Wednesday, the Arizona Wildcats play the Washington State Cougars in Pullman, Washington. Washington State is currently the worst team in the Pac-12. And if you did not know, Pullman is literally nine miles from Moscow, Idaho. Arizona, then, is practically playing a basketball game in Idaho. Also, Wednesday is National Signing Day in football, so Arizona fans get to sweat a road game against a bad Pac-12 team while simultaneously worrying about the upcoming football recruiting class. I really wish this game was on Thursday.
Notwithstanding my complaining, let's take a look at this game against the Cougs.
Who to watch
This is a pretty hard question for Washington State. The Cougs have lost their last seven games, and, per KenPom's ratings, have only one win in a "B" game this year (which is, after adjusting for location, equivalent to a win against a team ranked 51-100). Still, Wazzu is at home, and if they're going to have a shot, two guys are going to have to have great games.
The first guy is Josh Hawkinson. Hawkinson is a 6'10" junior who will remind fans of Brock Motum, mostly because Motum was about the same size and also happened to play for Washington State. Hawkinson is dangerous offensively - he's an efficient scorer (59.0% eFG) who makes his free throws and can occasionally step out and knock down three pointers. If Washington State is going to knock off Arizona, Hawkinson is going to have to get going offensively.
The second guy is Ike Iroegbu, who plays point guard for Washington State. Like Hawkinson, Iroegbu is an efficient scorer, but he's also very good at distributing the ball, recording assists on 25% of possessions. He's also a more willing three point shooter than Hawkinson, with 61 attempts so far this year on 45.9% shooting.
Washington State is pretty thin, really, and the Wildcats should dominate this game. But if Hawkinson and Iroegbu heat up, Arizona will need to be careful.
What to watch for
Man, this is an even harder question. Washington State is ranked 12th in the Pac-12 in offensive efficiency and 12th in defensive efficiency. They are clearly the worst team in the Pac-12. But I dug, and I dug, and I dug, and I think I can say something intelligently about why Washington State has these problems.
It's not their shooting, really. Washington State is ranked 5th in the Pac-12 in eFG%, which means that the Cougs are able to shoot the ball relatively efficiently. The problem, though, is everywhere else. The Cougs are last in the conference in offensive rebound percentage, and they're below the median in turnover percentage. Those are the problems - even if Washington State isn't too bad at scoring, they aren't able to get offensive rebounds and they turn the ball over, which makes them a bad team.
With all of this said, Washington State will look good, at least for stretches of this game, simply because they're playing at home. But Arizona should be able to exploit the Cougs' weaknesses and win this game convincingly.
Why to watch
Look, Washington State has a chance. KenPom currently has the Cougs at 20% to win this game, which seems fair. Even though Arizona is a much better team than Washington State, home teams have a decided advantage in college basketball, so it's certainly possible that the Cougs knock off the Wildcats. It probably won't happen, but it's in play.
So watch this game because it's not a certainty that the Wildcats pull it off. Playing the Washington schools at home - rather than on the road - was a completely different experience, and Arizona needs to realize that beating Washington State in Pullman isn't a gimme by any stretch. Though the Wildcats will probably be able to pull this off, there is certainly enough suspense to make this game worth watching.
The Arizona Wildcats tip against the Washington State Cougars at 8:00 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Network.