This week in Cougar Hoops

OUTSIDE OF THE most unrealistic projections on Washington State basketball, the Cougars have met the bottom line expectations through the first three games of the 2011-12 season. WSU is 2-1, about what fans should have expected. But this coming week, this is when it starts to get very interesting. And Cougar fans might possibly start considering the number 20.

Beating Sacramento State in the opener seemed a given, although the Cougars didn't exactly dispatch the Hornets as some might have hoped. Washington State handled Portland, a good road win but not one you shouldn't have expected. Though the Pilots have won 20 games the past two years, they are rebuilding at the moment and are very beatable, even at home.

And Gonzaga? A big match-up problem for the size-challenged Cougars, and it gets worse when a freshman hits nine 3-pointers.

As for the big picture, we're program outsiders, so we don't have to play the one-game-at-a-time like WSU's players and coaches. We can project a schedule.

To me, this is starting to look like a Washington State team that could win 20 games.

Yes, I said 20. But that's not say the Cougars are great. They might not even be much above average.

But the Pac-12 appears to be so weak, so down, that claiming 8-10 wins during league play isn't a stretch of the imagination, even for a WSU team picked to finish 10th in the preseason media poll.

And it's a league that's made to order for Washington State because of the lack of quality bigs throughout the Pac-12.

A HINT AS to whether Washington State is capable of a 20-win season comes this week when the Cougars hit the road for the 76 Classic in Anaheim. It's an eight-team tournament that frankly, is good but hardly great. None of the teams are in the AP or coaches' top 25. Half of the field are rated among College RPI's top 100 (Washington State, St. Louis, New Mexico, Villanova), and half are 200 or worse (Oklahoma, Santa Clara, UC Riverside, Boston College).

But it's a tournament that will get some run because it's in a major media market and televised by ESPN.

If the Cougars are successful in Anaheim, the remainder of their non-conference schedule is winnable. Reach the finals or win the 76 Classic, and an 11-1 or 10-2 non-conference record is doable for Washington State.

WSU has been strong in early-season tournaments under coach Ken Bone. The Cougars won the Great Alaska Shootout in 2009, and reached the finals of the Diamond Head Classic last year, where they lost to eventual NCAA runner-up Butler.

The week ahead: Washington State opens the 76 Classic on Thursday with the late game, an 8:30 p.m. tip-off against Oklahoma (ESPN2). The Sooners (2-0) have name recognition, but probably aren't close in quality to Oklahoma teams of the past. The Sooners have wins over Idaho State and Coppin State to date. Romero Osby, a junior transfer from Mississippi State, could cause the Cougars problems, as the 6-8 forward is averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds through Oklahoma's first two games.

Washington State is matched on the same side of the bracket with New Mexico-Santa Clara. The Cougars would probably prefer to play New Mexico (2-1), as they have Santa Clara (2-1) scheduled for later in the non-league season. Friday's game is scheduled for 6:30 or 9:00 p.m., on ESPN2 or ESPNU.

If the Cougars are able to reach Sunday's championship game (6 p.m., ESPN2), the most likely opponent is St. Louis (3-0) or Villanova (3-0). The Billikens, coached by Rick Majerus, opened some eyes last week with a stunningly easy win over Washington. Meanwhile, Villanova is always a program to fear, coming out of the Big East.

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-10 ramblings at

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