About Last Night: Analyzing the win over Drake, previewing Iowa State

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Do you appreciate what we do? Consider becoming a Premium Member! Your subscription helps make this a sustainable venture and also unlocks perks, such as a members-only discussion board in an exclusive Slack. Yesterday’s game thread on the Drake game was especially lit. (Do the kids still say that?)

No. 7 WSU 66, No. 10 Drake 61: Quick Recap

With their backs against the wall, the Washington State Cougars did what they’ve done so many times this year: Found a way to win with clutch plays down the stretch. Only this time, it was in the first round of the NCAA tournament, which means these plays will live on in WSU basketball lore, having sent us to the second round to face No. 2 seed Iowa State for the right to advance to the Sweet 16.

Down 8 with 6:45 to play, the Cougs’ win probability had sunk to just 12.6%, but a 7-0 spurt — a pair of free throws by Jaylen Wells, a 3 from Andrej Jakimovski, a post move from Isaac Jones — closed it to 1 with five minutes to go.

Game on. From there it was back and forth, until Isaiah Watts did his thing. (Can you spot a Craig?):

The Cougs were suddenly up 2 with 2 minutes to go, and Drake was forced to try and win the game without their most effective player, center Darnell Brodie, who had fouled out. Tucker DeVries, the much-hyped go-to guy for the Bulldogs, was nowhere to be found. Sandwiched around a missed jumper from Myles Rice was a missed 3 from Atin Wright and a turnover from Kevin Overton, and from there it was a free throw contest with just over a minute to go.

Watts hit a pair, Jakimovski hit 3-of-4, and it was over.

The Cougs move on!

In A Minute

  • Stats

  • Advanced stats

  • Line o’ the night: Jaylen Wells with 17 points (on 11 attempts, including 3-4 from 3), 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 turnover. The rebounding was absolutely huge.

  • Line o’ the night (2): Isaac Jones with 20 points (on 13 attempts, including 8-10 on FTs), 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 3 turnovers.

  • One stat to tell the tale: 43% — Drake’s free throw percentage on 14 attempts, more than 30% worse than their season mark. Had they made them at a normal rate, they’d have had 4 or 5 more points.


Three Thoughts

1. Defensive shutdown

REASON 1: WSU’s defense routinely shuts down teams with offenses much better than Drake’s.

Last night, Drake scored a paltry 0.92 points per possession — a number that’s fairly common for WSU to allow, but extremely uncommon for the Bulldogs to score. In fact, 0.92 was their second-lowest of the season which, as you might know, is now over! The biggest factor, of course, was a hugely inefficient performance from Tucker DeVries.

He was the one thing that scared me about Drake, and he had a dreadful game: Just 14 points on 18 shots. He did rescue a bit of his efficiency with 6 assists, but his offensive rating of 85 — roughly 20% worse than the average D-I contribution — was his lowest in months and fourth-lowest of the season. I suspected he’d have a tougher time with WSU’s length and athleticism than he had had with the defenders he faced in the MVC, and it was true. Jakimovski did the bulk of the heavy lifting, but Wells, Jones, and even Kymany Houinsou each took turns.

All of them battled with DeVries around screens, and once he gave up the ball, they made it difficult for him to get hit back. On the occasions he was determined to shoot, they harassed him into tough shots. There’s no more telling stat than his 2-of-11 performance on midrange jumpers — he normally hits 43% of those.

2. Jones — the anti-DeVries

REASON 2: Isaac Jones is going to eat.

You know who didn’t have an inefficient game? Isaac Jones, who scored 20 points on 13 shots. Once again, Jones asserted himself on the game, abusing whichever big Drake dared to put in front of him.

The key for Jones — as it’s been for a couple of weeks now — was playing him at the 5. It took a little while to get there, as WSU tried some different looks to figure out what would work. But once they settled on going primarily with the one-big lineup, Jones went to work, scoring 17 of his 20 points in the final 25 minutes of the game.

Replacing the combo of Oscar Cluff/Rueben Chinyelu with Isaiah Watts did a couple of things for the offense.

