Jan 15, 2014; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal guard Chasson Randle (5) dribbles the ball around Washington State Cougars forward D.J. Shelton (23) during the first half at Maples Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Ken Bone Legacy on Full Display as WSU Gets Pounded by Stanford


Unfortunately, the truth is the truth is the truth when it comes to Washington State basketball these past five seasons, all guided by Ken Bone. It happened again Wednesday in Palo Alto when the Stanford Cardinal took what was a 27-27 tie with 4 minutes to go in the first half and romped all over the Cougars the rest of the way. The final, merciful margin of victory was 32, good for an 80-48 loss.

The absolute worst part about it is that it comes on the heels of a great week, which included a 49-46 win over Utah and was even preceded before that by a 70-71 loss in OT against Colorado. But the truth came out again, and I knew that it would. Immediately after the Utah game, these tweets came in succession:

Let me tell you, I hate to be right when it comes to this, but it hasn’t changed for the past five seasons. A groundbreaking effort in a loss is followed by a win you never thought was coming and then you get hope that this team has turned the corner. Then all hope is massacred in multiple performances that defy logic in progress the very next week. It’s as if the Cougars forget how to play basketball.

Despite analysts continuing to falsely accuse WSU for going in with a “great gameplan”, the Cougars will lose by 15, 20, 30 or more! They aren’t even a version of competitiveness and it’s completely, ruthlessly predictable.

True, this has never been a basketball powerhouse, but we’ve seen it doesn’t have to be like that. At least there are some things that it definitely does not have to be like. I love this Ken Bone Death Watch edition of the Gravitron Diaries a week or two back by CougCenter, pointing out the challenges of WSU basketball and the kind of luck it takes to win big here in the Northwest. But I also think that’s a little bit coaching. Ok, a lot coaching.

It’s not like Derrick Lowe, Kyle Weaver and Aaron Baynes were more athletic than Que Johnson, Royce Woolridge and Jordan Railey. Robbie Cowgill was certainly no DJ Shelton in the athletic department and the same is true for a Taylor Rochestie and Ikenna Iroegbu. It could even be argued that DaVonte Lacy (though currently injured) is every bit of what Klay Thompson brought to the table, though it’s not easy to realize. And yes, I know Klay and those other guys were part of different teams but the point does not change. You could throw Marcus Capers and those other guys that made a run in there too.

That was a special group, no doubt, but it was not their talents that defined their ability to compete, it was their coach finding a way to make them better as a team than what they were as individuals. You never saw a team just flop out of Palo Alto like a fish out of water, especially after a huge win just days earlier. Heck even on their worst nights, they were competitive because they wanted it.

That fire is lacking in the current basketball team and it’s inexplicable, except that the coaching staff just doesn’t have the skill to bring that drive out of their players. Ken Bone said this (again) after last nights’ game:

“I don’t know why we didn’t play with the same amount of intensity and energy. We have to compete harder than that.

We had a hard time scoring in the paint and right around the rim. We put the ball up on the rim and it just did not go in.”

If I had a dime for every time he said that…

After five years Ken? Five years of Pac-12 basketball where the same thing has happened almost every single weekend after a “big” win? You just ‘don’t know’ why your team doesn’t compete? You could start with the head coach and work your way back from there. One timeout used in the midst of a 20-5 run that closed the half? With the game tied take a guy that had scored 18 of your 27 out of the game with 4:00 to go because he has two fouls? Then, after the run given up as a result of that mistake the team doesn’t even attempt to come out playing hard in the 2nd half. You take no chances and your teams play consistently lethargically, but you’re really not sure?

Unfortunately, it’s the Ken Bone legacy and since it seems to run in stretches, a bounce back does not seem likely against California on Saturday. Make no mistake, challenges and all, the Cougars can be competitive with the talent they do have. Every few weeks they prove they can beat just about anybody this conference can throw at them, but at any other time they don’t really care to try because nothing more is expected of them. There is a losing mentality on this team.

