Who’s Gonna Blink First?

Hello Followers.  Hope you’re having a great week.

Well, as we head toward the mighty Pac-10 tournament, it is now time to take one last look into the chrystal ball before our fate is ultimately decided on the basketball court. 

Want to check out  my takes on the NCAA tournament fortunes of WSU, the UW, and maybe, dare I say, an admission of wrongness? Then read on.

Followers, a few weeks back, I told you all that, following our loss to Stanford, our NCAA tournament chances were done.  At the same time, the folks over at Cougcenter were suggesting that such blanket statements were out of place.  Their argument:  The bubble this year is softer than ever. What’s more, given the inclusion of FOUR additional teams into the mix, they suggested that there was just too much basketball left to be played to say what would or would not happen re: our NCAA fortunes.

Well, now that Championship Week has hit, it has become pretty clear that the takes of this Blog and Cougcenter were both right and wrong–although a break here or there and I will be all alone eating the “wrong” sandwich.  In fact, the Bubble is softer than ever.  Moreover, some of the teams that were considered “locks” just a few weeks ago, seem to be in a much more precarious position today than what could have been imagined previously.  So, with that in mind, lets get to what needs to happen for us to make the NCAA tournament:

As I told you all on Sunday, it is my belief that two wins this week gets us in the NCAA tournament.   In fact, I think you can bank on that irrespective of what the east-coast blowhards may indicate right now.   What is unclear, however, is whether or not two wins this week would move us beyond the play-in games in Dayton on Tuesday.  My sense:  All else equal, in order to make it to Thursday or Friday, we’re going to have to win the Pac-10 tournament (sigh!).

Of course, in order to win two games this week, we’re going to have to beat the Muttlakes for the third time in a row.   And, while there is good reason to be concerned about our ability to do that, I happen to believe that beating a team three times is NOT a difficult proposition. After all, this isn’t the NFL.  And within that, we’re not talking about a scenario where we beat the UW twice in the regular season, had a worse regular season record, and now are in the position where we need to beat them for the second time in a row on their home floor.

Instead, we now face them on a neutral floor.

Moreover, from my own playing days, the only time that I got the yips about playing a team for the third time is when my team had only won once–and done so in nailbiting fashion.  In those instances, I always had in the back of my mind that “maybe” they were better.  And within, sometimes it was hard to  imagine how it was that we beat them to begin with–let alone for a second time.

But when you’ve already beaten a team twice, the psychological advantage is already in your court.  To be sure, the UW is telling themselves that the first and second losses to us were a fluke.  And so, they are counting on being able to assert their will on us, and in turn, watching us fold as we realize that they were better than us all along.

But the flip side of that scenario is what happens if they can’t gain separation from us in the second half–or even worse for them–if they find themselves behind heading into the last ten minutes.  In those cases, it is my experience as both a player and spectator, that the doubt starts to become overwhelming for the team that has lost the previous two meetings…

So, when you couple that psychology with the bigger picture, it becomes pretty clear that the Dawgs have LOTS to lose in this game.  Not only will they be fighting the “yips” when it comes to us, they also have to know that their NCAA fortunes are really hanging by a thread in this one.

In short, lose to us, and the Dawgs are prime candidates to play in Dayton on Tuesday night .  Lose to us, and if we beat UCLA, then the Dawgs are out.  And the reason:  when you look at the last 11 games the Dawgs would have a worse W-L record than us.  They would have lost to us three times.  AND, they would have less non-conference quality wins than us.   So, if you take at face value that the Selection Committee would just assume add a Pac-10 team by subtracting one, you get my impression:  The Dawgs would be done.

So, that’s the context.  And its a doozy.

Now, for us, we need to do a few things to get them into the panic mode that will enable us to get to the conference semi-finals:

1) Reggie must play and play well.  Mind you, I am not convinced that Reggie needs to play his typical 30 minutes.  In fact, Reggie may only have to play 10-15 minutes.  But, with our lack of depth in the backcourt plus UW’s ball pressure (and they’ll provide plenty without Venoy), we’re going to need Reggie to be healthy enough to handle the ball, distribute, and defend for at least a quarter of the game.  If he can, I think we’ll be okay.

2) Klay needs to overcome TWO barriers.   In my view, the next two games will tell the final story about Klay’s readiness (or not) to enter the NBA.  For starters, Klay needs to overcome his tendency to be HORRIBLE while playing in L.A.   The second issue regarding Klay is his ability to overcome the “L.A.” yips following his suspension.  In short, Klay needs to find a way to keep his emotions in check, to play within himself, and beyond, he needs to make his teammates BETTER in the same way that he did throughout our last game with the Muttlakes.  If he drives, dishes, and limits his three attempts to wide open looks, I think we’ll advance (provided that Reggie plays his 10+ minutes). 

