WSU hoops: bursting bubbles, wishful thinking

BEING AN INCURABLE optimist when it comes to the Cougs, I've worked hard to convince myself that the losses of Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto won't be debilitating. Solid senior leadership from Marcus Capers and Abe Lodwick. Another down year in the conference. Greater maturity for Faisal Aden, plus pleasant surprises among the rookies. It all adds up to a semi-soft landing, I reasoned.

And then I read Monday's San Joe Mercury News.

More specifically, I read Jon Wilner's column projecting the outcome of the 2011-12 Pac-12 basketball season.

Talk about the cold, hard glare of reality.

I love reading Wilner. He does a great job covering the conference. But I'm a little miffed with this latest effort because it's May -- a good six months before the season starts -- and he's already trying to burst my bubble.

To give you a hint of what he thinks the prospects are for Ol' Wazzu next season, consider that he used a collective four sentences to size up the outlook of three teams, and the Cougs were one of them.

"Faisal Aden is a good complementary player. When he projects as your No. 1 scorer, it's time to worry," Wilner wrote of the Cougs, whom he predicts will finish 11th, just ahead of Utah and just behind Arizona State.

That's it. In a 762-word article, the only other mention WSU gets is in the ASU write up, where Wilner says he moved the Devils up one slot from his April forecast "more because of attrition in Pullman than any sudden optimism about ASU's prospects."

Things have indeed changed in the last month. I can't find Wilner's April basketball forecast, but as I recall he was envisioning title-contending potential from the Cougars.

Take away one of the great scorers in school history in Thompson and the rebounding-shot blocking production of Casto and you have a recipe for exceedingly low expectations.

And that, I suppose, is as good a place to start as any. With low expectations, damn everything can become gravy. In a 12-team conference, you have to think the top seven or eight are going to the post season in one form or another. Can the Cougs earn their way to a sixth- or seventh-place finish? Maybe even fifth? It's another down year, after all, so why the heck not?

I tell you what: I'd much rather be predicted to finish low and then surprise people than forecast high and underachieve. This past season was a case in point. Expectations for the Cougs weren't sky high but they were definitely on the loftier side of life. Were it not for that nice run in the NIT, I'd say most Cougar fans would have ruled the season a big disappointment.

There's no threat of disappointment in the upcoming season. Without Thompson and Casto, I'm afraid Wilner's cloudy crimson outlook is just the tip of the proverbial projection iceberg that will come as the season draws closer.

I'll no doubt read every one of those depressing forecasts and cringe each time. But deep down, I will hold out hope. Sure, I may be a Pollyaana, but I will have hope -- hope that Brock Motum will continue to improve and maybe put on 15 pounds in the off season .... hope that JC post-man D.J. Shelton makes a quick transition (and also adds some weight) ... hope that Reggie Moore's wrist stays healthy and he dials up some of the swagger that had him driving to the hoop so forecefully as a freshman ... hope that Aden steps up his defense and improves his shot selection ... hope that Patrick Simon regains his downtown stroke ... hope that Mike Ladd is the second coming of Steve Harriel ... hope that ...

The list goes on. There's a lot of hope there, yes. Naysayers will of course call it wishful thinking. I call it everything coming together. And in another down year in the conference, I ask this: why the heck not?

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