Washington State 's Last Chance to Dance

Chris CluffCorrespondent IIMarch 9, 2009

Well, here it is: Washington State’s last chance to make the NCAA tournament. And the Cougars are going to have to win four straight games to do it.

If they had beaten Washington last Saturday, they probably could have won just two games in the Pac-10 tournament and still sneaked into the Big Dance. A win over UW would have given them four straight wins over quality opponents, with two more in the Pac-10 tourney likely enough to seal the deal.

Because they lost to the Pac-10 champs, the Cougars not only need to run the table in the Pac-10 tourney, they have to do it by winning four straight.

The first game, against Oregon, should be a breeze -- the Cougars beat the Ducks by 29 when they played them on Feb. 12.

The second-round game will be a dogfight against UCLA. The Bruins won the first meeting 61-59 in Pullman, but the Cougs knocked off the Bruins 82-81 at Pauly Pavilion on Feb. 21. The third game should be just as tight.

Even if the Cougars can squeak by the Bruins, they would face a tough third-rounder against either California or USC. The Cougs were swept by both teams this season, which is a big reason they find themselves in this win-to-get-in position.

The Cougs are going to need some magic to make it. And odds are they’ll end up sitting out the NCAA tourney for the first time in three years. But they’ll be back in 2011.

In two years, watch out

The Cougars expected it, but it was nice to see Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto make the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team.

The Cougars have nine freshmen, tied for the most in the nation, which means they should be very, very good in two years when Thompson, Casto, Marcus Capers, and the rest are juniors.

With their two best players, Rochestie and Aron Baynes, graduating after this season and no sophomore or junior leadership to speak of, the Cougs will take a step back in 2009-10. But they could well challenge for the Pac-10 title in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

In addition to their talented 2008-09 freshmen, they have a very good class of freshmen coming in to replace Rochestie, Baynes, Daven Harmeling, and Caleb Forrest.

The trio of Brock Motum (a 6-9 Aussie), David Chadwick (a 6-8 North Carolinian), and Xavier Thames (a 6-3 shooting guard from California) will add to the young nucleus led by Thompson, Casto, and Capers.

One possible hiccup in this plan is the potential loss of coach Tony Bennett. But with the Cougs struggling this year, and probably next, he might not be in as high of demand as he has been the past two offseasons.

Even if he is, he already has proven that he’d like to build something at WSU and see his teams garner some more success. In 2010-11, he can do just that.

For more from former newspaper sportswriters Chris Cluff and Elliott Smith, visit outsidethepressbox.com.