And another thing re: Klay.  Keep in mind that because of the suspension and the rivalry game the week before, Klay has only played in two games in the past two weeks.  So, where we might have expected him to wear down in a three games in three days type format, Klay’s legs should be in really good shape heading into the Conference tourney.

3) Aden must hit open shots.  In the last UW game, Aden was 1 for 9 (or some such) from the floor.  As we’ve noted here before, we are 6-1 when we’ve received 10+ of production from the 3 spot occupied by Aden and Capers.  If Aden can simply hit the wide open three, we’ll be in really, really good shape.

4) Casto must be his All-Conference Self.  While DeAngelo didn’t quite make the Pac-10 first team, it is difficult to find a post player (whose name is not Williams) who has been more efficient than our main man.  In this game, Casto simply needs to maintain his aggressiveness on the offensive end,  distribute out of the post when he gets doubled, and keep his feet on defense.  In other words, if he plays the way he’s played since halftime of the ASU game, we’ll be fine.

5)  Princeton Offense.  The UW is going to come out on Thursday like their jock straps are on fire.  And, as any quasi-coach will tell you, the best way to respond to super-deny-ball-pressure defenses is to back-cut and back-screen.  So, I’m looking for us to really open up the baseline.  And to do that, we’re going to need Abe to hit a few from behind the three line to really spread the court.  If we pull one of their bigs from the basket, we’re going to be able to feed Casto and a cutting Motum morning, noon, and night–not to mention what Klay will do attacking the basket.

6) Get to the Line.  Although it seems like our free throw percentage is not good when we lose, the numbers don’t quite bear that out. In our 9 conference losses, we’ve shot 68%. In our 9 conference wins, we’ve shot nearly 79% percent.  In essence, that’s a difference of a couple of points.  Significant to a degree, but not as monumental as I had expected.

What is important, however, is what happens to us when we get to the line with regularity.  In SEVEN OF NINE conference losses, we failed to get to the line 20 or more times.  In contrast, in SEVEN OF NINE conference wins, we got to the line 20 or more times.

Moreover, where the UW is concerned, we got to the line 30 times in the first game (63%) AND 36 times in the second game (89%). 

So, while making free throws is certainly of importance–particularly down the stretch–getting to the line sure appears like it is a lot more important.  So, if we feed the post and take the ball to the rack effectively, I expect us to win.


Beyond the UW game, UCLA is very beatable with Klay in the line-up and with Malcolm Lee suddenly questionable with a knee injury.  So, for me, the key to that game is simply to play sound D and move around the basketball in the way shown on Saturday.  If we do that, we’ll be fine in that game as well.

Now, regarding Saturday, well, the only way we win the conference tournament is if USC advances to the Championship game.  Because SC is thinner than we are, I think we can sneak that one out since we’d be GASSED following games against UW and UCLA.  But, in no way do I see us beating UW, UCLA, and Arizona in three consecutive days.

Finally, looking outside of the Pac-10, here are the teams that we all should be rooting for and against over the coming days:

Teams we should root for:

Butler to Win The Horizon

Baylor To Beat Oklahoma (especially) and Texas

Kansas State to Beat Colorado

Teams we should root against:

Michigan State against Purdue

Illinois/Michigan winner against Ohio State

Last night, the Zags did us a HUGE service by winning their conference title outright.  We need Butler to do the same.

But even more than that, we need the “Washingtons” of the Big 10 to have bad weeks.  Check out the records and the quality wins of MSU, Michigan, and Illinois.  NOT GOOD in my view.

So, if all of those Big 10 teams lose, I think we’ll find ourselves in a position to have a pretty nice resume relative to theirs…In fact, if all of those scenarios happen–and if we win two–we might find ourselves as high as a 10 seed..

Final Prediciton:

Washington 74 WSU 71.   With a healthy Moore, I think we win this one, because right now, I think we’re a better basketball TEAM.  But, when I read that Reggie is still limited, I just don’t see how we are going to deal with IT effectively without him (in part because Reggie makes IT work HARD on defense).  What’s more, while I think the world of Klay, I think the suspension plus the LA yips is going to be too much for him.  However, if Halliday does not pass the concussion test, then Klay may be able to really work a guy like Wilcox and/or Ross early and often, get his confidence up, etc.

But, I’ll look forward to this week (starting Thursday night at 11:30pm Eastern) to see if (a) we play with a full deck; and (b) if we knock the Huskies onto the bubble on Thursday and then out of the Dance on Friday.

If we do, the “underachievement” label will clearly be theirs to carry into the off-season.

Play with heart, Cougies.  Play with heart.