“We do not notice Josh as much, and that is an indication, again, that he’s got a supporting cast around him that can score and do some things.” This is what Ernie Kent had to say about his All-Conference, baby faced Power Forward regarding the surprise that was 2014-15 Josh Hawkinson. I don’t believe it – not necessarily about Hawkinson but about his supporting cast. First of all, Hawkinson was an integral piece of Cougar overachievement last season. The Cougs were the 19th luckiest team in the nation (per the KenPom stat) which is an indication that they grossly outperformed their expected results. This stat, however, isn’t wholly predictive. So what have they added around Josh? Meh. It’s a commendable first recruiting class (not great but not abysmal) along with another year of system familiarity and growth. Will Washington State be any good? Not really. But they have an opportunity to surprise once again which – depending on whether you’re a glass half full or empty person – is a decent place to be in year 2 with a new regime (even if it is Ernie Kent).
Why I love them
Look at him! Do you want to pinch those rosy cheeks?! Me either. But he’s a helluva basketball talent and whenever you have basketball talent you have a chance to win games. The fact of the matter is that WSU just isn’t that talented. Glancing at the Cougars’ schedule, however, we’ll notice that they’ve scheduled with moderate aggression (Gonzaga, Diamond Head Classic including: OK, UNI, UNM, BYU, Harvard, Auburn) with also a heavy dose of HOME. Did you know that last year – amidst the “hoopla” of a new and exciting head coach – WSU started their season with two road games? In the non-conference they played 7 of 12 games outside of Pullman. That’s not exciting. This year – with a known commodity like Hawkinson – the Cougs will play eight home games, one game in Moscow (ID not Russia, 9.3 miles away), then play a full slate of Hawaiian games on ESPN. I love the Cougars because, this year, Cougar fans will get to see the Cougars. Furthermore, in his off-season-long study of offense vs. defense, Ken Pomeroy demonstrates to us that it is in fact the offense that controls its own efficiency more so than the defense. How does this relate to Washington State? Well they mustered a Top-100 offense despite playing in a conference featuring three Top-20 defenses. That’s gotta count for something, right?
Why I hate them
They’re not good. While fans will see an improving team, they’re not going to see a great team. They don’t have the steadying hands of DaVonte Lacy and Dexter Kernich-Drew and when looking at the Cougs comparatively, the other 2014-15 bottom-half Pac-12 teams have added more impressively. Colorado introduces Providence transfer Josh Fortune while each of Cal, Washington, USC and Oregon State welcome top-25 classes. I would listen to your argument that WSU could be better than Colorado, but I’m generally liking an experienced transfer with a year in the program (Josh Fortune) more than what the Cougs will introduce to the Palouse. And while data has shown (see above) that the offense has more control over its destiny than the defense, it doesn’t hurt to play a little of the latter…
Stat you must know: 313th
Ranking of WSU’s defensive efficiency (109.8 points per 100 possessions) in 2014-15. In four seasons of aggregated conference stats, this is the worst Pac-12 defense. In fact, last season’s Cougars were the worst high major defense in the world. The next worst (that I noticed) was Va Tech’s 245th ranked D. Another stat: ZERO. Number of times “defense” was mentioned by Ernie or Josh at Media Day.
What I learned at media day
Ernie Kent doesn’t really want to talk about basketball. And that’s OK! He noted his time in a Shiite Village, the weight room, building character, and how he was most impressed with Klay Thompson’s development from an undergraduate talking to a WSU audience about a pot misdemeanor to a man holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy. As noted, he didn’t mention defense once.
Rock top (best case scenario)
Mike Leach and the football Cougs knock off the Oregon Ducks! In Eugene!
That already happened? Damn. But does it really get any better than that in 2015-16 WSU Athletics? It can: Hawkinson outshines Kyle Wiltjer in the 2015 Rosy Cheek Off (sponsored by the Saw series) and somehow the “best group of big guys [Kent] has ever coached” limit Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis. THE COUGS BEAT THE ZAGS! and Pac-12 play goes fine.
Rock bottom (worst case scenario)
The 2015-16 season.