Analyzing WSU's 56-51 win over Washington

Neither team shot the ball well, but the Cougs did the little things better.

If a neutral observer was inclined to be as charitable as possible, they might describe Washington State’s 56-51 win over Washington on Saturday in Pullman as an eyesore. Others would probably use even less flattering language for a game in which both offenses were well under a point per possession — and not entirely because the defenses were doing such stellar work.

But we are far from neutral observers. We are Cougs. And any win over the Huskies is fantastic, no matter how brutal the aesthetics of the game itself.

The game might have felt uncomfortable, but kenpom.com pegged the Cougs’ minimum win probability at 73% — and that was midway through the first half.

Had it all the way.

Right??

Three Thoughts

DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE OFFENSE: Let’s not sugarcoat it — the game featured some pretty brutal shot making. WSU shot 32% on 2s and 27% on 3s for an effective field goal percentage1 of 36.2 — which, oddly enough, doesn’t even crack the top three for poor shooting performances this season. (More on that in a second.) Meanwhile, Washington shot 40% on 2s and 22% on 3s (37.5 eFG%, their second-worst of the season).

A phrase I see pop up a lot under these kinds of circumstances is “bad offense” — as in, the difference between whether the offense is good or bad offense is simply the number of shots the team makes and misses. To be sure, I’m right there with you while the game is going on, because whether my team wins or loses is entirely dependent on whether the ball is going through the basket.

But once the game is over, I’m much more interested in process, because process is much more predictive.

One measure of process I’ve grown to appreciate — and it’s one the coaches at WSU consider — is the service provided by the folks over at ShotQuality. Without getting too deep into the weeds, they generate box scores for games based off the quality of shots a team took. It adjusts for who’s taking the shots, how closely they were guarded, etc.

In this one, the Cougs’ ShotQuality score was 70 — in other words, had the Cougs shot to their averages on the attempts they took, they’d have been expected to produce 14 more points than they actually did. (Washington would have been expected to put up 62.)

This jives with what my eyes were telling me during the game, where it seemed as if the Cougs were generating good looks but just not hitting shots. Perhaps it’s as easy as this: Justin Powell, DJ Rodman, and Andrej Jakimovski shot 3-of-18 combined from 3; given their season percentages, you’d expect them to make seven. That’s 12 more points right there.2

The offense is fine. They’ll make more shots.

I’m just grateful that on an off shooting night, the Cougs were able to put together an old fashioned shot volume performance, with 17 offensive boards (40% of their own misses) and just 8 turnovers (13% of possessions). I mentioned before that this doesn’t crack the three worst shooting perfomances of the season. It actually was fourth worst, and the only win among the 10 worst shooting games this year.

If you’re going to pick one to win on a bad shooting night, you could do worse than beating the Huskies.

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DOMINANT DEFENSE: After a bad weekend in Los Angeles — while shorthanded, remember — the defense got right against Washington, getting back to what we’ve grown accustomed to as the Pac-12 season has gone along.

WSU allowed a paltry 0.83 points per possession, the Huskies’ third-worst efficiency of the season. Much of that had to do with limiting UW’s star, Keion Brooks Jr., who scored just 8 points on 4-of-16 shooting with three turnovers and just one assist. His usage rate was a little higher than normal, but his output was far below normal — which, of course, is a fantastic recipe for holding down an opponent.

There really were two acts when it came to Brooks. In the first half, Rodman did a stellar job on Brooks, committed a couple of silly fouls, including an offensive foul right into Rodman’s chest. He had irritated Brooks to no end, and he hung his head and went to the bench with his second foul just seven minutes into the game. He played a few more minutes in the first half, but was ineffective.

Brooks picked up his third foul less than a minute into the second half — another charge. He stayed in the game because Washington needed him, and he finally started to get something going a few minutes later, using his length to hit a couple of jumpers over the shorter Rodman, then getting to the rim.

So, WSU went with length — at times Jakimovski was on him, at times is Mouhamed Gueye. And that was the end of that.

We won’t be able to count on Brooks having another game like that in Seattle, but the Huskies also won’t be able to count on us shooting that poorly again. We’ll call it a wash.

NOAH: For Noah’s first two years in Pullman, I was as big of a cheerleader of his as you could find — I often referred to myself as the president of the Noah Williams Fan Club. Over the last year or so, I became much less of a fan. And I was ready for the Cougs to stick it to him on the court.

But Noah gets a lot of credit for his performance on Saturday: Not only did he have a nice game (12 points on 4-of-8 shooting, including a pair of 3s, with 4 rebounds and a steal), but he did it while staying within the boundaries of Washington’s offense and without getting dragged into a emotional battle with the student section, which definitely let him have it at times.

This isn’t about some nebulous concept of “class” or whatever; frankly, I wouldn’t have cared if he’d gone full heel and taunted the fans. But I think the last thing Washington needed was Noah making the game about him, and it seemed like he understood that. Handling himself in that way showed a level of maturity that I wasn’t sure he possessed — he surely was feeling pretty big feelings, and some of those slipped out after the final buzzer, when he appeared to get a little emotional.

Maybe he still has warm feelings for the place that gave him his start.

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