Coach Tony Bennett's Washington State Cougars will open up Pac-10 play Saturday afternoon at 3pm PST on the hardwood of Friel Court in Pullman, WA. The Cougs opponent will be cross-state rival Washington Huskies.
WSU is 8-4 on the season, playing one of the most challenging non-conference schedules since the days of Coach George Raveling. Those were the days when players wore tight shorts and the Dow Jones mark hovered around the 1,000 mark.
The first 12 games for the Cougs have been about learning what the team can do and looking for areas to practice and improve. Their roster is stacked with freshmen, making it critical for Coach Bennett and his staff to get playing time for the young guns.
It appears that there will be four upper classmen on the floor at the opening tip off tomorrow. Which four does remain a question.
Taylor Rochestie, in his senior year, will run the offense again this season.
A new and improved senior, Aron Baynes will anchor the front line. Baynes is at least 20 pounds lighter than last year, but still has plenty of bulk to control opposing players. Didn't seem possible, but Baynes' shooting touch is even better this year.
Daven Harmeling will likely start at one forward and has looked like the senior he is. Harmeling has been shooting well, which will take some pressure off the other starting guard.
Freshman Klay Thompson will start at shooting guard for the Cougs. Thompson has worked hard adjusting to this level of play. Matching up against good players every game is the most significant difference between high school and college. He's found that out the hard way. The smooth play of Thompson has improved steadily.
The question mark for the starting lineup for Coach Bennett is who will be the starting swingman, junior Nic Koprivica or senior Caleb Forrest. Forrest got the nod to start the last few games and responded with solid play. Koprivica looks to have fully recovered from his knee injury, but was inconsistent as a starter.
Don't be surprised if the starting job for the swingman rotates throughout the season. Match ups will play a big role in which man gets the start and who will be first off the bench.
Coach Lorenzo Romar's Huskies bring a 9-3 record into conference play. Two of their losses have been to good teams, Florida and Kansas. Then there was the surprise loss to Portland.
Washington has had an easier non-conference schedule than the Cougs. Their best win was over a decent Oklahoma State team in Seattle.
Like just about every other coach, Romar has been trying to get a feel for what combination of players will match up well against opponents. That has led to inconsistent play, but not kept the team from racking up 9 wins.
With Jon Brockman, Qunicy Pondexter, Matt Bryan-Amaning, Justin Holiday, Joe Wolfinger, Darrnel Gant and Artem Wallace, the Huskies have plenty of horses to play up front. Brockman, Pondexter and Bryan-Amaning are amazing athletes. Coach Romar's team will give everyone in the Pac-10 fits up front.
Freshman Isaiah Thomas has adjusted to playing college ball rather quickly. Sure, Thomas has made plenty of mistakes over the first dozen games. Make no mistake, he's a player. Second only to Brockman in minutes and scoring, Thomas is averaging nearly 15 points a game while dishing out 3 assists and collecting 3 rebounds. Those are impressive numbers for the young man from Massachusetts. Actually, he played most of his high school ball at Curtis HS near Tacoma before transferring back east.
All nine of the Husky victories have been at home. They will have to play their best ball of the season to notch a win on the road against Washington State.
The Cougs have struggled on offense. That was expected after losing the offensive talents of Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver to graduation.
Where WSU continues to excel is on defense. Coach Bennett's team is giving up a ridiculous 49 points a game. This team might just play the best defense of any Tony Bennett team, and that's saying something. Opponents are shooting just 34% from the field. Those stats both rank as the best in the nation.
Whenever WSU and UW compete, it's a hard fought contest. Forget records, streaks and predictions. Well, there is one prediction for this televised game (FSN Northwest) you can take to the bank.
Beasley Coliseum will be packed to the rafters with Zzu Cru fanatics and thousands of screaming Cougar Nation fans. The WSU band will be adding tremendous color to the atmosphere. Cheerleaders will be redundant.
If you want to see a great college basketball game tomorrow afternoon, tune in the Pac-10 opener for WSU and UW.