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Cal Men's Basketball vs. WSU Preview

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The Cougs are a comin' to town with a familiar foe leading the way.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Pac-12 veteran Ernie Kent was handed the keys to the Wazzu kingdom after last year's 10-21 campaign resulted in Ken Bone's ouster. The Cougs have gone through a number of iterations over the past decade. They've played slow, looked on the verge of a breakthrough thanks to one star player, and then sagged when their star left for the NBA. Then, they've played faster, looked like they were breaking through, and sagged yet again as their dearth of talent left them in a perpetual rebuild cycle.

Now, they're going to play at ludicrous speed. Coach Kent knows this means growing pains and has already told their fan base to "embrace the process." They may not be the best or the worst, but you've got to respect his honesty.

When he had the talent, Ernie Kent was successful at Oregon using a frenetic attack to lead them on several deep NCAA tournament runs. However, his system requires having multiple players who can shoot, pass, and handle while also being conditioned and deep enough to stay effective throughout the course of a game.

For the short-term, he's a proven coach, but it's unknown whether he has the horses. In the long-term, the big question will be on his ability to recruit without the benefit of Uncle Phil's giant checkbook.

For all that Cal has the better record, the argument could be made that Wazzu is the deeper team. By percentages alone, they're better at sharing the ball and their effective shooting percentage (49.9%) is very similar to ours (50.1%). However, it's hard to look at Cal's struggles over the past month and not be biased by the feeling that we're simply not a very good shooting team. If it comes down to a free-throw shooting contest, the Cougs are top-50 nationally, and we are most assuredly not.

If there's an area where we have a clear edge, it's on the other end. For all our faults on offense, we've been playing excellent defense and have also been absolutely solid on the defensive glass. Wazzu has been bad-to-average. Unfortunately, their greatest weakness appears to be closing out on the three-point line...and that just doesn't look like an area where we can take advantage. Surely Ernie Kent will figure out that you close out on our _one_ shooter, double Wallace in the paint, and take your chances?

Most recently, the Cougs raced out to a 10-2 lead at Stanford(sic) before regression reared its ugly head.  DaVonte Lacy looked tentative and seemed unwilling to assert himself against a larger, more athletic defender.  Hawkinson was solid on the glass, but had trouble finishing over Nastic.  With their two big guns mostly silenced, the rest of the Cougars simply couldn't make enough shots to keep up.  Also, the Furds stopped settling for contested jumpers and realized that they could work it inside for dunks and layups essentially at will.

As with all conference home games, it's a must-win contest for our sturdy Golden Bears. This one will feature uptempo ball and a duel between two of the best guards in the conference. While our defense should be enough to keep us in the game, our offense may very well keep the Cougs in it to the wire.

Starters:

G DaVonte Lacy(Sr), 6'4, 215 lbs, 17.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.4 apg
G Ny Redding(Fr), 6'2, 180 lbs, 6.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 4.3 apg
G Ike Iroegbu(So), 6'2, 190 lbs, 8.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.8 apg
F Junior Longrus(Jr), 6'7, 240 lbs, 2.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg
C Josh Hawkins(So), 6'10, 245 lbs, 15.6 ppg, 10.5 rpg

Bench:
G Que Johnson(So), 6'5, 205 lbs, 6.0 ppg, 3.2rpg

F Brett Boese(Jr), 6'7, 230 lbs, 4.7 ppg

G/F Dexter Kernich-Drew(Sr), 6'7, 190 lbs, 4.4 ppg

C Jordan Railey(Sr), 7'0, 245 lbs, 4.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg

Key Players:


Davonte Lacy is their do-everything star guard. Once just a catch-n-shoot threat, he's expanded his game to include attacking the rim and getting to the line. Hawkins has been a pleasant surprise for Wazzu and provides an interior threat unlike anything the Cougs have had in recent years. He's even shown the ability to step out and hit from deep. True frosh Ny Redding has taken over running the point. His jumpshot has been inconsistent, but he's done a nice job distributing the ball. Ike Iroegbu is another athletic youngster who might be a better fit for Kent's system than Ken Bone's doghouse. Johnson, Boese, and Kernich-Drew all provide shooting off the bench. Junior Longrus does an excellent job of taking up space so that they have five on the court at tip-off.  Railey brings them more size, but has been charitably described as a "hot mess" since transferring from Iowa State.  He was once thought to be Ken Bone's center of the future...which was prophetic considering Bone is now unemployed.


Keys to the Game:

1) Protect the ball

With one glaring exception, we've generally done a good job of taking care of the ball this season. But coughing it up against a young, athletic squad that likes to run? Doom. Especially if it exposes us to foul trouble and prevents us from setting our normally stout half court defense.

2) Defend early

Under Kent, the Ducks were notorious from taking the ball out of the their own net and immediately running it back for an easy transition score. We have to be ready to hustle back, but pick up our guys as soon as they cross the half court. Wazzu has plenty of shooters and they all have the green light to put it up early in the clock.

3) Wallace vs. Lacy

It's the scorer vs. the shooter. Both teams rely on their star to handle the scoring load. If it's close, they don't want to see Wallace coming down the lane with a full head of steam and we don't want to see Lacy curling free off a screen. When teams have had success against Lacy, they've made him the cliched volume shooter.  Considering his shut-down performance against Nigel Williams-Goss, expect to see Roger Moute a Bidias deployed as our Lacy stopper.

4) Win the undercard

Going into this year, if I told you that one of these teams would have a big averaging 15 and 10, the safe bet would be to put your money on David Kravish. Instead, it's Wazzu's young buck, Hawkins, who is having the break-out year. Behrens should have the edge over Longrus, but might struggle on the perimeter when they go small. The Cougs have a bunch of interchangeable guards who can score and are capable of hitting shots. Right now, we rely on Mathews as our lone three point threat and Singer will occasionally take it to the rim. Someone has to step up and provide some semblance of an offensive threat or they'll just double and triple Wallace all night.  We would absolutely love it if Kravish opts to go full Krav Maga on the Pac-12. (HT: Atoms)


5) Make shots

Especially more than the other team.

Tip-off: 3pm
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: KGO 810