How will the Cougars deal with the losses of Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto? Head Coach Ken Bone will try to lead a team that returns three starters to try to finish in the top half of the Pac-12 conference this season.
The Cougars finished their 2010-11 campaign with a sour taste in their mouths, suffering a 31-point blowout to Wichita State in the semifinals of the National Invitational Tournament at Madison Square Garden. Not much success is expected of Head Coach Ken Bone's squad who will begin his third season at the helm for the Cougars. Washington St. was picked to finish tenth in the Pac-12 coaches poll
The losses of Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto hurt this team's offensive production. Reggie Moore (9.1ppg, 3.4apg) and Faisal Aden (13.1ppg, 3.4rpg) need to take more initiative this season in creating and taking shots. While both found success on the perimeter at times last season, especially when defenses were focused on Thompson, they now need to play well consistency. Developing this offensive chemistry will be crucial in the non-conference schedule to prepare the team for Pac-12 play.
Returning starting guard Marcus Capers (6.0ppg, 4.5rpg) also will have to step up his offensive production for the Cougars to be successful. While he isn't necessarily a threat to score from the perimeter — he's made one three pointer in his three-year career at WSU — the Cougars have benefited from his rebounding ability. Six points per game from a starting guard is not enough, especially when there is now no go-to scorer like Thompson or a low-post threat available like Casto on the floor.
Junior forward Brock Motum (7.3ppg, 3rpg) and fifth-year senior Abe Lodwick (3.5ppg, 3.9rpg) make up the Cougars' starting frontline. Both players saw the cour a lot last year, but now since Casto is gone they will have to defend and try to score against the Josh Smiths and Harper Kamps of the league. Rebounding and scoring in the low-post will be a struggle all year long for the Cougars; Casto's production will be tough to replace.
Freshman guard DaVonte Lacy out of Curtis HS in Tacoma will have an immediate impact as a result of his strength and scoring ability. He scored 21 points in the Cougars exhibition against Lewis-Clark state college last weekend.
Another impact newcomer is guard Mike Ladd who was Moore's teammate at Rainier Beach. Ladd, a junior transfer from Fresno St., is another offensive-minded guard for the Cougars. While Moore, Aden and Lacy are all scoring guards, Ladd is the best three-point shooter out of the bunch. His 38% mark from beyond the arc is the best on the team.
Someone will have to emerge and have a stand-out season for the Cougars to help this team make some kind of postseason tournament. There really isn't any answer at the post position on both ends of the court and there are huge questions on how the team's guard rotation will work itself out.
Thanks to an easy non-conference schedule, Bone and his assistants will have ample opportunity to experiment and see what works best for the Cougars before Pac-12 play begins. Besides a three-game tournament in Anaheim, the Cougars do not travel farther than Portland during the non-conference portion of their schedule. The Cougars' most difficult test will most likely be its very first game an hour and half north in Spokane against Gonzaga.
Though this team will get off to a solid start in their soft non-conference schedule, their lack of post production and depth will be two big problems the Cougars won't be able to overcome. I foresee this team finishing the season barely over .500. In this rebuilding season, the Cougars need to find offensive chemistry, develop their young sophomore forwards (Patrick Simon and D.J. Shelton), and maintain a competitive playing spirit in a tough conference.
Since Moore and Ladd are only juniors, if they can pickup the same offensive chemistry they had in high school, the two could form one of the best backcourts in the Pac-12 going into the 2012-13 season. Moreover, despite the current inexperience and lack of talent at the forward spot, sophomores Patrick Simon and D.J. Shelton both can become effective players for the team moving forward. Simon can become a dual threat in the post and on the perimeter while Shelton can bring the rebounding that this team desperately needs.
Watching the young players develop along with the talented backcourt should provide ample entertainment for Cougar fans this upcoming basketball season even though these two aspects will not necessarily lead to wins. Bone and his staff will undoubtedly pull of some upsets during the conference season, but expect this team to finish in the lower half of the Pac-12.