Another REAL SPORTING EVENT! Isn't that exciting? We get to see athlete competitions that exist in reality. So much better than rumors after endless rumors.
We got the Cougars of Washington State coming up in a crucial game. Frankly, given how weak Cal's OOC schedule was and how weak the Pac-12 is, every game is crucial. This could be a 1 bid conference (THE HORROR!) and Cal needs to ensure that it does everything it can to put itself into the tournament. Wins on the road, in particular, are key.
So, to figure out what we should expect before the Cal-WSU game, we talked with Jeff Nusser over at CougCenter. I have always felt that CougCenter does some of the best work at SBN. They have had wildly underperforming sports teams in the last few years, but despite that, the authors there show passion and intelligence towards all things Cougar. Mr. Nusser was kind enough to answer a few questions for us. You can see his answers after the jump. Thanks, Nuss. GO BEARS!1. Brock Motum is the obvious scary dude on the Cougar roster. What's the best way to slow him down?
Motum has made some serious strides with his offensive game, as he can beat you both inside and outside. He'll pull a three if you give him space (42 percent on 35 attempts), but he can also put the ball on the floor and go by most big men if they crowd him too much out there. He'll also hit a midrange jumper, and even has a few post moves -- he shoots nearly 60 percent on twos. He's a savvy scorer.
However, Motum still isn't the quickest and most athletic dude, so if you put a long athletic guy on him, he does have some difficulty. Got one of those that isn't suspended? (Sorry, couldn't resist. You know that we cursed Cougs feel your pain more than anyone, right?) One thing to keep an eye on: He moves exceptionally well without the ball, and if his defender falls asleep or if Reggie Moore is able to get penetration, he'll get some easy buckets by making himself available.
2. After losing so much talent, has this year gone better or worse than anticipated?
This is a tough question. If you'd showed me this season's results back in June and asked me if it fell in line with what I expected, I'd have said, "Yep, looks about right overall." But you know, expectations change, and after looking reasonably decent in nonconference play -- especially toward the end -- it's tough not to feel a little disappointed about where this team is. The conference is down even more than most of us expected, yet WSU has only been able to muster a singular win? That's a disappointment. This team obviously should have beaten Utah, and I don't think beating Oregon or Colorado should have been too much to ask. But right now, they don't look to be in that class, which is certainly worse than anticipated.
3. Glancing at the stats, I see that the Cougs have really struggled to defend. Is there any particular cause for WSU's struggles? And will Bone throw out a zone or man-to-man against Cal? Please tell us he's going to throw a zone against Allen Crabbe!
They stink at defense. Ken Bone came in with a bit of a reputation as a guy who didn't really emphasize defense, and I felt the results last year, when they were in the top 50 nationally, invalidated that argument. But then this year happened, and I covered what I think is the the simplest explanation here, noting that DeAngelo Casto and Klay Thompson were both excellent defenders whose minutes have been replaced by guys who are not-so-excellent defenders. Turns out, those two guys were covering up for a lot of issues.
It now appears that Bone's reputation is probably at least somewhat deserved. The players show a real lack of commitment to effort on that end, and you see it in the inability to do the most basic things on that end of the floor. They're hopeless defending ball screens, and that's something you learn in practice. It's clear that defense just isn't emphasized the way it was in the past. It also most likely doesn't help that they don't do any one thing well. They spent the majority of the nonconference schedule seemingly committed to learning to play man-to-man, only to abandon it nearly completely for a 2-3 zone after getting shredded by Oregon in the first conference game. Essentially, they attempt to simply play passable defense that they can hopefully outscore.
As for what will happen against Cal, you'll almost certainly see the zone, because Bone is much more concerned about penetration than shooting. Have a ball!
4. Ken Bone: How firmly are Cougar fans backing him? How much of that loyalty is because his name is awesome?
In the eyes of many, he'll never be able to escape Tony Bennett's huge shadow. That's unfair in a lot of ways, not the least of which is that Bennett likely would have experienced the same downturn the last couple of years had he stuck around. But because he bolted before that could happen, his reputation is secure -- many of our fans are absolutely convinced that the talent the last couple of years (especially last year) was good enough to return to the NCAA Tournament and that they only lacked the "discipline" and "grittiness" that Bennett would have provided. Maybe that's true, but I doubt the results would have been significantly different; sure, the defense would have been better, but I seriously question whether Thompson would have developed into the player he did in Bennett's offensive system. I figure the net result (deep NIT run) would have probably been similar.
The other thing Bone has going against him is that he shifted the philosophy so radically. That was inevitable, given almost nobody in the country coaches the system the Bennetts do, but it's especially jarring for a fanbase that had experienced precious little success before their arrival. Again, many of our fans are now convinced that the ONLY way WSU can win at basketball is the Bennett way -- emphasis on defense, recruiting guys that fit a very specific skill set that will be overlooked by other schools ... basically, they believe WSU has to take a Moneyball approach to college basketball because WSU has never had consistent success any other way.
To that end, the biggest challenge he's faced is that he's been trying to coach for three years with a mix of guys he brought in and guys he inherited who were recruited to play a very specific style of basketball that is very different from his own. It's resulted in a bad mix of players that, again, was covered up to some degree last year by Thompson's talent. Fortunately, the last of Bennett's players graduate this year, and they'll be replaced by a recruiting class that's very well thought of, led by top 100 recruit Demarquise Johnson. Fans are excited about that, but again are skeptical that he can truly succeed this way.
Despite all of this, his job is incredibly secure. Three compelling reasons why: 1) That recruiting class; 2) Fans are too distracted by Mike Leach to care that much; and 3) Bone has four guaranteed years left on his contract at $850,000 each -- no way WSU is ponying up nearly $3.5 million to make him go away, not after what they just paid their football coach. I'd be shocked if Bone doesn't get at least two more years, so he's got some time to prove himself with guys that he can call "his own."
5. If somebody other than Motum were to blow up, who would be the man to send Cal fans into fits of tears and hysterics?
Most likely? Probably Faisal Aden. He's my least favorite player thanks to the fact that he's an incredibly inefficient scorer who apparently has the green light (another reason fans aren't exactly thrilled with Bone). His inefficiency owes mostly to his reliance on jump shots and inability to get to the free throw line, but he's been prone to outbursts where he can't miss. He hasn't really had that kind of a game this year, but he does possess the ability to throw in 25 on you. Another guy is Reggie Moore. The point guard can be a playmaker when he wants to be, but he generally lacks aggression. If he ever decides he wants to go to the rim with purpose, he could take over a game.