I will actually be watching today’s home game on television, as I’m still in Bellingham with the family, and I have to say, I cannot stomach a loss this afternoon after the Apple Cup debacle yesterday. My rather cocky-toned prediction for that game has come back to haunt me, so I’ll be pretty cautious here (yes WSU fans mocking me in the comments, I see you. I just know I don’t have a right to say a word in return.)
I have to admit that I don’t know a whole lot about Colorado State from personal experience. I haven’t seen them play a lot because they’re a fairly minor team. That being said, it isn’t as if that’s a reason to assume Washington will win because, you know, Albany. Still, if we look at that home loss, hypothetically, as an outlier, we can see that Washington has actually played roughly to preseason expectations. They beat Loyola (Maryland) by a good margin, eked one out in overtime over a more average Seton Hall team, and played competitive ball against Ohio State, a highly ranked team that no one could have expected the Huskies to defeat. However, you can’t just throw out the losses that seem out of character, so until further notice, that Albany game has my confidence in this team’s ability to take care of inferior opponents at home very low. I’m not assuming anything.
First, I’ll take a look at some of Colorado State’s most important players. To start, there is Colton Iverson, a senior transfer from Minnesota that is playing his first season with the Rams. After several straight games in which I’ve mentioned the mismatch presented by Aziz N’Diaye and the lack of opponents capable of guarding him, Iverson seems to stop me from continuing the trend. He is 6’10” and 260 pounds, and he is averaging 17 points and 10 boards so far while hitting exactly two thirds of his shots through three games. Obviously those stats can be a bit fluky after only three data points, but with so much experience and so much size, Iverson is definitely a key player. I actually think his presence will help Washington, because N’Diaye is fairly talented at defending posts that are roughly his own size. It is when he is charged with dealing with smaller, quicker posts or slashing guards that he struggles, and with his hands full with the other team’s best player, the rest of the Husky squad will know from the beginning that they will have to step up and play tougher, smarter team defense.
It is the other tough-boarding post on the team, Pierce Hornung, that worries me more. He is also a senior, and he is averaging 7.7 points and 12 rebounds a game so far this year. Considering his listed measurements of 6’5″ and 210 pounds, that frightens me. A player outperforming despite limited physical tools is usually taking advantage of a superior motor and overall grit to put up numbers, and I expect Hornung is no exception with his 12 boards a game. While it makes sense to expect an athletic, physically superior team like Washington would be able to shut down a rebounding post that is the same height as C.J. Wilcox, I think the opposite will probably happen. The Huskies, except for N’Diaye, have been passive rebounders. They do not always block out, and they do not always use their strength and size to dominate opponents. A guy like Hornung who is ready to assert himself and scrap for every single board, in my mind, has a great chance to pull one of those super frustrating 15-15 type games based mostly on offensive rebound and putbacks.
Maybe not, but with N’Diaye busy with Iverson, I don’t trust guys like Simmons and Jarreau to take care of business, though Simmons’ raptor-esque scrappiness may help. Another guy to watch for is Dorian Green, the experienced senior guard that is averaging 9 points a game this year after averaging 13 in 2011.
As far as Washington is concerned, someone needs to start working to score inside to open things up for the perimeter shooting of Suggs and Wilcox. Maybe that needs to be more entry passes into N’Diaye in the low post, but that may not be as easy against a 260 pounder. More likely, it needs to be Gaddy and Andrews, who have both shown flashes of inside aggressiveness. Gaddy has been effective at using deliberate fakes to freeze opponents or get them up in the air for a step back jumper or a floater, and he has also been able to draw a decent number of fouls. He just needs to show that level of aggressiveness more often. Andrews has not hesitated to attempt shots from anywhere on the floor, and he has gotten to the free throw line a ton, but his 22% shooting from the field needs to change. It’s also perfectly reasonable for Wilcox and Suggs themselves to take the ball to the rack, but neither has shown much of an ability to get past their defender. Either way, something has to change to avoid Wilcox and Suggs from simply sitting in the corners with a hand in their face.
Defensively, against a senior-laden Colorado State team, it will be important to start showing some perimeter toughness and some post intelligence. No one but Andrews, and occasionally Gaddy, harasses and pressures his man enough from half court to the three point line. Partly as a result of that, too many ball carriers are slashing deep into the paint, where a lack of communication and smart, crisp rotations has allowed them far too many unopposed layups. That is on players like Gaddy and Wilcox for letting their man blow by them, but it’s also on N’Diaye and the various power forwards for not doing their best to protect the paint. Another issue: leaving far too many three point shooters wide open. The wings need to show a little bit of discipline and keep on the hot shooters.
Overall, I think that a team that beat Seton Hall and played decently against Ohio State on a neutral court is ready to take care of Colorado State at home, and that perhaps the Albany loss was about a lack of preparation, but I do not think it will be any sort of blowout. The Rams are too experienced, and Washington has had too many issues on both sides of the floor. If Washington’s three point shots are falling, expect a pretty large margin of victory, if not, expect more of a 6-12 point deal.
Washington 72, Colorado State 66