This Week in Cougar Hoops

AS WASHINGTON State heads into the inaugural Pacific-12 season this week, let's start with a trivia question:   How many times during the past 20 years have the Cougars started league season 2-0?

If you said not many, that's in the ballpark. The answer is two, most recently in 2007-08, when WSU beat Washington and USC to open Pac-10 play. The Cougars eventually tied for third that season, and went on the NCAAs. The only other 2-0 start of the past two decades was 1994-95, when a sweep of opening weekend led to NIT quarterfinals run.

So at a minimum this week as Washington State kicks off its 2011-12 season with Pac-12 games against Oregon and Oregon State in Spokane, the Cougars have an opportunity to set themselves apart from most WSU teams in recent memory.

And because I can't help myself, here's another bit of trivia: If Washington State sweeps the Beavers and Ducks this week, it will mark just the second time during the past 20 seasons that the Cougars amassed an eight-game winning streak. The other time was 2007-08, when WSU the season 14-0.

Both games will be televised: the Ducks game Thursday at 6 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Northwest and the Beavs game Saturday at 3 p.m. on Root Sports NW.

Though the Cougars have a chance for a historical stamp should they beat Oregon State and Oregon this week, I have mixed feelings about starting the league season at home.

With students out of school for the holidays, Washington State loses a critical advantage of opening the league season at home during the Christmas break. The Cougars hope to pick up a little noise having moved the Pac-12 openers to Spokane, but still, it's not like having the throaty, rowdy voice of several thousand students on hand.

The alternative, of course, is to open Pac-12s on the road and make sure all the home court dates are available while school is in session. But it also increases the odds of starting the season 0-2 or 1-1.

The last piece of historical information is opening Pac-12 play in Spokane. The last time Washington State kicked off league action in Spokane was 2004-05, when the Cougars split a series with the Bay Area schools.

ON TAP: Washington State (8-4) plays Oregon (9-3) at 6 p.m. Thursday, followed by a 3 p.m. New Years' Eve game against Oregon State (10-2). Both games are contested in the Spokane Arena an dboth are televised.

It's an interesting period for Cougar basketball. Though WSU is on a six-game winning streak, it's difficult to say at this juncture this is a good basketball team. The Cougars have nicely rebounded from a disastrous Thanksgiving trip to Anaheim and some early season injuries, but let's face it: a loss in any of the past six games would have been surprising and disappointing. WSU ought to beat Grambling, Eastern Washington, Idaho, Santa Clara, Western Oregon and Pepperdine any time, anywhere.

Sweep Oregon and Oregon State, then follow it up next week with successful road trip at Colorado and Utah, then it's time to elevate WSU's stock.

A 4-0 start to the league season is a worthy achievement, even in the Pac-12's current sorry state.

Oregon is much like the Cougars, in that it has yet to prove much during non-conference play. The Ducks' 9-3 record is the product of a favorable home schedule. Oregon has played three statement-type games, and lost all three, to Brigham Young, Virginia and Vanderbilt, all by double digits.

The Ducks have a threesome to watch in Devoe Joseph, Garrett Sim and E.J. Singler. Joseph, a 6-4 senior guard, recently gave Oregon a boost when the former Minnesota transfer became eligible. In six games, he leads the Ducks in scoring at 14.3 points per game. Sim is a scrappy senior guard who averages 12.8 points, and is shooting nearly 48 percent from 3-point range. Singler, brother of former Duke great Kyle Singler, is Oregon's leading rebounder at five per game, and averages 12.2 points.

Last year, Washington State and Oregon split their series, with the home team winning each game.

Oregon State has also cruised through reasonably worry-free schedule, but there's a sense these Beavers are markedly improved from a year ago. OSU's only defeats were by two points to nationally-ranked Vanderbilt, and a loss to Idaho that came two days after the school was jolted by the sudden death of defensive tackle Fred Thompson. Oregon State has rolled most of its opponents this season, and rank among the country's top 10 in point scored at 83.4 per game.

Junior guard Jared Cunningham, one of the Pac-12's most explosive athletes, leads Oregon State at 16.8 points per game. Aside from Cunningham, OSU has three others averaging double figures in forward Devon Collier (14.1) and guard Ahmad Starks (12.5) and Roberto Nelson (11.2). Inside, Joe Burton and Eric Moreland are averaging nearly seven rebounds per game.

As a team, Oregon State shoots nearly 50 percent from the floor as it gets most of its offense from close range.

Last season, Washington State swept the series from OSU, winning 84-70 in Pullman and 61-55 in Corvallis.

  Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-10 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

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