Paul Graham is in the hot seat as head coach of the Washington State Cougars only halfway into his fourth year on the job. Under Graham's direction the Cougars are 7-50 in conference play and things don't look to have improved at all of late with the team starting the Pac-10 season 0-3. Graham decided to try and surround star player, 6'6 junior point guard Marcus Moore with junior college talent in the off-season and to that end added 4 transfers, including 3 from the community college ranks. None have provided much of a spark and Moore has continued to be a one-man gang in Pullman.
Moore leads the team in scoring, assists, rebounds and steals and is the leading scorer in the conference at 21 points per game. He is an excellent professional prospect with all the requisite skills to succeed at the next level, and if he were playing at any of a number of schools in the country, Moore would be considered among the best players in the country. Unfortunately that isn't the case and he remains one of the best college players most people have never even heard of. Complicating Moore's plight further is the fact that in the past few weeks, the Cougs have lost 2 starters to injury. The team's second and third leading rebounders, Shami Gill and Milton Riley, did not travel with the team to Arizona. Another player, 6'2 shooting guard Jerry McNair has been cleared to play just last week after being academically ineligible for the first portion of the season.
The loss of Gill and Riley has forced Graham to start an undersize frontcourt lineup of 6'7 junior Ezenwa Ukeagu at center, 6'6 sophomore Chris Schlatter at power forward and 6'5 sophomore Thomas Kelati as swingman. Ironically with the 6'6 Moore paired with starting 6'6 junior shooting guard Cedrick Hughey the backcourt is just as big. All five starters are within 2 inches of each other, something extremely rare in college basketball, or basketball at any level. The Cougars do have two players with height that come off the bench regularly in 7'0 junior Justin Kordsmeier and 6'9 junior Justin Bellegarde. Usually Graham only plays one of these players heavily in any particular game and it all depends on who is in his good graces at the time.
Perhaps more than any other team in the Pac-10, Washington State is heavily reliant on 3 point shooting, with an astonishing 42% of their shots coming from beyond the arch. Moore is averaging over eight attempts per game and Jerry McNair was among the league leaders last year in three point attempts. Thomas Kelati is one of the best long-range shooters in the league, averaging nearly 48% and 6'5 senior 6th man Justin Lyman is a serious threat from deep as well averaging 6.5 attempts per game. All of these guys are similar players in the 6'6 range with the desire to shoot the ball early and often from the perimeter. Graham has shaken up the starting lineup a bit recently with the absence of two of his better players, but it matter not. Moore and Kelati play a lot, and Hughey, Schlatter and McNair will all see time, but each is a player who essentially just hangs out on the perimeter shooting 3 points.
The Cougars, with their injury-woes, are very susceptible to taller athletic wings like Tommy Smith and to a lesser extent Donnell Knight. It could be another big day for Smith as WSU has nobody that can match his size and athleticism. Ike Diogu should dominate on the interior if the Cougs attempt to defend him with a single, undersized player like Ukeagu. If they double and triple team Diogu, as has been the common practice of late, ASU should have a field day in terms of open mid-range looks and penetrating finishes. The toughest assignment, in fact the only one to worry about is how the Devils defend Marcus Moore. With his size, Moore creates match up problems and the Devils may elect to play a rotating group of defenders on Moore including Jason Braxton, Jamal Hill and Donnell Knight. If the Devils extend the half-court defense to take away the open three point looks, hit the glass hard on both ends, protect the basketball, and convert at the free throw line, it should be another blow out victory at Wells Fargo Arena.
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