Pac-12 Team Previews: Washington State Cougars

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 30th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Washington State Cougars.

Strengths: This category starts and ends with senior forward Brock Motum. The Australian lefty led the Pac-12 in scoring in 2011-12 and took home the title of most improved player in the conference, but it will be interesting to see how he performs without the team’s best guard to draw some attention on the perimeter. Motum was able to handle just about any big man in league play last year, taking opponents both inside and out. He became famous for some incredible, off-balance jumpers, reminiscent of Dirk Nowitzki with some of his shots. With the dismissal of Reggie Moore, Kansas transfer Royce Woolridge will start the year at combo guard. Big things are expected of the former Jayhawk, who may just be the best shooter Washington State can put on the roster.

Weaknesses: Behind Motum and Woolridge, it’s tough to look at the Cougars and point out a guy that oozes confidence. Sure, guys like DaVonté Lacy and D.J. Shelton are solid athletes, but it’s going to be a long year when you’re counting on them for big-time production. Ken Bone does have some interesting newcomers to play around with, but what roles they fit into and how much they can immediately contribute will be tough to figure out. Gillette Junior College transfer James Hunter looks to be a banger that will start the year at power forward, but the Cougs are awfully thin after that for someone who can bang on the glass. Shelton and Hunter better not be on the bench at the same time, because things could get ugly down there for Wazzu.

James Hunter (15) Will Have To Avoid The Bench In 2012-13 For The Cougars To Have A Rebounding Presence In The Post (credit: Gillette College)

Non-Conference Tests: The Cougars will face four stiff non-conference tests this season, three of which will all come in a row away from home in late November. Washington State will travel to Malibu to face Pepperdine on November 16, and while the Waves might struggle this season, not many teams venture into Firestone Fieldhouse and come out with an easy win. Just three days later the Cougars will go into the Sprint Center and play a top 5 Kansas squad in front of what will be a 99% Jayhawk-friendly crowd. Less than 24 hours later they’ll play on the same court against either Saint Louis or Texas A&M, two teams that are at least NIT locks this season. Finally, the Cougs get a three game reprieve before having to take on in-state rival Gonzaga on December 5 in Pullman.

Toughest Conference Stretch: After a tough non-conference slate, the Cougars catch a break in that no run of six games or more is all that challenging once they hit Pac-12 play. If we have to choose one, we’ll take the stretch from January 23 to February 9, where they have to travel to Eugene, Corvallis, and Los Angeles, not to mention the home game in-between against arguably the toughest team in the league. It’s tough to point to any game except for the one against Arizona State that you can automatically chalk up as a win, but there are certainly opportunities there against the Ducks, Beavers, and Trojans. At this point, it’s tough to see them getting out of the Arizona and UCLA games with victories.

If Everything Goes Right… Behind dominating performances from Motum and Woolridge, the Cougars march out of Kansas City with a 12-point win against Texas A&M and a third place finish in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. Non-conference play could not have gone better for the Cougs, as they finish with a 12-1 record, including an overtime win against the hated Bulldogs. Conference play is much harder on them, but Richard Longrus, Jr. emerges as one of the top rebounders in the league, and Mike Ladd ends up as one of the top contributors on the offensive end of the court. In front of one of those great Beasley Coliseum crowds, the Cougars dismantle USC in the season finale to match last year’s conference and season win totals, and virtually lock up an NIT bid. Another heartbreaking Pac-12 Tournament opening round loss to Oregon State ensues four days later in Las Vegas, but with extra time to prepare for their NIT first round game, the Cougars shock Iowa in Iowa City. The run comes to a halt a few days later at Maryland, but the improvement shown in 2012-13 gives Ken Bone something to build on in the offseason.

If Nothing Goes Right… Washington State’s non-conference struggles in the state of California continue, but the loss to Pepperdine would only be a precursor, as the Cougars end up limping toward conference play with a record of 8-5. Bone’s team is able to hang with teams due to the emergence of Longrus and junior Will Dilorio in the post, but perimeter play without Faisal Aden, Marcus Capers, or Moore is atrocious. They’re inconsistent, which Cougar fans suppose is better than being downright bad. The Apple Cup win and upset at Haas was nice, but to follow it up with a home loss to Utah left a bitter taste that they wouldn’t be able to get rid of. The Cougars miss out on even a CBI invite, tough to do as the defending runners-up from a power conference.

The Play Of Senior Guard Mike Ladd Could Make Or Break Washington State’s Season (credit: Washington State)

Projected Starting Lineup

  • SG DaVonté Lacy (So, 6’3” 206 lbs, 8.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG)
  • CG Royce Woolridge (So, 6’3” 175 lbs)
  • F/C D.J. Shelton (Jr, 6’10” 240 lbs, 4.7 PPG, 2.9 RPG)
  • F Brock Motum (Sr, 6’10” 245 lbs, 18.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG)
  • PF James Hunter (So, 6’9” 250 lbs)

Hunter will get the initial nod at the four spot, but I like Longrus and could see the freshman out playing the JC transfer early on. Otherwise, this thing is pretty set. Lacy should be a double-digit scorer this year without shoot-first-ask-questions-later Faisal Aden in front of him. Shelton has a lot of potential, and is versatile enough to score from most anywhere inside the arc, but defend the biggest opponents the Pac-12 has to offer.

Key Reserves

  • CG Mike Ladd (Sr, 6’5” 195 lbs, 5.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG)
  • SG/SF Brett Boese (Fr, 6’7” 214 lbs)
  • PF Richard Longrus, Jr. (Fr, 6’7” 232 lbs)
  • F Will Dilorio (Jr, 6’5” 190 lbs, 0.9 PPG, 1.3 RPG)
  • F Keaton Hayenga (Jr, 6’5”, 209 lbs)

Depth is a major issue for Washington State, as you can tell by this list. Ladd and Longrus, Jr. have potential, but it’s tough to project anything huge for them without seeing much of their game. Boese will quickly be forced into the mix due to Moore’s dismissal, but while he has a nice touch from outside, he was a good candidate to redshirt this season. Dilorio and Hayenga will likely only see garbage minutes, but they make the key reserves list because that’s it at the forward position.

Connor Pelton (300 Posts)

I'm from Portland. College basketball and football is life.

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