2016-17 Pac-12 Preview: #12 Washington State Cougars

Washington State Cougars


Head Coach:
Ernie Kent
Overall Record: 9-22
Conference Record: 1-17
2015-16 Pomeroy Rating: #186 (12th in the Pac-12)
2015-16 Sagarin Rating: #179 (12th in the Pac-12)
Overall Off. Adj. Efficiency: #187
Overall Def. Adj. Efficiency: #189
Overall Scoring Average: 70.5 ppg (11th)
Overall Scoring Defense: 77.2 ppg (11th)
Conference Scoring Average: 68.1 ppg (11th)
Conference Scoring Defense: 82.8 ppg (11th)

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Summary:

There’s no real getting around that, in what was a conference of pretty much all Top 100 teams, the feckless Cougars stuck out like a sore thumb.  After starting the season 9-5 (including a win over UCLA), the Cougs dropped the next 17 games in a row to finish out the season; and most games weren’t close.

It was readily apparent from the conference’s early weeks that Wazzu simply lacked the horses abundant on other conference teams.  The Cougars were dead last in turnover margin, dead last in assist-to-turnover ratio, 10th in rebounding margin and 10th in field goal pct. defense.  At bottom, Wazzu was a team that didn’t pass well, turned the ball over too much, didn’t rebound well and didn’t play good defense.  Not exactly an ideal combination.

There was a spring of hope, however, as Wazzu’s top nine players were all set to return for this season.  Then the offseason happened. Que Johnson, Renard Suggs and Valentine Izundu (three of the Cougars top seven returners) all transferred.  Unfortunately for Wazzu, the newcomers probably won’t be enough to make up for those losses, let alone to make the Cougars more overall competitive in the Pac-12.

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The Back Court:

Ike Iroegbu is legitimately one of the best athletes in the conference.  Indeed, his athleticism really outshines his basketball skill set to the point where he probably should have considered a career in football.  Iroegbu has improved his shooting efficiency, while improving his scoring load by about 3.5 point, each of his three season.  Heading into his senior year, Iroegbu projects to average about 15ppg with a good shooting percentage. Whether Iroegbu is a true point guard or not is another story.  At 3.5 assists to 2.7 turnovers for every 30 minute played, his numbers look more like that of a combo guard.

Iroegbu is essentially a borderling Pac-12 quality starter.  There might be one or two other teams in the conference he could start for, but that’s it.  One of Wazzu’s big problems is that the quality drops significantly after Iroegbu.  One time Juco Charles Callison averaged about 8 points per game on 39% shooting.  Callision can take a bit of the point guard load off of Iroegbu, but playing them together gives Wazzu one of the shortest back courts in the conference.

 

Washington St.’s top recruit is Milan Acquaah out of Cathedral HS in LA.  As a HS senior, Acquaah averaged 23 points and 7 rebounds per game.  Wazzu also added the top high school basketball player out of the State of Washington in Malachi Flynn.  Neither Acquaah nor Flynn is over 6’2″ tall.  So the Cougs will remain short in the back court.

 

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The Front Court:

As underwhelming as the Coug’s back court is, the front court is even less impressive.  Senior Josh Hawkinson returns in what will probably end up a sad conclusion to what once looked like a promising college career.  Hawkinson went from scoring 34 points and grabbing 45 rebounds as a freshman to scoring 455 points and grabbing 334 rebounds as a sophomore; he was considered by many the most improved player in the conference.  Unfortunately, Hawkinson hasn’t had much help from teammates, and his numbers flattened as a junior.  He’ll likely put up his 16 points and 11 rebounds per game this season; but he’ll be doing in while behind almost the entire game.

Ernie Kent brought in juco Conor Clifford last season to compliment Hawkinson on the blocks.  While Clifford did flash at times, he never really meshed on the offensive end with Hawkinson, and playing them at the same time left the Cougs without rim protection down low.  Unfortunately, the one true rim protector in the front court, Valentine Izundu transferred to SDSU.

  

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Conclusion:

When Ernie Kent returned to coaching to replace Ken Bone in 2014, hopes were high that Kent could produce results somewhat on par with Tony Bennett, with the Cougs competitive in the Pac-12.  However, now heading into his third season in Pullman, unless multiple players turn out to be significantly better than they’ve demonstrated so far, Kent is looking at his second disastrous season in a row.  Unfortunately for Kent, while the rest of the conference has been steadily improving in personnel, Washington State has not been able to recruit legitimate High Major players into his program.

Washington State is looking at another possible 1-17 type season.

 

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Projected Lineup:

G Ike Iroegbu
G Milan Acquaah
G Charles Callison
F Josh Hawkinson
C Conor Clifford

 

LINK: Back to 2016-17 Pre-season Pac-12 Preview & Projections

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