Hoops Game Day Roundup: Feel The Excitement Building For An Exciting Afternoon In Pauley

So the Bruins get to follow up their "huge", monster, earth-shattering, program building, and season turning win over mighty, powerhouse, and tradition-laden Washington Huskies basketball program (headed towards the NIT) with a showdown against the Cougars from Washington State. It is a huge game for the Bruins because we have a chance to run up our Pac-10 winning streak to 2 (woot!) and get this ... get within 1 game of .500! Yes, we are beside ourselves with excitement here on BN.

In all seriousness, Bruins (8-10, 3-3) will be slight underdogs against Washington State (14-5, 4-3) , which has a record of 2-51 against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. You know what this mean guys? This time you should really rush the court when we pull off a feel good win to push our conference record over .500. Hey, it's totally justifiable after all the Huskies were 3-43 in Pauley (before Thursday's epic, historically significant win for the UCLA basketball program).

Anyway, going back to the Cougars they are coming into town with a new head coach. Tony Bennett left last season (the departure wasn't Hello Kiffinesue, but it wasn't pretty) for UVa in ACC country, where he has the hoos trending upwards and already making some noise out in the East Coast. The guy who replaced him, Ken Bone, changed up the Bennett's Ben Ball style program into a more an offensive oriented ball club. Kind of makes sense given Bone had a fantastic talent like Klay Thompson to build his program around.

The Cougars are one of the best offensive teams in the conference. They have some lethal shooters in their rotation and it's a team I am not sure we are going to be able to beat by just throwing up a 2-3 zone defense.

The LAT has some notes on the Cougars ability to shoot:

The Cougars shoot a shade over 48% from the field, ranking them 27th nationally. Their offensive style under first-year Coach Ken Bones is radically different from the pass-and-pick style that was on display in Pullman the last few seasons.

Washington State averages 77 points per game after averaging 59 per game last season.

"They have outstanding shooters," said Howland, who added that the Cougars can create matchup problems when 6-foot-6 Nikola Koprivica comes off the bench.

"When he's in, they essentially have four guards out there," Howland said. "They all can shoot."

The Bruins haven't exactly smothered teams this season. They rank 264th nationally, allowing teams to shoot 44% per game.

Of course the Bruins lost to Cougars last year at Pauley. It was the game that essentially exposed Jrue Holiday's inability to play defense as he was consistently getting torched by Klay Thompson in the first half. Sir Holiday wasn't making much of an effort to play any defense that day, so when Howland decided to bench him he got a little huffy during the post game press conference disagreeing with headcoach's assessment about playing defense (the drama is archived here on BN, you can look it up).

Well that was last season. I am not sure how much better it is going to be for us (defensively in the backcourt) this season. I suppose it will be interesting to see how Malcolm Lee matches up against Thompson. As for how do we contain freshman point guard Reggie Moore, I have no idea. I am not sure Michael Roll can keep this guy infront of him. Jerime Anderson is doubtful for this afternoon's game and while Mustafa is the feel good story of the moment, not sure if he is athletic enough to handle Reggie.

Perhaps it could be a situation where Honeycutt is matched up with Thompson and Lee goes up against Moore. Why am I thinking about man-to-man? Because as mentioned above I don't think zone defense is going to work against these guys today. Some Pac-10 numbers to ponder beyond the ones offered up by the LA Times:

  • Cougars have the third best scoring offense in the conference (77.5 pts/game)
  • Cougars lead the conference in FG percentage (.482)
  • Cougars lead the conference in 3pt FG percentage (.381)
  • Bruins are ranked dead last in the conference in 3pt FG pct defense (.373)

Among their starting unit Thompson and Moore are their best 3 point shooters, but as Howland noted above Nikola Koprivica will create matchup nightmares. The Cougars also go pretty deep into their bench. Nuss over at Coug Center has an interesting post on understanding of Bone's use of the bench to fit his "fast-but-not-blistering tempo":

I think fatigue is becoming a very real issue for this team. A lot of guys have had to take either a significant jump in minutes (Moore) or play tougher minutes than they ever have before (Thompson) or both (DeAngelo Casto, whose situation is further complicated by recovery from knee surgery).

Bone is in a tough spot with this team. He plays his best players fewer minutes, and perhaps they're not even in games. He plays his best players for heavy minutes, and they run out of gas and can't finish games -- or worse, the season -- strong. It's definitely a quandary.

Faced with those two options, and seeing what we've seen out of this team recently, I really believe Bone has no choice but to rely more heavily on his bench players. However, that shouldn't be as scary of a prospect as it once was.

Early in the season, I understood Bone's decision-making process with the rotation. He had a bunch of unknown, unproven quantities whom he wasn't sure were going to be able to perform in games. But now, he's got a better idea of what he's got -- and what he's got is three pretty reliable bench players whom he probably needs to use more, and in higher leverage situations.

Nik Koprivica is already playing a fair amount for a bench player -- about 50 percent of the minutes -- but it's becoming more and more clear that Xavier Thames and James Watson are underused assets. Sooner or later, Bone's going to have to cast his lot with these guys, and let the chips fall where they may.

Unlike Ragovic, this Nikola can actually shoot as he is connecting at an awesome .489 clip (22 for 45) from behind the arc (BTW, how the heck did we end up with the scrub Eastern European in the conference while others are thriving with WSU and Southern Cal?). Koprivica was instrumental in the Cougars great come from behind win against the Trojies, as he made three 3-pointers in the second half wipe out a 15-point deficit. There was lot more to that comeback than his shooting through. You can read the full extent of how the Cougars got it done over here.

Guess all hope is not lost for the Bruins though (if they bother to show up this afternoon, since they often don't on Saturdays).  This year's Cougars team at least on paper (I will confess that I haven't seen much of them this season) are not as good defensively as they were under Bennett. From Sportsline.com:

Remember the old days when WSU played great defense? Yeah, last season. Even while posting just a 17-16 record in 2008-09, the Cougars played mean defense. Only three teams in 33 games scored as many as 70 points against WSU. In their first six Pac-10 games this year, only once had the Cougars held an opponent to fewer than 70. They were surrendering 77.3 ppg in conference games. This kind of defense wasn't what new coach Ken Bone had in mind when he opened up the offense.

I think the Bruins will have a shot if we make an effort to play a complete game like we did against the Huskies on Saturday. This means Ragovic being disciplined enough to take shots within the flow of the game. This means making that extra pass to set up each other for the easy bucket. It also means being patient and within control in the backcourt and not turning the ball over.  Of course it also entails us being serviceable from the FT line and converting on easy opportunities (Mr. Nelson please dunk the ball).

Can the Bruins come out and play not only with fire and passion but also with focus? I honestly don't have a clue. Can the Bruins show mental toughness when the Cougars make their runs thanks to their sharp shooters? From what I have seen this season, I don't have any reason to be confident. Guess that will make up for some drama at Pauley for those who show up. Hope this time they are smart enough not to rush the court if we get a win against a team that is 2-52 in Pauley.

Yeah, it's shaping up to be another scintillating Saturday in this glorious 2009-10 basketball season (which is apparently worth celebrating with rushing of the court). I can just feel the anticipation. The tip off is scheduled for 1:00 pm PST.

GO BRUINS.

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