Marching to Vegas: On Washington State and Patience

Posted by Adam Butler on December 5th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.

This is a column about Washington State. It’s an odd premise and one we don’t usually delve in to. The Cougar program has won thirteen of their previous thirty eight contests, just 34% of their games. It’s a great batting average; a terrible win percentage. They’ve been outscored by 202 points. A great bowling score; a terrible scoring differential. By almost all basketball metrics, the Cougars have been trending downward since 2011: fewer points, lesser efficiencies, fewer fans, and fewer wins. It’s not looking good for a team – a program – just a handful of seasons removed from a top-10 ranking. Alas, their heyday came amidst UCLAs and that program is on to another coach as well.

Ernie Kent Took On Quite A Challenge When He Accepted The Washington State Job (Rick Bowmer, AP)

Ernie Kent Took On Quite A Challenge When He Accepted The Washington State Job (Rick Bowmer, AP)

So when Ernie Kent was hired, it seemed to be a shot in the arm. Albeit a surprising and interesting one, Kent won’t soon be accused of being “low energy.” He might be exactly what Washington State needed. He knocked on doors pretending to be lost, engaging with the Palouse, embracing his new home and reminding people that basketball, Cougar basketball, could be fun. That the downward trends of yesteryear could soon be over. He took the stage at media day and dropped names like Roy Williams and John Calipari. As soon as he was Mr. Cougar (or is that Butch?), he got on stage and told us about all his famous friends. He’d consulted the brightest minds about being a great coach. Tom Izzo was noted at Pac-12 media day. Marketing sometimes isn’t about product recognition as much as market expansion. Maybe you won’t be a WSU fan, but you sure could be a basketball fan. The room swooned at Ernie’s words.

And then he promptly took his team on the road for their first two games – five of their first six – and lost half of them. He told you to come watch Cougar hoops only to give you no Cougar hoops. Oregon State, projected to be the worst major conference team in the country, outshined WSU. Ernie Kent’s start has been rocky. Continuing the trend of downward momentum, a growing snowball of bad.

Patience and energy are far from synonymous. Hurry up and wait is nothing we soon sign up for. But that’s what Ernie Kent has to do. He signed up to be the head coach at Washington State. He held out four years – a sabbatical he called it – to take this job. One thing I guarantee you is he didn’t set himself up to be on the road to start this season. He inherited that. It was a bad plan. He also inherited that roster. It’s less than ideal, has it’s pieces, but winning as a team is so grounded in things like trust and relationships and continuity – particularly in a place like Pullman – that no matter what pieces he had, they were going to struggle. Ken Bone’s teams were all over the place, a new coach + system was arguably just another bump in the road, a change these guys were growing accustomed to. Everyone has to adjust and that takes time.

A home loss to Idaho doesn’t necessarily evoke patience. It probably evokes thrown and broken things, profanity, and a deep questioning of why you might have ever been a Cougar fan in the first place. I don’t mean to rip Idaho. But they are just KenPom’s 258th best team. Washington State is 229th. I’ll wait patiently while you run that predictive math. Everyone has to adjust and that takes time. Washington State basketball isn’t the most popular topic. You’re not going to read many columns about them this season. They might even be worse than we initially thought. But as new programs go, and as Harvey Dent once said, “The night is darkest just before the dawn.” Unfortunately in Pullman, it might still be twilight, not yet the dark of night.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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