The Cougars haven't shocked the world on either side of the coin, based on statistics. In the KenPoms, WSU is No. 197 (of 351 Division I teams). Outside of perhaps a mild upset of No. 154 UC Davis, the Cougars haven't won a game they were supposed to lose. Conversely, outside of No. 237 Idaho, WSU hasn't lost a game it was supposed to win.
But when it comes to WSU basketball and its fans, the Cougars will have to do some overachieving to make a dent in the Pac-12 standings this season. The KenPoms has WSU dead last among the Pac-12 schools, 47 spots below the next best league school, USC at No. 150.
I don't think I'm reaching to say a winless league season won't happen to Washington State. For one, the Cougars are making improvements -- as one might expect -- under first-year coach Ernie Kent, even if many of the players he hopes to build this program upon have yet to enroll at WSU. The Cougars were reasonably competitive in losses to Gonzaga and UTEP, and both those teams would finish among the top half of the Pac-12.
But secondly, is anyone really all that scared of the Pac-12?
Let's face facts: we've seen better from this league.
From a rankings standpoint, only Arizona, Utah and Washington are among the writer's and coaches' top 25 polls. ESPN Bracketology says those three and California are good enough for the NCAA tournament. KenPom rates only Arizona and Utah among the country's top 35.
Oregon State plays hard under first-year coach Wayne Tinkle, but the Beavers' talent scares no one and their non conference slate was weaker than watered-down 7-up. USC has a loss to Portland State. Oregon is thin. Washington is coming off an ugly home loss to Stony Brook. UCLA, in the words of Tuscaloosa News columnist Cecil Hurt, "is not a vintage UCLA team in the same way that lighter fluid is not a vintage Chardonnay."
In other words, if the Cougars play hard every night, there are some wins on this Pac-12 schedule. How many? Who knows. That's why they play the games, starting Friday at Stanford.
League play for the Cougars starts with the lunch time tip-off at Maples Pavilion, where Stanford is 7-0. The Cardinal ride a two-game winning streak into Friday's game, the standout a 74-71 win over No. 9 Texas.
Stanford's lineup boasts the current Pac-12 player of the week in guard Anthony Brown, who scored 25 points in the win over Texas. Brown, a 6-6 senior, is third on the team in scoring at 13.8 ppg, and averages seven rebounds a game.
The Cardinal rely heavily on the senior scoring trio of Brown, Chasson Randle and Stefan Nastic. They all rank among the Pac-12's top 15 in scoring. Randle, a 6-2 guard, is second in the Pac-12 in scoring at 19.2 ppg, while Nastic, a 6-11 post, averages 14.5 ppg. Randle is the Pac-12's career scoring leader among current players, with 1,843 points in four seasons on the Farm.
The expected battle down low between Josh Hawkinson (pictured above) and Nastic should be fun to watch - and on both ends of the floor. Hawkinson averaged a double-double through the non-conference slate, with 15.6 ppg and 10.5 rpg.
Stanford's strength is free throw shooting -- they lead the Pac-12 with a shooting percentage of .745. Don't dare foul Randle, who has hit 45 of 48 free throws, or Brown (32 of 37).
Friday's game could be a bit of a shootout, as the Cardinals and Cougars are the Pac-12's two worst in field goal defense. Stanford is about as average as it comes from a scoring standpoint, as the Cardinal are No. 6 league-wide in scoring offense (72.9 ppg) and No. 8 in scoring defense (64.7 ppg).
Stanford has been tested, with Duke (70-59 loss) and Texas on its non-league schedule. The Cardinal have a nice 89-60 win over Nevada-Las Vegas, and a narrow 79-77 defeat at Brigham Young.
As for California, the Bears feature 6-5 junior guard Tyrone Wallace, who is emerging as a Pac-12 player of the year candidate. Wallace, a two-time league player of the week this season, has increased his scoring average by eight points as a junior to 19.2 points per game. Wallace is third in the Pac-12 in rebounding at 8.8 per game, fourth in 3-point shooting (15 of 34) and eighth in assists (4.1 ppg).
Wallace is Steady Eddie. Outside of a 10-point outing against Syracuse, Wallace has scored at least 17 points in every game this season, with a high of 29. Wallace has pulled down double digit rebounds four times this season, with a high of 15.
The Bears also rely on Jordan Matthews (12.8 ppg) and David Kravish (10.6 ppg) for scoring. Kravish is the Pac-12's career rebounding leader among current players with 747 during four years at Cal.
California prefers to keep the games is low figures. The Bears average 68.2 points a game, 11th in the Pac-12, while giving up only 59.7 a game. Cal excels on defense, where it ranks second in league in 3-point field goal defense (.284) and fourth in overall field goal defense (.380).
The Bears have played a decent schedule, one that includes three top 25 opponents in Syracuse, Texas and Wisconsin. Cal knocked off Syracuse, while losing to Texas and Wisconsin. The Bears come into the week on a two-game losing streak, having lost to Wisconsin and Cal State-Bakersfield.
Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel