This week in Cougar Hoops

THESE ARE YOUR Go Figure Cougs, whether you like it or not. A solid holiday tournament history under coach Ken Bone, only to go 0-3 at the 76 Classic in Anaheim? Go figure. After the Anaheim face plant, and losing three key players to injuries for a spell, win six consecutive games? Go figure.

If the opening Pac-12 weekend is supposed to end with a split, it's improving Oregon State the Cougars beat, not woeful Oregon? Go figure.

Faisal Aden goes into the season as arguably the Cougars' best player, and emerges as the team's lightning rod? Go figure.

It's proving as bad business to make predictions about Washington State basketball, even if you're armed with a briefcase of statistical analysis. It's OK to be occasionally unpredictable, but too much of it means you're inconsistent and probably not going to go very far.

Right now, does anyone think these Cougars are ready to make a meaningful season out of 2011-12, even in the watered-down Pac-12?

Anyone?

There are plenty of weeks remaining to change minds. But count me among a growing number needing many weeks of positive evidence before concluding this is a team with a lot of upside.

The week ahead: It can start this week for Washington State (9-5, 1-1), with a doable road trip beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday at Utah (3-10, 0-1), followed by a 1 p.m. Saturday contest at Colorado (9-4, 1-0).

As road trips go, this figures to be the easiest of the Pac-12 season, if the preseason poll means anything (here we go with predictions again.) Utah and Colorado were picked, along with WSU, to make up the league's bottom three.

Has anything changed since the Pac-12 poll was released in late October? Indeed it has, although Colorado, Utah and Washington State remain suspect. What's changed – or maybe not, to college basketball's cynical – is the strength of the Pac-12.

The league didn't have a great standing to begin the season, and whatever reputation it had has been trashed. There isn't much difference between the Pac-12's best and worst teams. Colorado, Utah and WSU don't have to improve much to rocket up the Pac-12 ladder.

There is little question Washington State's best chance to win a Pac-12 road game is Thursday at Utah. The Utes are simply awful. Utah is coming off a 73-33 shellacking at Colorado in its Pac-12 opener. The Utes' three wins this season were all at home, over San Diego Christian, Idaho State and Portland. Of Utah's 11 losses, only one was by a margin of less than 14 points. RealtimeRPI.com rates the Utes as No. 293 in the country; the next worse Pac-12 team is Arizona State at 186.

Frankly, Utah is staring at an 0-18 league campaign unless it catches an opponent with team-wide sickness.

Josh Watkins, a senior guard who leads the Utes in scoring at 15.1 points per game, shot a collective 4 of 25 from the field in Utah's past two games.

Historically, Washington State is 2-13 against Utah, but has a two-game winning streak over the Utes. Both wins came in Spokane, 75-68 in 2009 and 71-62 in 2007. In 15 games against Utah, the only time the two teams played in Pullman was 1938, the first game of the series.

A WSU series with much less history is Colorado. The Cougars have played the Buffaloes just twice, the last time in 1969, in the New Mexico Invitational. It's difficult to believe two western United States schools from BCS conference separated by only 1,100 miles have played just once at their school (1952, at Colorado.)

As for boning up on the Buffs, it's probably a good idea to take Colorado seriously. Still not sure how much quality there is to the Buffaloes, but at least their four losses weren't to stiffs; Wichita State, Maryland, Colorado State and Wyoming all have winning records.

At the forefront of Washington State's concern with Colorado is Andre Roberson. The 6-7 sophomore forward has been has been a beast this season, averaging 12.1 points and 12 rebounds a game. Only twice this season has Roberson failed to pull down at least 10 rebounds in a game, and is coming off a season-high 17-board effort against Utah.

Colorado has four double-digit scorers in senior guard Carlon Brown (12.8 ppg), Roberson, freshman guard Spencer Dinwiddie (11.5) and senior forward Austin Dufault (10.3). As a team, Colorado is shooting 38.4 percent from 3-point range.

The Buffaloes lead the Pac-12 in field goal percentage defense at .391, are second in rebounding margin at plus-7.7 and rank fourth in scoring margin at plus-9.7.

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

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