HARMELING: Tweaking to the top

DESPITE THE rough start in L.A. two weeks ago, the Cougs are actually in great shape to make a run at the top-tier of the Pac-10. Last week's sweep of the Oregons, now followed by a pair of excellent opportunities in the Bay Area, has the potential to supercharge the season. There is a lot I like about this team, but I believe they're a couple tweaks away from maxing out their potential.

In watching game film, it's obvious that other teams are sending their most blood-thirsty hound to blanket Klay Thompson. Not exactly innovative strategy, but he's clearly the biggest issue when facing the Cougs. Which brings me to my first point.

Why aren't the Cougs making Klay's defender work harder before Thompson catches the ball?

It seems as though we run Klay off one screen at most before looking to get him the ball. I would love to see the Cougs put in a set that designates multiple screeners along the baseline and lane lines to set some head hunting screens. Put Reggie Moore and Marcus Caper in a two-guard front, and they reverse the ball following Klay's movements. If Klay's disciplined to wait for a great shot or a breakdown, he's going to get much better looks down the stretch of the game. Nothing is more exhausting for a player than have to negotiate 4, 5, even up to 8 screens in one possession. Back in the day, we used this (even though we stole it from Stanford) as a way to wear out Derrick Low's defenders, and it was huge for us.

  • WSU at CAL
    Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
    (No TV)

    Saturday at 5 p.m.
    (No TV)

  • Another reason I really think the Cougs need to look at this is because it will create screen and "slip" opportunities for our bigs. It's no secret that we lack low-post scoring, and this is a way to get our potentially streaky stretch-4 guys going with a dunk as their defender helps out on Klay to extend the screen. Which brings me to another point: using Klay as a decoy.

    We don't do it nearly enough, but when we do, it almost always works.

    More reasons I like this team …

    Some teams (UW for sure) will try to deny the ball reversal between the two guards. If you deny this reversal, it makes the pass to Thompson virtually impossible. So the type of guard you want going backdoor -- down the middle of the lane -- is an athlete that can finish above the rim.

    Enter Capers and Moore. They are perfect for this. The worst-case scenario with this look is that Klay catches the ball 20-feet out with 8 seconds left on the shot clock, and you roll up either Casto for a screen-and-roll or one of our stretch-4s with the pick-and-pop. I can live with either of those options at the end of the shot clock.

    But mainly I like this look because it's my idea, and my 6th grade team can't quite grasp it yet.

    And you guys know I can't go an article without my mind circling back to defense. The Cougars' most pressing defensive issue is their lack of consistency with ball screen defense. That's what Butler exploited when they rolled us up in the second half. Every game, every screen, it appears that we do something a little different each time. What we haven't done? Make the ball handler retreat to half court-even if it's just for one dribble so the guard can recover and not allow his man to turn the corner. When you let that happen, you get beat. Period. We need to show "hard" on every screen, not allow them to turn the corner, and recover with vision. The only time this shouldn't happen is with a PG that really doesn't want to/can't shoot the three. In this case, it's okay for the defender to go underneath the screen while his teammate ushers him through.

    OK sports fans, that's the chalk talk for today. I have several pieces coming to you soon, however. One is about what the Cougs can be doing differently on the interior. Another will catch you up on what some of my old Cougar teammates are doing these days.

    I'll be making the trip to Pullman next week for the Arizona games, so I should be coming into some great stories ideas and insights. And hopefully I'll be able to execute a prank or two while back on the Palouse.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daven Harmeling was a mainstay on the Washington State basketball team – and a fixture on the Pac-10 All-Academic team – during the most successful three-year stretch in Cougar history. Part of Dick Bennett's stellar recruiting class of 2004, this Grand Junction, Colo., product completed his eligibility in 2009 and now is in Vancouver, Wash., running clinics for Dan Dickau Basketball, coaching high school and AAU ball, and working as a substitute teacher. He writes a regular column for Cougfan.com during the hoops season.

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