The Arizona Wildcats head to the plains of the Palouse on Wednesday to face the Washington State Cougars. Arizona enters the game at 18-4 overall and 8-1 in the conference, while WSU currently sits at 9-11, 1-7 Pac-12.
The game will take place at 8 p.m. MST on Wednesday in Pullman, Washington.
Here is an analysis of this year’s Wazzu team.
84-79 win over the Saint Mary’s Gaels on a neutral court (Fullerton, CA)
93-86 win over the San Diego State Aztecs on a neutral court (Fullerton, CA)
68-65 loss to the Kansas State Wildcats at home
89-71 loss to the USC Trojans on the road
After starting the season 6-0 and winning the Wooden Legacy Tournament, WSU is 3-11, with Cal being their only power conference win in that span.
Washington State’s Offense
The Cougars aren’t a deadly offense by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re capable of keeping themselves in game.
Washington State ranks 118th in offensive efficiency out of 351 teams, per KenPom. They average 74.4 points per game, though they haven’t scored more than 74 points since January 13.
The Cougars best asset is their shooting. WSU is a team built on the 3, as 47 percent of their points come from distance. That is the third-highest percentage in the country. They shoot 38.6 percent from 3 (47th in the country) and over half their shot attempts are 3s.
Unfortunately for Wazzu, their prowess at getting 3s is often off set by their other flaws. The Cougs turn the ball over on roughly one-fifth of their possessions, a number that’s simply too high, ranking 238th in college basketball.
The worst issue for Washington State, however, is their inability to get to the free throw line. Wazzu shoots an absolutely abysmal .238 free throws per field goal attempt, the fifth-worst mark in college basketball.
It should be noted some of that can be attributed to their small-ball style of play.
Even their big men shoot from the perimeter, and more perimeter shots means fewer opportunities to get fouled in the paint or in the lane.
Still, not getting to the line means WSU is extremely vulnerable when they have an off shooting night.
Washington State’s Defense
The Cougars’ defense is much like their offense: one strength and multiple fatal flaws.
Washington State has the 212th most efficient defense in the country via KenPom, which is a pretty poor ranking.
The one thing the Cougs do well is defend the 3. Just like their offense, the Cougars defense is best on the perimeter. This is also means they don’t foul very often, allowing .256 free throws per field goal attempt. That’s the 28th best figure in the country.
However, the team also has some key weaknesses. At the cost of their excellent defense from 3, they give up a lot of easy shots inside. The Cougars’ very short lineup means their inside presence mostly doesn’t exist. That’s a major mismatch in favor of Arizona who have 7-footers Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic.
Wazzu’s biggest statistical flaw is their inability to force turnovers, ranking 311th in takeaway percentage.
They also are not a great defensive rebounding team, ranking just 186th in the country and dead last in the Pac-12 in rebounding margin.
Washington State Players to Watch
Robert Franks, junior, forward/center
Franks is one of the most improved players in the Pac-12, placing seventh in the conference in scoring (17.6 ppg) after averaging 6.3 last year.
Perfect for WSU’s small-ball, 3-point oriented attack, Franks shoots 43 percent from 3, and he takes roughly six of them per game — almost half his shot attempts. Earlier this month, he hit 10s in a win vs. Cal.
Franks is not a tall player, especially for a center (6’7”, 240 pounds), but is athletic and tracks down 7.1 rebounds per contest and nearly one block.
The Canadian will be undersized against Ayton and Ristic, but he could be a tough cover for UA’s bigs who prefer to stay close to the basket.
Malachi Flynn, sophomore, guard
Flynn is the best player in Washington State’s backcourt, playing the Stephen Curry role in coach Ernie Kent’s fast small-ball gameplan (though not nearly as good of a shooter, obviously).
The 6-foot-1 Flynn averages 14.7 points and 4.0 assists per game in 32.9 minutes. He shoots about eight threes in each game, sinking 34.4 percent of them.
While nobody would mistake Flynn for a superstar shooter, any separation he’s able to create has a high possibility of becoming three points for the Cougs, be it on a shot or an assist.
In all, Flynn is probably one of the most underrated young players in the Pac-12. The Tacoma native has started in all 51 games he’s played there, and earned Pac-12 All-Freshmen Honorable Mention honors last season.
And his numbers, aside from his 3-point percentage, have all improved this season.
Drick Bernstine, senior, forward
If his name sounds familiar it’s because Arizona faced him last season. But not at Washington State.
Bernstine is a grad transfer from North Dakota, which played Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year. The 6-foot-8 forward had a monster 20-point, 15-rebound game against the Wildcats.
Bernstine is now WSU’s post presence, averaging 7.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, and even 3.0 assists per game.
He is a mobile, skilled big but, unlike the rest of the Cougars, he does not shoot 3s.