Before we tip-off tonight's game, we decided to get a little Pre-Game chat going with CougCenter, our SB Nation Wazzu Blog. We asked Jeff Nuser some questions tonight's game, and his responses are below. Enjoy!
Q. Who has been the best player so far the Cougars? Who should Beaver fans be looking out for?
A. Glad you were able to start me off with a softball question. It's Klay Thompson, hands down. He was great during the nonconference schedule a year ago, but then struggled with physical defenders in Pac-10 play. This year, there are no such problems. He's lighting everyone up, and he's doing it with an excellent all-around game.
He's not only the team's best scoring threat, but he also has the team's highest assist rate and a remarkably low turnover rate. In short, he's become expert at controlling games on the offensive end; expect him to do a lot of the ball handling against OSU's 1-3-1.
Q. Obviously, Wazzu is a dangerous team with great wins against Gonzaga and Baylor. But the Cougars also only beat a 5-6 Fresno State team by 1, and lost to a mediocre UCLA team by 9. I know team's have bad nights, but what went wrong in those games?
A. This is a jump shooting team, and when the jump shots aren't dropping, they struggle a little bit. That Fresno game was just ugly in that way. However, I don't know how much you can read into the losses to UCLA, USC and Butler. Butler had sort of a fluky shooting night and the L.A. losses came at the end of a two-week road trip. The players said the travel started to wear on them, and we've got no choice but to take them at their word at the moment. When this team's hitting its shots, it can blow people's doors off, as it did to Gonzaga and the first half of Baylor.
Q. What must happen for Washington State to make the NIT, or even the Big Dance?
A. With wins against Gonzaga and Baylor in their back pocket already, roughly 12-6 in conference should be enough to get them back in the dance for the first time in three years. But with two losses already, that means the Cougs are looking at 12-4 the rest of the way. It's doable, but not a slam dunk, and it means this team simply can't afford home losses to teams like Oregon State (despite your 2-0 record!).
Rest of the Q&A after the break
Q. Which newcomer has had the biggest impact for the Cougars?
A. Another easy question: Reserve shooting guard Faisal Aden. He's a JC transfer who was lighting up the scoreboard early in the season. He scores with his jumper, and it's a real good one. He doesn't just shoot 3s -- he's got an array of savvy moves with pump fakes and what can best be described as Dream Shakes to get his shot off in the midrange area as well. He's as flammable as anyone in the country, but can also be ice cold, which can become problematic because he takes a ton of shots It'll be interesting to see what kind of impact he has against the 1-3-1, because he's not a great passer.
Q. Did you guys lose anyone from last year's team, and if so, were they key player(s)?
A. Forward Nikola Koprivica was the only senior on last year's team, but the team also lost reserve guard Xavier Thames. Thames has been replaced by Aden (a huge upgrade) and Koprivica has more or less been replaced by Abe Lodwick, who's doing his best impression of Nik as an undersized 4.
Q. Predictions for the game?
A. I stink at predictions. But I think WSU will be energized by being back at home (even if the students aren't back in town yet), and they've shown they can pick apart a similar defense (Baylor's) with surgical precision. The Cougs also don't turn the ball over much (20th nationally in turnover percenatage), so OSU doesn't figure to get many transition buckets. I'll pick WSU to win, 75-63.