The clock is ticking…

Tags: Basketball Ken Bone Washington State Cougars

  • canyoncoug

    It should come as no surprise that when schools spend a lot on flashy
    facilities, big-name coaches, and better recruits, they tend to do well. The
    relationship between silver and seed is not perfect, however: Louisville, a
    four seed last year, spent more than almost every team in the field—and they
    made the Final Four. Had I analyzed the team’s budget prior to filling out my
    2012 bracket, I might have seen this coming. Instead, my bracket was in
    tatters, the victim of hunches gone wrong.

    Just how predictive are budget data? The Department of
    Education has figures going back to 2000-01. The team that spent the most
    won twice—Syracuse (2003) and Duke (2010). In other years, the winner wasn’t
    far behind: the eventual victor has always had a budget in the top eighteen.
    The average amount spent on a championship is $7.2 million, adjusted for
    inflation. In this year’s tournament, fifteen teams are above that threshold
    (in order of decreasing budget: Duke, Louisville, Syracuse, Oklahoma State,
    Kansas, Georgetown, Marquette, Michigan State, Indiana, Florida, Arizona,
    Memphis, Pittsburgh, and U.C.L.A.). North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma
    round out the top eighteen budgets. Three of the one seeds are in this group
    (Louisville, Kansas, Indiana). The lowest seed is ten (Oklahoma).

    If the last decade is precedent, then your winner will come from that group
    of eighteen. Conveniently, and not coincidentally, the group includes the
    tournament favorite, Louisville, along with other traditional powerhouses. Some
    budgetary highlights to watch out for: California and Oregon, a pair of twelve
    seeds, are the lowest-ranked teams that spent more than the tournament average
    of roughly $5 million. They’re not favored to win.

    The Rest of the Story

    The smart comment to make, as this year’s N.C.A.A. men’s basketball
    tournament tipped off, was that parity had finally come to a sport
    traditionally dominated by a few select schools. There are no evidently
    dominant teams, and conventional wisdom holds that any of the top twenty have
    at least a shot at the title. College basketball may be experiencing some
    levelling out of talent, at least for now, but the bigger trend is the
    supremacy of the systems that coaches have developed and implemented, allowing
    them to take new players, year in and year out, and fit them into consistent
    on-court strategies and philosophies of play.

    The systems vary from coach to coach, but all successful college programs
    have them. In the pro game, even dynasties need great players: Gregg Popovich,
    of the San Antonio Spurs, is the best coach in the N.B.A., but his success
    would have been limited were it not for the willingness of star players—Tim
    Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili—to stay in one place for their entire
    careers. College players, by rule, are allowed to play for only four seasons,
    and many choose to leave for the pros before that. Plus, determining the
    athletic promise of teen-agers is a notoriously murky business: How does one accurately
    measure a seventeen-year-old’s work ethic/leadership skills? Only the coaches
    and their systems stick around, and only they can be depended upon for the long
    term.

    The question currently coursing through the game is what kind of system
    works. On Wednesday, we saw one side of the philosophical divide when Julius
    Randle, the best high-school player in the U.S., agreed to spend a year or two
    at the University of Kentucky, beginning next fall. Randle is from Texas, so
    why go to school in Lexington? “The final straw that came to me was the
    system,” Randle said, during a nationally televised press conference. “I felt
    like the system at Kentucky was a great system.” What he meant is that John
    Calipari has a structure in place that allows him to take the most talented
    high schoolers he can find and prepare them for paid positions in basketball as
    efficiently—and quickly—as possible. Usually, it works. The downside is that
    occasionally Kentucky will end up with a season like the one it just completed:
    the Wildcats became just the fifth team since 1985 to miss the tournament one
    year after winning the whole thing. They fell even further on Tuesday with a
    loss to Robert Morris in the first round of the N.I.T., college basketball’s
    consolation tournament.

