Bone: Capers at front of WSU's improvement

DO THE COUGARS deserve to be ranked in the Top 25, right here and right now? Ken Bone weighed in on that topic on Tuesday, as well as the Cougars' improved defensive play, the development of junior wing Marcus Capers and more.

The Associated Press Top 25 poll was released Monday and WSU had five votes. The Cougars had one the previous week.

"We're not a Top 25 team," said Bone, adding that most of the votes probably stem from a close loss to Kansas State, which now is ranked sixth, and a blowout win against Gonzaga. "If you look at our schedule and the teams we've played ... we should have a good record. There's other teams that have played a much stronger schedule."

Bone said it is "nice" to be recognized, but not being ranked does not bother him.

"I think we actually got votes last year, so it doesn't mean a whole lot," he said.

Bone thinks WSU will have a good opportunity to distinguish itself with six straight games away from Friel Court. He said the Cougars leave Saturday for Santa Clara and then fly from the Bay Area to Hawaii on Monday. WSU plays at 12 p.m. Dec. 22 in the Diamond Head Classic against Mississippi State in Honolulu. The Cougars then play either Baylor or San Diego in that tournament the following day. Bone said the Cougars will have a team-oriented activity on Dec. 24, perhaps a visit to Pearl Harbor, and then play on Christmas Day. They then will head to Los Angeles to play Dec. 29 at UCLA and Dec. 31 at USC.

DEFENSE CONTINUES TO be a popular topic when it comes to Washington State basketball.

The Cougars rank first in the Pac-10 in scoring defense, allowing just 56.4 points per game.

But that number is not always indicative of quality. For example, a team could play poor defense and allow fewer points if it plays at a slow tempo.

But there are reasons to indicate that is not the case for WSU (7-1), which plays at 7 p.m. Sunday at Santa Clara. College basketball statistical analyst Ken Pomeroy's system accounts for tempo and other details when he factors adjusted defense. He ranks the Cougars 28th nationally and second in the Pac-10 behind Washington at 88.9.

WSU coach Ken Bone said during his Tuesday teleconference that he believes the Cougars' struggles on the defensive end in 2009-10 — Pomeroy ranked them 155th and last in the Pac-10 at 100.3 on that side of the ball — are contributing to their success this season.

"I think part of it is having a year in the system and understanding what we're trying to accomplish," Bone said. "To give ourselves an opportunity, we have to get better defensively. They have a sense of urgency."

That includes better perimeter defense. WSU sometimes struggled to contain good three-point shooting teams, such as Oregon, under former coaches Dick and Tony Bennett because defending the perimeter was not an emphasis of the pack defense. But under Bone, the Cougars have allowed opponents to shoot just 25 percent from beyond the arch this season.

"I think Ben Johnson deserves the credit there," said Bone, adding that WSU's help defense has been strong. "He works a lot on basic fundamental drills every day. I think our guys have done a great job of buying into that."

Bone, who prefers man-to-man defense, also has incorporated more zone schemes this season. He said that is a byproduct of the Cougars' lack of size and injuries to sophomore point guard Reggie Moore and junior center DeAngelo Casto.

"When you add that up — to keep people on the floor — we need to play a little more zone," said Bone, adding that rebounding has been an issue; WSU ranks eighth in the conference in both offensive and defensive boards, no matter which defense is used.

Bone said rebounding and free-throw shooting continue to be an emphasis during practice, which will resume today after three days off as finals began Monday. The Cougars convert 62 percent of their free throws, which ranks ninth in the conference.

"Part of it is just gaining confidence and stepping up there and hitting it," Bone said.

WSU JUNIOR WING Marcus Capers has struggled in that area, converting 66.7 percent from the line, but just about every other aspect of his play has impressed Bone.

"On the defensive end and offensive end, he's locked in almost every single play," he said. "He can be our most consistent player possession to possession."

Bone said that was not the case last season when WSU finished 16-15 overall and 6-12 in the Pac-10.

"I'm chalking it up to him now being a junior," he said. "I think he feels like he's a big part of this program. He's really played much more sound this year than he did last year at this point."

Capers easily leads the conference with a 5.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. Arizona State's Jamelle McMillan is second (3.08). True freshman point guard Dre' Winston actually has a better ratio (6.0) on the Cougars, but does not qualify because he only has played 105 minutes.

Bone said Capers' lack of turnovers is even more impressive considering that Southern, Idaho, Sacramento State and Fresno State all put significant pressure on ball handlers. Capers was the primary ball handler during those games.

"Really, it's an outstanding statistic," Bone said. "All four of those teams had great quickness and tried to put pressure on the ball."

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