Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Battle for Eastern Washington: Zags Battle Cougs Tonight

When: December 10th, 2008 @ 7 PM PST
Where: Friel Court at Beasley Coliseum. Pullman, WA.
TV: KHQ-TV in Spokane/ FSN (check listings)
Betting Line: Gonzaga by 5.5
Official Game Notes

One of the most pleasant surprises in the college basketball world has been the impressive rise of the Washington St. program. Under Tony Bennett, the Cougs have proven to be one of the top teams on the west coast and capable of beating any team in the country. This has proven to be a blessing for Gonzaga, because it allows for GU to have a guaranteed high quality Pac 10 opponent on the schedule every year. While some programs in the state of Washington have decided to go with a more "national schedule" (just a reminder of the Huskies tremendous national schedule: next 3 games=Portland St., Eastern Washington, and Lehigh), the rivalry between GU and WSU has become one of the top games on the west coast each year.

Gonzaga this season: With a victory over Indiana this past weekend, coupled with a loss by Duke, Gonzaga has moved up to #4 in both polls. I'm guessing many of these voters do not have access to the Big 10 Network, because the Zags were far from impressive against the Hoosiers. While the 70-54 final score seems to show that Gonzaga ran Indiana off the court, the reality is that the inexperienced and over matched Hoosiers hung around and kept the game close. The Zags really struggled shooting the ball, as they shot 3-16 from beyond the arc. Equally upsetting was the number of second-chance points that IU was able to get. GU did not take advantage of their tremendous athletic advantage, and only out-rebounded the significantly smaller Hoosiers by four. While the team is 6-0, there is a significant need for improvement if they hope to be undefeated for the Battle in Seattle.

WSU this season: After losing the core of their past two NCAA Tournament teams, many fans felt that this would be a rebuilding year for WSU. However, the Cougs are off to a 6-2 start, with both of their losses against ranked opponents (Baylor and Pitt). In their most recent game, WSU was defeated by the very talented Baylor Bears. Daven Harmeling and Aron Baynes each scored 14 points in the defeat. With talented freshman like Klay Thompson (11.6 points and 4.9 rebounds per game), DeAngelo Casto (3.4 points and 4.4 rebounds), and Marcus Capers (1.9 points and 2.1 rebounds) playing key minutes, this team will need to rely on the veteran presence of Harmeling, Baynes, and Taylor Rochestie to have a successful season.

What We are Watching For: Can the Zags adapt to the slower pace and physical game that WSU will play? In the defeat last year, GU forced up shots early in the shot clock, and played exactly the way WSU wants its opponents to play. With Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low pressuring the backcourt, Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin shot a combined 3-20 last year. With all that has been written about the improved toughness that this team has, this game should provide the ultimate test of mental strength and toughness. For the Zags to win, the seniors need use the experience of the last two years and not try to force the issue on the offensive end.

Looking at the Match Ups: In Klay Thompson, the Cougs got one of the better shooters in the 2008 recruiting class. Thompson fits into Tony Bennett's system perfectly, and does an excellent job of getting open without the ball. It should be fun to watch see if the length and athleticism of Micah Downs can make life difficult for Thompson. In their victory over WSU, Pitt used Jermaine Dixon to bother Thompson throughout the game. Dixon is only 6'3, but he has the long arms like Micah that can really bother a shooter. Another great match up will take place in the paint. Josh Heytvelt will face his most physically daunting opponent of this young season when he guards Aron Baynes. The 6'11 Aussie uses his great strength to establish position on the block, and finishes very well around the hoop. Baynes had a field day last season against the Zags, but he did not have to worry about the injured Heytvelt. Both of these guys are playing at an extremely high level, and it should be a pleasure to watch them battle.

The Final Prediction: Based on their play this season, it seems fair to say that the Cougs have become the type of the program that can reload as opposed to rebuild. WSU still plays with great intensity on the defensive end, and they have a system that can bother any of the top teams in the country. However, after losing the last two years, the Zags have an extra incentive heading into this game. There is no way that Pargo and Bouldin go a combined 3-20 again, and with a healthy Josh Heytvelt and Steven Gray, the Zags should emerge with a 70-58 win.


nuss said...

Not a chance the Zags can get to 70. In a 60 possession game, which the most tonight could be, that would require an efficiency of around 115. Only Baylor has exceed 100 efficiency against the Cougs (101.0). It just won't happen.

But I hope Gonzaga is trying to get to 70, because that would mean the Bulldogs are pushing the pace, forcing contested shots, and watching Baynes and Casto gobble up an insane amount of defensive rebounds.

Zaggy said...

I can't help but hate the Cougs!


Anonymous said...

baynes will have 2 fouls in the first 5 minutes, meaning heytvelt will domination. whats the best nation???? DOMI-NATION!!! (i actually don't think baynes could play with heytvelt even if josh played at 65%)

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who isn't worried about this game nor consider it a huge rivalry. We should beat Wazzu this year. If we do... Ho hum and on to the next one. Feels like wsu fans are much more emotional about this than Gonzaga fans are.

Anonymous said...

its not really a rivalry because the cougs have only been competitive with us for a few years. coug basketball was just a flavor of the week, i dont see them getting recruits year in and year out to keep up the good last two years they had. i dont care how good bennet's "system" is.

Anonymous said...

f you nuss, you d-bag.