While everybody seems to be giving the PAC-10 title to the Washington Huskies, and deservedly so, the other team in the state seems to be the forgotten one.
And I'm not talking about Gonzaga.
The Washington State Cougars have been picked to finish fifth in the PAC-10 conference after finishing last year with a record of 16-15, 6-12 in the conference. Their season concluded with a first round overtime knockout by the Oregon Ducks in the PAC-10 tournament, leaving many Cougar fans disappointed.
But a new season is upon us, with four starters returning and only one senior having left in Nikola Koprivica.
Highlighting the returning cast is junior Klay Thompson, who has been selected as one of of 50 preseason candidates for the John Wooden award after averaging 19.6 points a game last season, good for second in the conference behind now departed Landry Fields. Thompson was also selected by SI.com as the top player this season in the PAC-10, saying he "is one player who looks like he has an NBA future," in a conference that is thin with next-level talent.
Back for his sophomore season is Reggie Moore. After a hot start, his youth began to set in and his numbers dwindled along with the Cougar team as a whole as they lost their last four games and 10 of their final 12.
Where will the Cougars finish in the PAC-10 this season?
Moore led all PAC-10 freshman in assists per game (4.2), assist to turnover ratio (1.5), and free throw percentage (.794). This all coming while being the only freshman starting point guard in the conference.
This season will feature the same style of run and gun that second year head coach Ken Bone has brought to Pullman. The adjustment from the defensive lock down and sometimes boring style that Dick and later on his son, Tony Bennett, installed had its highs and lows last year, but more depth on the perimeter and inside will help the Cougars overcome their apparent fatigue problems last year.
New to the team after redshirting last year is transfer Faisal Aden. In an exhibition game last Friday, November 5, against Lewis-Clark State, Aden put up a team high 22 points going nine of 13 shooting, including four of six from beyond the three point line.
Thompson scored 21 points, going four of five from three point land making the two combine for 43 in the Cougars 89-49 victory.
DeAngelo Casto was, for the most part, the only inside presence the Cougars had last season both offensively and defensively. He averaged just under 11 points a game while grabbing seven rebounds and averaging over two blocks per contest, number one in the conference.
Casto stands only 6'8" and the Cougar roster has four players at 6'10" or taller, so they'll need one or two of them to step up and produce when Casto needs a rest or finds himself in foul trouble.
The most likely candidate to be first off the bench in replacement of Casto is 6'10", 230 pound true-sophomore Brock Motum from Australia. Motum played sparingly in just 19 games last season, averaging less than three points and under one rebound per game. He shot 56 percent from the field last season and if his four of 10 production from beyond three point territory is taken out of the equation, he shot 19-31, 61 percent, which is something that can built upon. During the exhibition game, Motum dropped in 11 points, but only grabbed one rebound and recorded no blocks in 16 minutes of play.
Another player to watch will be freshman back-up point guard, Dre' Winston Jr. out of Lakes High School in Lakewood, Wash. In 16 minutes against Lewis-Clark State, Winston Jr. was held scoreless with two turnovers and zero assists. Not exactly eye-popping for someone who was seen handling the ball a lot when Moore was not on the court.
The Cougars outside the conference currently have two top-25 opponents on their schedule in Gonzaga and Kansas State University. Both of whom the Cougars played last year on the road and lost. This year, both games will be held in Pullman within five days of each other starting with Kansas State on Friday, December 3 and then Gonzaga will come in on December 8.
The Cougars will also participate in the 2010 Diamond Head Classic in late December in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Cougars are part of an eight team field also featuring national champion runner-up Butler, Baylor, Mississippi State, San Diego State, Utah, Florida State, and host team Hawaii. The Cougars will face Mississippi State in the first round match up scheduled for December 22.
The regular season for the Cougars starts tonight as they host Southern University. The Jaguars lost their opening game of the season last night at Gonzaga 117-72.