Washington State Week’s Burning Question: How Long Is The Road Back To National Prominence?Posted by Connor Pelton on August 6th, 2012
It’s that time again, as Adam Butler of Pachoops.com joins us once more with our Burning Question for the Washington State program, concerning the road back to national relevancy for the Cougars and whether Ken Bone is the man to lead them there.
Not too long ago, the Cougars enjoyed the most successful era in the history of their basketball program. But Tony Bennett left for Virginia, Ken Bone came in from Portland State, and Washington State hasn’t gone dancing since they did it back-to-back in 2006-07 and 2007-08. What do the Cougs need to do to not only get back to the NCAAs, but national prominence as well, and is Bone the man to lead them there?
Adam Butler: Find their identity. The Bone era hasn’t been devoid of talent, but it has been missing consistency. I think I like their style – it’s generally up-tempo – but there’s been an inability to consistently perform and execute what I imagine is Bone-ball. Maybe that’s a result of being an uptempo-ish team in this recent trend (started by Bennett in Pullman) of Pac-12 school’s to slow things down and play deliberately. Nonetheless, if it’s unclear what you’re doing, odds are you’re not going to be particularly successful. The same concept applies to a lot of things, just ask your first girlfriend. But there are a lot of things going for the Cougars, too. I think Reggie Moore could be poised to break out of this two-year funk as senior seasons tend to help people do, and Brock Motum is a Player of the Year front-runner. Am I sold on Ken Bone building a Top 10 team? Not today. But I think it’d be a step in the right direction if there was an identity to what a Cougar game was like as opposed to hoping talent prevails.
Andrew Murawa: The sad fact of the matter is that Pullman just wasn’t built to consistently produce nationally prominent sports programs. Of all the schools in the Pac-12, the argument could be fairly easily made that getting elite recruits to sign up for four years on the Palouse is more difficult than in any other location. That’s not a dig at Washington State, that’s just interpreting the facts. Twice in 45 years has the Cougar basketball program finished as high as second in the Pac-Fill-In-An-Even-Number-Here. In that same stretch of time they’ve finished either last or second-to-last 16 times. Their track record in football ain’t much better: 10 bowl games in almost 120 years of history. Again, I’m not talking out of school here; these are facts that Coug fans are well aware of. The point is, expectations in Pullman have to be reasonable. Seasons like the Rose Bowls under Mike Price and the consecutive NCAA Tourneys under Tony Bennett will always be the exceptions rather than the rule.
But by no means does that mean that WSU should sit back and accept mediocrity as its default state. Their goal from all of their programs should be much the same as the goals everywhere else in Division I, from Lexington down to Cal State Bakersfield – live up to your potential. All of which is just a long-winded way of saying that the realistic ceiling for WSU should not be regular appearances in the Top 25 and trips to the NCAA Tournament on a yearly basis, and the head coach of the basketball team should not be judged against those goals. Sure, following Bennett at WSU is no fun, but even he saw the writing on the wall and knew that no matter how good of a coach he was, there wasn’t going to be regularly consistent success. So, a 19-18 record and a trip to a postseason tournament like last year under Ken Bone? Sure, it’s not going to create lifelong memories for Cougar fans, but that’s a good year. Developing a player like Brock Motum and occasionally drawing in an NBA-talent like Klay Thompson? That’s great stuff. The fact is, in three years on the Palouse, Bone has yet to have a losing season. Of the 13 guys who have coached more than 20 games at WSU, Bone has the second-highest winning percentage ever, behind only his predecessor. So, is Bone the guy to lead WSU to national prominence on a regular basis? Not a chance in hell. But then again, that guy doesn’t exist. Is Bone a guy who can consistently get his team close to its ceiling on a regular basis? That remains to be seen, but the first three seasons are promising.
Connor Pelton: In short, set a style and stick to it. The Cougs have been stuck in an awkward phase on offense that has hurt them against more athletic teams. Bone arrived on the Palouse with sharpshooting wings on the roster, and he has continued to recruit that type of player. The only problem is that, with a few exceptions, shooting was the only asset they brought to the table. They weren’t big enough to clog up the lane, and they couldn’t stick with a more athletic team for 40 minutes. But boy can they shoot, and when they get hot for a few weeks or so at a time they are able to make a nice postseason run. Unfortunately, the reason they haven’t returned to the Dance yet is that you’re not going to stay hot for four straight months. Ken Bone needs to start recruiting guards and wings who can not only shoot but play solid defense as well. And there needs to be more of a focus on inserting big guys who can deny easy buckets in the lane when the opponent breaks the first line of defense. So, the point I’m trying to make is that the Cougars are doing a good enough job to avoid losing seasons and have a fun time in the CBI or NIT at the end of the season. But in order to go dancing, they need a team that can compete for 40 minutes a game 30 times a year. Hopefully they will get those guys soon before the excitement and momentum gained by the Bennett era is lost.