THIS WEEK IN WSU HOOPS: Tune it out

IF I WERE ERNIE KENT, the first thing I would have told my team this week is stop reading everything they're saying about Cougar basketball right now. Because nothing good can come of it this week.

The news is beyond cheery for Washington State basketball under Ernie Kent (pictured above with Brett Boese) with a 2-1 record nobody predicted to start this Pacific-12 season after winning two of three road games. It can only get better, with the Cougars coming home, where they'll play nine of their final 15 league games in Beasley Coliseum, right?

Home games are easier than road games, right?

No, and this is all the Cougars need to hear or read right now. They need to feel they've done nothing to this point. They don't need to read all the attaboys from Cougar fans; there will be time for that later. It does not get easier this week just because WSU plays at home against the Oregon schools.

Oregon and Oregon State are winnable games. Both schools, like WSU are 2-1, but did their work mostly at home. Thursday is the Ducks' first league road game. OSU has yet to leave Oregon for a Pac-12 game. Neither team is Arizona or Stanford in terms of talent. Well-coached, but beatable.

But only if the Cougars continue to think like the massive underdogs they were told they were at the season's outset. That team the media picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12. That team the pundits said might be worth a darn once Kent gets a few recruiting classes into Pullman.

Now is not the time for the Cougars to get comfortable just because they're coming home with a 2-1 record. Now is not the time to buy into the hype. The gritty underdog edge is what got the Cougars to 2-1 and in contention for a nice finish in league play. Forget that, and the strides WSU made during the first three Pac-12 games could be lost by week's end.

The week ahead: The Cougars (8-7, 2-1) kick off the league home season at 8 p.m. Thursday against Oregon (12-4, 2-1), followed by a 6 p.m. Saturday game against Oregon State (11-4, 2-1). The Pac-12 Network televises both games.

Thursday's game pits Washington State against Kent's former team in Oregon, where the current Cougar boss was 235-174 over 13 seasons. Kent is unlikely to recognize any of the current Ducks, his last season in Eugene was 2009-10 and few teams turn over rosters like Oregon.

The lone returning starter from last year's NCAA tournament Ducks is senior guard Joseph Young, who leads Oregon in scoring at 19.4 points a game. Only once in 16 games has Young failed to score in double digits. Young scored 32 points in the season opener against Coppin State, and 27 two weeks ago against the Beavers. Young can be dynamite perimeter scorer, as he's hit at least five 3-pointers three times this season. Young can also be a long-distance liability, as he has 1 of 12, 1 of 9 and 1 of 7 from 3-point range on his resume this season.

Oregon also relies on the scoring of freshman forward Dillon Brooks (13.5 ppg) and junior forward Elgin Cook (11.1 ppg). Young, Brooks and Cook combine to average more than 16 rebounds a game.

The Ducks are among the Pac-12 leaders in scoring offense and margin. Statistically, Oregon is one of the league's best in 3-point field goal defense, but one of the worst in defending 3-point shooters.

Oregon has a nice record, but really hasn't beaten a team of note. The Ducks are 0-3 against top 20 competition, losing to Michigan, Virginia Commonwealth and Arizona. In fact, No. 7 Arizona drilled Oregon 80-62, only to turn around three days later and lose at Oregon State.

KenPom.com ranks Oregon No. 71 in the country, and Oregon State No. 79. (For the record, the Cougars are No. 165 ... another reason for WSU to continue to think it hasn't accomplished a whole lot.)

Oregon State, meanwhile, is attempting to do something similar to the Cougars. That is, shock the world in its first season with a new head coach. Former Montana coach Wayne Tinkle has the Beavers playing hard and, recently, at a high level, as evidenced by their 58-56 win over No. 7 Arizona.

The Beavers have some decent conquests on their record, including a home rout of DePaul, and a road win over Portland. The Arizona win was of course the most eye-catching, as the Beavers had many chances to fold but hung tough until their final possession, when Langston Morris-Walker scored the game-winner with 26 seconds left.

Gary Payton II, son of the Glove, hasn't disappointed in his first year in Corvallis. Though Payton is a guard, he's a terrific rebounder, leading OSU with 8.2 boards per game. The JC transfer is also like dad, averaging almost three steals a game, and is the team's top scorer at 12.3 points a game.

The Beavers don't have a defined go-to scorer, but have five players capable of scoring in Payton, Morris-Walker (10.6 ppg), junior forward Victor Robbins (10.3 ppg), junior forward Olaf Schafftenaar (10.2 ppg) and sophomore guard Malcolm Vuvivier (8.9 ppg).

Oregon State treasures possessions, as it is second in the Pac-12 in scoring defense and among the leaders in field goal defense. But the Beavers are also near the bottom of the league in scoring.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Washington State is 2-1 in road Pac-12 games. The rest of the league is a combined 2-15.

  • When Oregon plays at WSU on Thursday, it marks the first time this season the Ducks have played on the opposing team's home court. The Ducks are 11-2 at home, and 1-2 in neutral court games.

    Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel


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