The Cougar men’s basketball team is in action for the second time this weekend, Saturday at 9:30 pm to be exact, against the Lamar Cardinals. The game represents a chance for Washington State to prove to themselves that they are better than what the critics are saying, but it doesn’t come without a reverse opportunity.
Not that they were listening the Twitter comments during their last game or anything, but there was definite criticism of just how bad we are right now from all realms of Cougardom. Maybe it was a bit early to tell and maybe it was unfair to act like they’re a group of seasoned vets, it was only one game after all with a bunch of new faces in a real-game environment.
At one point the Cougs were up 16 or 18 and pulling away, only to have to hold off the scrappy Bakersfield by six. A team, by the way that is projected to challenge for the WAC title in their first year in the conference. I know this is the Pac-12 and WSU should be better than that with the athletes and such that the Pac-12 gives WSU the access to recruit. The Cougars were better, even though they let that team back into the game and played a terrible first half.
Point is, CSUB isn’t your average first game pushover, so there’s something to be said for winning the basketball game as a young team, which the Cougs managed.
At the same time, while there were some bright spots (Ike Iroegbu and DaVonte Lacy come immediately to mind), overall the game was a microcosm of how good the team could be, but isn’t yet.
The athletes seem to be there, I don’t think there’s any doubt that the team is two or three deeper in legitimate Pac-12 talent than at any point last season. There were also definite flashes, particularly in the second half, of a conference-competitive team. But they don’t really play ‘together’ yet and it’s a lot of rag-tag, pickup basketball still.
The ‘new’ pressure defense was completely absent against Bakersfield and actually didn’t even look as aggressive as last season for most of the game. And once again, I don’t understand the coaching strategy of taking your hottest offensive player (Ike Iroegbu) out of the game in the last five minutes of action for a guy who can’t hit a clutch basket, ever.
When he went out, the Cougs lost control of the game and he was never subbed back in. I just don’t get it.
One thing I know, the Cougs need to show that they’ve learned from their first true experience in the war together, that includes the coaches. They missed Ben Johnson and Jeff Hironaka, that much was clear. But they have to move on.
It’s imperative that they show improvement against Lamar to prove something to themselves. That means blow them out. This is an 0-2 team who got handled by Butler and George Mason. Stomp them while they’re down. Gonzaga, TCU and new Big East member Butler await in the next three after that and then likely another high profile team or two before WSU gets to step back a little bit and face Idaho.
That’s not a particularly promising five-game stretch for any team, but for the Cougs in their state of affairs it’s absolutely daunting, especially this early in the season. If doubt creeps in at all against the Lamar Cardinals, confidence could absolutely die after a couple big losses and who knows how deep the team would go from there.