Pac-12 Team Preview: Washington State Cougars

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 23rd, 2013

Today we continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.

Washington State Cougars

Strengths. What this Washington State team lacks in talent, it makes up with effort and outside shooting ability. The Cougars feature a solid backcourt, headlined by a pair of juniors who will share duties at the one and two. Royce Woolridge and DaVonte Lacy both averaged double figure scoring last season, and true freshman Ike Iroegbu out of Oak Hill Academy (VA) will add some depth, but may not be able to be counted on right away. The challenge will be finding a good distributor for the trio. Junior point guard Danny Lawhorn, the nation’s leader in assists last year at San Jacinto Junior College, was supposed to be that guy, but he left Washington State two weeks ago after being suspended for a violation of team rules in late September.

woolridge

Woolridge’s Ability To Score Either On The Drive Or From Three Gives Head Coach Ken Bone Flexibility In The Backcourt. (Getty Images)

Weaknesses. Like I said above, this team has a serious lack of talent. The Cougars only won 13 games last year, and that was with guys like Brock Motum and Mike Ladd on the roster. The four and five spots will be the weakest for Washington State, as head coach Ken Bone will have a tough time finding players who can consistently produce. They will rely on Iowa State transfer and Beaverton, Oregon, product Jordan Railey at center, and senior D.J. Shelton returns to start at power forward. Former walk-on Will Dilorio will see a lot of time at the three, and that should give you an idea of just how thin the Cougars are up front.

Non-conference Tests. Before we even get to Thanksgiving, Washington State faces one of the toughest road trips in the country when it meets Gonzaga at the McCarthy Athletic Center. A visit from TCU comes next, and that is immediately followed by the Old Spice Classic, where the Cougars will face Butler in their Thanksgiving morning opener. Either Purdue or Oklahoma State follows that, capping an exhaustive four-game stretch for Bone’s squad. The final challenge of non-conference play comes in the final game before the team breaks for Christmas, as UTEP comes calling to the Palouse on December 21.

Toughest Conference Stretch. Before the Cougars can even catch their breath in league play, they will face three teams away from home that should make the NCAA Tournament. To start Pac-12 play, Washington State faces top 10 team Arizona and a solid Arizona State team in the desert. Three days later the Cougars and Colorado will meet in Spokane, and the brutal stretch concludes with Utah in Pullman.

If Everything Goes Right… In 2008, a Ken Bone-coached Portland State team managed to fight its way through ice and snow in the Rose City to get up to Spokane just three hours before tipoff against Gonzaga. It’s a good thing they did, because on that night, the Vikings handed the Zags their worst loss in the history of the McCarthy Athletic Center. That Portland State team would go dancing a few months later, and so when Bone’s Washington State club catches Gonzaga sleeping in November and wins on a Lacy buzzer-beater, parallels are quickly drawn and the nation begins to wonder if they underestimated this Cougar team. They have, and while there will not be an NCAA Tournament in the cards, Washington State pulls a couple of big Pac-12 upsets, splits the Apple Cup series with Washington, and makes a run to the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament as the nine seed before hearing its name called on ESPNU’s NIT Selection Show two nights later. As a result, Bone’s seat cools a bit during the offseason.

Washington State's Early Trip To Gonzaga Could Prove Huge For Bone's Future In Pullman (Stephanie Yao)

Washington State’s Early Trip To Gonzaga Could Prove Huge For Bone’s Future In Pullman. (Stephanie Yao)

If Nothing Goes Right … Washington State struggles its way through non-conference play, limping into January with a record of 7-5. A lack of a serious post presence results in losses in six of Washington State’s first nine league games, and while an upset of Colorado in Boulder gets everyone excited, the Cougars finish tied for last in the league. Bone is fired after the regular season finale, a 20-point home loss at the hands of UCLA, and longtime assistant Curtis Allen coaches Washington State in its only Pac-12 Tournament game.

Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG Ike Iroegbu (Fr, 6’2” 190 lbs)
  • SG Royce Woolridge (Jr, 6’3″ 175 lbs,  11.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 50.6 eFG%)
  • SF Davonte Lacy (Jr, 6’3″ 206 lbs, 10.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG)
  • PF D.J. Shelton (Sr, 6’10” 250 lbs, 6.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG)
  • Jordan Railey (Jr, 6’10” 264 lbs, 0.5 PPG, 0.7 RPG, 0.2 BPG in 3.5 MPG in 2010-11 at Iowa State)

Iroegbu needs to adjust to the college game quickly because the Cougars will be desperate at the one spot if he can’t come through. There’s a lot of raw but unfulfilled talent in the frontcourt, but if Shelton and Railey maximize their potential, this could be a formidable starting unit.

Key Reserves

  • PG Dexter Kernich-Drew (Jr, 6’6” 182 lbs, 6.4 PPG, 1.3 APG, 103.0 ORtg)
  • SG Que Johnson (Fr, 6’5” 205 lbs)
  • G/F Will Dilorio (Sr, 6’5” 190 lbs, 3.2 PPG, 2.1 RPG)
  • PF Brett Boese (So, 6’7” 214 lbs, 1.3 PPG, 0.9 RPG)
  • C James Hunter (Jr, 6’9” 250 lbs, 1.1 PPG, 0.4 RPG, 0.0 BPG in 3.2 MPG)

And you thought the talent level among the starters in the post was low. Boese and Hunter will  play some critical minutes this year when the foul-prone Shelton has to sit, and their minimal game experience doesn’t ooze confidence for this 10-deep rotation. Redshirt freshman Que Johnson has a nice stroke off the bench and will be available to spell any one of the starting shooters.

Connor Pelton (297 Posts)

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


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