The first is that it allowed Jones the space to operate; he’s at his very best when he can catch the ball and iso. Sometimes that’s a post, sometimes it’s a face-up, but in both of those situations, he needs space to go to work — and, frankly, Cluff and Chinyelu were just getting in the way.

The second is that it added another shooter to the floor for the Cougs. Obviously, Watts hit an enormous shot, so that’s great. But just having the threat also helped Jones have room to work, because it becomes that much more difficult for opponents to double Jones. Kyle Smith and his staff deserve major props on this front, because they did a great job of getting two shooting threats — usually Jakimovski and one of Wells or Watts — in passing distance of Jones.

The best part is that WSU didn’t sacrifice anything while doing it. My pal Mark Sandritter (another former CougCenter-er) posted this fun little piece of data on our members-only Slack this morning — here’s what the lineup of Jones + Jaki + Watts + Myles + Wells did:

In 26 possessions, that lineup was +15, scoring 1.24 points per possession and allowing just 0.66. Small sample, yes, and perhaps not predictive of what will be needed tomorrow … but it was a fantastic lineup for the Cougs on Thursday.

3. Winning the glass

REASON 3: Drake very likely isn’t as good of a defensive rebounding team as it seems.

The Cougs finished with 12 offensive rebounds, which accounted for a full third of their own misses — much more than the 22% Drake had been allowing for the season.

On yet another night when turnovers were a bit of a bugaboo (although 19% isn’t a total killer), getting a handful of extra chances really added to WSU’s offensive attack. It resulted in 13 second chance points, a 7-point advantage over Drake’s second chance points. In a game with a 5-point margin, that’s pretty important! Jones led the way with 4 offensive boards, while Cluff picked up 3(!) in 12(!) minutes.

Up Next: Previewing Iowa State

Ohhhhhh man, here we go. In what will effectively be a road game for WSU, they’ll take on the No. 2 seed in the region, Iowa State. The Cyclones — ranked No. 6 on kenpom and No. 4 at barttorvik — are very good, and the Cougs are significant underdogs in this one: Iowa State is favored by 6.5 points in the betting markets (after opening at minus-8.5), and kenpom projects them to have a 72% chance of winning by an average margin of 6 points.

Iowa State is really, really good defensively, ranked No. 2 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency at kenpom. The thing they are very best at is turning people over, ranking No. 2 nationally in opponents’ turnover percentage. Gulp.

Other noteworthy items: They rank 34th in shooting defense, holding opponents to a low percentage from 3-point range despite allowing a lot of 3-point attempts. They also force opponents into exceptionally long offensive possessions — 18 seconds on average, which is 296th when D-I teams are ordered from shortest to longest.

A team that turns their opponents over that much, makes it that hard to shoot, and does it with real long possessions paints a picture of a defense that frustrates teams to the point where they either make a risky pass and turn it over or heave up a 3 that’s more heavily contested than they would like.

On the flip side, though: The Cyclones will foul and put teams on the line, and they will give up offensive rebounds. If — and this is a huge IF — the Cougs can take care of the ball, there are ways to break through Iowa State. That’s just so much easier said than done.

If you want a couple of things to hang your hat on, here are a couple.

First: The Cyclones’ offense is rated worse than the one we just faced and more or less shut down. Iowa State is ranked 53rd in adjusted offensive efficiency, and has thrown up some real stinkers this year. It just hasn’t mattered that much, because the defense is that dominant, but they’re only a couple of weeks removed from a 7-point loss to 70th-ranked Kansas State in which they scored 0.87 points per possession. Now, they’ve also been on a heater the last four games, including scoring 1.13 points per possession in a blowout win over Houston — the top-ranked defense in the nation — in the Big 12 championship. But they’ve been up and down, and the Cougs have the ability to keep them down.

Second: Iowa State is rated roughly the same as Arizona. While the Cyclones obviously do it differently than the Wildcats, the Cougs have beaten a team this good — twice. There is absolutely no reason why they can’t hang in this one.

And maybe even win.


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