Washington State Basketball: Cougars On The Bubble

Kip ArneyCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2011

According to bracketologist Joe Linardi of ESPN, the Washington State Cougars are one of the last four teams in to the field of 68 in this year's NCAA tournament.

He has them matched up in a play-in game against Missouri State where the winner would take on Missouri in the first round in Tucson, AZ.

Just because the Washington State name is in print doesn't mean the Cougars can relax.

They have seven games remaining, four at home including two starting Thursday against Stanford before taking on California on Saturday afternoon.

The Cougars won impressively back on Jan. 30 against the then 17th ranked Washington Huskies, 87-80. But the Huskies followed up their loss by dropping both games down in Oregon last weekend and dropping out of the top 25.

The Cougars can't rely on teams they've beaten in the past to win out and boost their RPI rating. The Cougars must handle their own business.

But after a 69-43 blow out loss a week ago against the Oregon Ducks, a sub .500 team at the time, handling their own business is easier said than done.

Around the Washington State campus, questions are starting to arise about Klay Thompson and whether or not he'll return for what would be his senior season next year or opt to put his name in the NBA draft.

The 6'6" swingman out of Ladera Ranch, Calif. has been in a slump the past two weeks.

In three of his last four games, Thompson has scored no more than 12 points and has turned the ball over at least five times in the past four games. Something he'd only done five times in the first 19 games of the season.

Thompson holds the key to success for the Cougars and their chance at their first tournament berth since 2008.

Despite his slump, he still leads the Pac-10 in scoring (21.2) and finds himself in the top five in assists (4.4), steals (2.0), three point percentage (42 percent), and is also among the top 10 in categories such as free throw percentage, blocked shots and assist to turnover ratio.

Like I previously said, the Cougars have four of their seven remaining regular season games at home where they've only lost twice. However, three of the four teams traveling to Pullman this month (California, USC and UCLA) already beat the Cougars earlier this season, and now the Cougars must return the favor to keep the dream alive of dancing in March.

On Thursday, the Cougars will host Stanford, a team they beat in Palo Alto 61-58 back on Jan. 15. In that game the Cougars were down by 9 at halftime but roared back behind Thompson's 21 points to go along with Faisal Aden's 20.

That game also featured the absence of Cougar guard Reggie Moore, as he was suspended for a misdemeanor charge or marijuana along with possession of drug paraphernalia.

However that one game absence did not ruin the hot streak that Moore is currently on. He's reached double figure points in his past eight games including a team high 14 in a must-win game last Saturday against Oregon State. A game in which Thompson scored just six points and grabbed two rebound before fouling out.

Stanford is giving up just a conference low  62 points a game which is 12 points less than the Cougars average on offense.

If the Cougars are serious about making a run late into March, they must beat Stanford, a team that has only one victory away from home, on Thursday night.