    The trouble for Kentucky was that its system is dependent as much on the
    annual recruitment of top players as it is on a consistent application of
    strategy and principles; it’s no easy task to take a new group of players each
    year and get them to master complicated offensive sets, or buy into a specific
    defensive strategy. This year, the system broke down. Most of the talent from
    last year’s team bolted for the N.B.A.

    Calipari’s system will produce both spectacular results and disappointing
    failures. To look at a different, more consistent approach, take the University
    of Kansas and its head coach of ten years, Bill Self. Kansas, like Kentucky, is
    one of college basketball’s elite programs, and it has the ability to attract
    top talent. Often it does, but sometimes it doesn’t: only once in the past four
    years has Self had a recruiting class ranked among the nation’s ten best.
    Nevertheless, under Self, the Jayhawks have won nine straight conference
    championships—the first time any team has done that since John Wooden’s
    U.C.L.A. dynasty in the seventies—and one national championship, and they enter
    this year’s tournament as a No. 1 seed.

    This year’s Kansas team starts four seniors—none of whom were starters
    before their junior seasons—so they’ve had several years to buy into Self’s
    system before having to implement it on the court. What distinguishes his
    system? Defensive effort, for one. The Jayhawks are consistently among the
    better defensive teams in the country. (This year, they led the country in
    limiting their opponent’s shooting percentage.) Defense is a skill, but it’s
    more taught than innate. Self certainly enjoys having talented players, even if
    only for a brief time—he has called Ben McLemore, the team’s star freshman, the
    most talented first-year player he’s ever coached—but he fears becoming
    dependent on them and leans heavily on his experienced players. Three years
    ago, he recruited the top player in the country, Josh Selby, who turned out to
    be a disappointment, barely breaking into the starting lineup. He left after
    one season, never having completely bought in.

    Self also recognizes the fact that he is dealing with teen-agers who must
    be given strict, consistent instructions. “We have to convince our players that
    if we play the way we’re supposed to play, we’re going to be really good,” Self
    said as an explanation of his steady success. “We have to convince our players
    that this is what we do.” The Jayhawks—like Kentucky, which deploys Calipari’s
    N.B.A.–ready dribble-drive offense—run the same offensive sets, year in and
    year out, regardless of which players are in place. Which brings us to the most
    famous shot in Kansas’s history. Down three points, with ten seconds to go in
    the 2008 national-championship game against Memphis—coached, at that time, by
    Calipari—Self called a play to get his shooting guard, Mario Chalmers, open for
    a game-tying three-pointer. The play involved the point guard Sherron Collins
    bringing the ball up the right side of the court and passing it off to
    Chalmers, as if they were quarterback and running back, before using his body
    to gently impede the defenders’ path and give Chalmers just a little space to
    take his shot. Kansas won, and in almost every end-of-game situation since,
    Self has called the same play.

    These were two instances of the shot going in; sometimes it doesn’t—talent
    and luck still matter—but the opportunity is almost always there. By now, fans
    know it’s coming. Why don’t Kansas’s opponents? I posed that question to Doug
    Gottlieb, a former top college point guard who is now one of the color analysts
    for C.B.S. He took my pen and paper and diagrammed the play, showing how many
    scoring options it afforded Kansas, and the difficulties it presents to an
    ill-prepared defense. It is a finely tuned system that, when run as it should
    be, is all but guaranteed to work as planned. The only way to disrupt it is an
    equally effective system designed by the opposing coach. So why didn’t other
    teams have a plan in place? Gottlieb offered one suggestion, which brings us
    back to the trouble inherent in depending on boys who are too young to legally
    drink: “A lot of these Big East teams don’t scout because their kids are too
    stupid, and they’re worried they’re gonna confuse them.” This is the ultimate
    expression of why properly implemented and designed systems typically dominate
    college basketball: lesser coaches and teams can’t counteract them if they
    don’t even try. And when success is left to chance, in the hands of
    twenty-year-olds, the system wins out.