New Year's Eve in Spokane seems a lot longer ago than just over a month ago, and a lot has happened, basketball and otherwise, since we last caught up with the guys up in the Palouse. So it we got together with Jeff Nusser, the authority on all things Cougars, at least the crimson ones, up at CougCenter.com to exchange questions, and get an update before the Cougs and Beavs hook up again tonight.
Here's our answers to the Coug's questions.
Did the season go south when Faisal Aden tore his ACL? Or can the Cougs pull things back together? How will Washington St. finish the Pac-12 season?
Well, the season was already heading south with Aden -- that is, until, he went off for 57 points on 29 shots to fuel a home sweep of Stanford and Cal. That was uncharacteristically efficient of him, as Aden could previously have been characterized as a high-usage chucker. But in those games, he was aggressive to the basket, and fans wondered if he might be turning over a new leaf -- an efficient scorer from the perimeter is something this team was sorely lacking, and surely would have made a difference. But then the injury happen, and it all became moot.
I think we believe there's still enough talent on the perimeter to replace Aden -- Reggie Moore is capable of more than he shows most nights, and Mike Ladd has shown flashes of being pretty good as he returns from injury -- but it's a guessing game at this point. As for how they'll finish? Honestly, I expect something along the lines of 2-5 the rest of the way in conference.
Who can help Brock Motum with the scoring?
Speaking of Lacy, assess his progress as a freshman, and what his future looks like.
Can DaVonte Lacy become a reliable scorer?As I intimated in the previous response, there probably isn't a singular guy on the roster who can compliment Motum, so it's probably going to have to come from a committee. Lacy will be a part of that, but Moore would actually seem to be the best candidate to complement Motum. Unfortunately, he has chosen to become a facilitator, despite a demonstrated ability to get into the lane and to the line.
Honestly, this team's best chance of winning on any given night is Motum scoring 35.
I think Lacy has hit a little bit of a freshman wall -- many of the three pointers that were going down early in the year have been falling short lately. The problem with that is that he shoots a ton of threes -- about 2/3 of his field goal attempts. From my vantage point, that's way too many for a guy who possesses his first step and strength. He seems to often settle for a perimeter shot when he could put his head down and go to the basket.
That will be the next evolution in his game at the college level, and I have no doubt he's going to make it happen, as he's already displayed a better shooting touch this year than he did in high school. I'll be disappointed if he's not an all-Pac-12 first teamer at some point in his career.
Another thing we noticed, and were surprised by, is that Reggie Moore's assists are up this season overall, but nothing else has changed. Has he actually been at his career ceiling for some time now?
I sort of addressed this earlier, but here's Moore's deal: He was amazing as a freshman, built largely on fearless forays into the lane that often resulted in free throws. But then he hurt his wrist before last season and spent the year trying to protect it.
We thought we might get the Reggie Moore of old back this season, but he's appeared content to simply be a facilitator. And when he does shoot, he typically shoots jumpers. I think the ability to be a dynamic scorer is still in there, but for whatever reason, it doesn't come out much. His ceiling is higher than what he's showing, but who knows if we'll ever see him approach it again?
Is coach Ken Bone on the hot seat? Or does he get a pass due to the injury? He was only 11-8, and 3-4 in conference, before Aden got hurt.
Not on the hot seat, if only because he's in year three of a seven-year guaranteed contract that pays him $850,000 a year. WSU isn't taking that kind of hit to make the basketball coach go away, especially not with what they're paying Mike Leach and his staff. Bone has at least two more years after this one, I figure.
Is their a solution to the lack of a post game in the recruiting pipeline?
Well, they do get plenty on offense in the post from Motum, who can beat most anyone in the conference both inside and out. But in terms of post defense, yeah - it's a mess, and they're hoping 6-foot-10 Richard Peters and 6-7 Richard Longrus will help next year. They'll also be counting on the continued development of sophomore transfer D.J. Shelton, who is athletic, but generally looks like he doesn't understand where to be on the floor.
Even when DeAnglo Casto was there, there was no backup. Why can't Bone seem to recruit big men very effectively?
I think it's twofold. First, it's hard to recruit big men. Bone has tried, but he's had some spectacular bad luck -- career-ending injuries, academic casualties, etc.
But I think there's also some validity to the idea that Bone's emphasis will always be on the perimeter. His offense revolves around those guys, and that's where he places his talent premium. That said, three of the four guys in next year's class play the 3, 4 or 5, so it's being addressed.
Moving over to football, now that signing day is over, can you assess how new coach Mike Leach did recruiting? Did he get enough help to make a major move in the Pac-12 North, or will it take a second class to be able to adequately implement what he wants to do?
As well as could be expected. Tough to say if he got any big-time impact players outside of the wide receivers, but he was able to flip some guys to WSU and also able to get his foot in the door with some bigger-name prospects -- the Cougs had wedged their way into the conversation of OSU recruit Kenny Lawler. It's exciting to consider what he'll be able to do with 12 months to put a class together, rather than six weeks.
It's going to take another class to really get the program going in the direction Leach wants, but we do expect a pretty significant step forward under Leach next year -- most are assuming six wins and a bowl game as the minimum. I'm cautiously optimistic that that's the floor.
From a distance, it looks like the Cougars got a decent group, yet by most accounts, Washington St.'s class was still rated last in the Pac-12. Not that Oregon St.'s was much better, even given that the average number of stars and quantity is one of the better classes here too. Are you concerned that even with program improvements and Pac-12 money, the traditional "have nots", like WSU and OSU, will just become "have lesses" because the "haves" now have even more money too?
Not really. An extra $10 million means a lot more to WSU than it does to UW, Oregon, USC, etc. I mean, what's it going to allow Oregon to do that it couldn't do before? But at WSU, it funded the hiring of Mike Leach, the renovation of Martin Stadium and the construction of a sparkling football operations building. I will be absolutely shocked if those things don't pay dividends soon, especially as recruits see what their brand spanking new training space will be.
Recruiting won't be nearly the uphill battle that it once was, as Leach will be able to convince kids to come on the merits of his coaching and the institution, since the facilities will no longer be incomparable. WSU will never be able to match up with certain programs, but they're making significant facility improvements that should at least somewhat level the playing field.
Should be interesting tonight.