Tonight's game has a pretty simple story line: Two teams that really need a win will tip off at 3:00 pm PST. The Bears have lost back-to-back games in completely different fashions, but both have been devastating in their own unique way. Washington St. followed up a huge win over their rivals by losing two of three against teams that they really aren't supposed to struggle with. So something has to give. Hopefully what doesn't give is Cal's stellar play against the Cougs. Some ultimately meaningless but nonetheless interesting streaks: Washington St. has not beaten the Bears since 2008, and they haven't beaten Cal in Pullman since 2007. I feel like I've heard too many Cal announcers talking about the "Curse of the Palouse" to believe it, but that's what the history books tell me.
When Washington St. is right Klay Thompson is creating his own shots from everywhere on the court. Faisal Aiden is taking open shots and facilitating from time to time. DeAngelo Casto is picking up high percentage looks inside off of passes from Thompson or Reggie Moore.
When Washington St. isn't right players stand around and watch as Thompson struggles to get open against defenses keying on him. Faisal Aden is taking low percentage, contested jumpers. Nobody is penetrating and dishing to Casto. The good Cougs showed up against Washington, but the bad Cougs played a full 40 minutes against Oregon and the first half against Stanford, and the good Cougs couldn't quite pull off the 2nd half comeback.
So, which version will show up against the Bears at Friel court?
I'm inclined to be a little more optimistic just because I think Cal's zone might cause Washington St. to play towards their worst tendencies - too many 3's and low percentage jumpers. It took a truly amazing performance from Thompson to keep WSU close and force overtime in Berkeley, and Thompson hasn't been playing nearly as well over their last three games. But he's also the type of player that can turn it on at any time, and going up against Cal's quickly sinking defenseis probably just what he needs to get his mojo back.
It's more likely that the game will swing on how well WSU's secondary players do against Cal's zone. The mercurial Aden and Casto are both capable of big games, and Reggie Moore has been playing better lately despite a disjointed season of injury and legal trouble.
Note: The following chart concept has been blatantly stolen from mgoblog.
|Cal eFG% v. WSU Def eFG
|Cal Def eFG% v. WSU eFG%
|Cal TO% v. Ore WSU TO%
|Cal Def TO% v. WSU TO%
|Cal OReb% v. WSU DReb%
|Cal DReb% v. WSU OReb%
|Cal FTR v. WSU Opp FTR
|Cal Opp FTR v. WSU FTR
|Cal AdjO v. WSU AdjD
|Cal AdjD v. WSU AdjO
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
Jeez, there are lots of Ws in that chart. Things we know: Cal is really unlikely to force Cougar turnovers, and Washington St. is really unlikely to have any success on the offensive glass. And, as always, the Bears will try to live from the free throw line.
Washington St. has a pretty huge advantage across the boards in terms of field goal shooting and field goal defense, but I think some of that is a little deceptive because Washington St. really shot the ball well in non-conference play. Unfortunately for WSU, their non-conference schedule was really weak, and their offense hasn't been nearly as successful in Pac-10 play. That's reflected in the adjusted offense and defense ratings, which take schedule strength into account and are much closer.
But since we're in the 2nd half of the schedule, we can look back at an earlier matchup:
Aaaaand it's another game Cal won with free throws. eFG% was essentially even, and what little WSU gained from turnovers they lost on the glass. So: Can Allen Crabbe again pour in 30 points with an eFG% of 80%? Will Klay Thompson be unstoppable again? Will Harper Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison collectively win the battle against DeAngelo Casto? I'm going with Probably Not, Probably, and Yes. Does all of that equal another Cal win? God I hope so.
A sweep in the state of Washington wouldn't really be a surprise - pretty much everybody identified it as the toughest road trip of the year. So even if the Bears fall it's not worth despairing over. But considering recent events a win would feel really, really good. So I'd like to humbly suggest the Bears win this one, just for us. Deal? Deal.