but I think it is entirely dependent on his role. If/when he is healthy, he should come off the bench and try to score in bunches like he can. He pretty much single-handedly kept us in the New Mexico State game so it’s not as though he doesn’t have ability, but his skill-set is very specific and it doesn’t lend itself to the team basketball that makes the offense work, as I described in the strengths section.
“Bad Reggie” – When the point guard is driving to the basket out of control and chucking the ball off the backboard really hard, it is not terrific.
Front Court Depth – Yes, the best player is in the front court and a valuable team leader (Abe Lodwick) plies his trade in the trenches, at least defensively, but after that, it’s pretty sketchy. Charlie Enquist may be coming into his own this year, but I think it’s unrealistic to think of him as a consistently viable Pac-12 player. It’s also apparently unrealistic to think that DJ Shelton will stay out of trouble and be available the entire season.
Consistency – For as good as this team can look at times, it is prone to looking absolutely horrendous for extended stretches. Expect to see a lot of quick 12 point runs by opponents this season during which the Cougs took exactly zero quality shots. It’s a bizarre and incredibly frustrating phenomenon. It causes the arms of my couch to cower in fear (if the game is actually on) because they know they’re going to get punched when the turnovers start piling up. My couch has a very intuitive basketball mind.
Defense – Look folks. Dick Bennett is not walking through that door. Tony Bennett is not walking through that door. Bennett, the bad guy from “Commando” isn’t even walking through that door. Bad example, actually. His defense was horrendous. Aaaaaaanyway, we can no longer expect to see the type of clamp down defense that we were so spoiled to have during the Bennett years. We can expect to see some of the laziest zone defense you’ll ever see. I’m trying so hard to not point fingers here, but the primary culprit is a guy whose name rhymes with Basil Hayden. (An excellent libation, right up there in quality with Bridgeport Beer!) Also, as I’ve mentioned, the team is thin down low and the defensive rebounding naturally suffers.
So what does it all mean? It’s hard to say, given the consistency issue. From what I’ve seen from the Cougs and others in the conference, I think we can end up somewhere in the middle of the Pac. Arizona, Cal, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington are all probably a notch or two better than us, but after that, it looks like a big mess. A place in the upper half of the standings may be more a reflection of the conference overall, but it’s still within the realm of possibility. I don’t really see postseason play of any significance in the cards, but who knows? To channel my inner Harry Doyle, in case you haven’t noticed lately, and judging by the attendance you haven’t, the Cougs have played some good basketball of late. If it carries over into conference play, the Cougs can beat anyone in the Pac 12 on a good night.