Cougar hoops: The good news and the bad

THE GOOD NEWS is that highly regarded columnist Jon Wilner of the Mercury News in San Jose believes Washington State will be a factor in Pac-12 basketball under Ernie Kent.

The bad news is that it won’t be in 2015-16, Wilner says in his updated projections for the Pac-12 hoops season. In fact, he believes the Cougs will take a step back from last season.

“The Cougars exceeded expectations in their first season under Ernie Kent, but look for the momentum to fade,” Wilner writes. “Josh Hawkinson (pictured above) is a solid starting point, but the supporting cast simply isn’t in place for another seven-win season. WSU will be a factor in the conference under Kent, just not in ’16.”

Wilner picks Oregon for the conference title. His thinking is based on two factors: the number of Arizona players who left for the NBA and highly touted Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis now suiting up for Oregon.

CLICK HERE to read Wilner’s team-by-team forecast.

WILNER IS NOT ALONE IN HIS lowly expectations for the Cougars in 2015-16. Connor Letourneau of the Portland Oregonian slotted WSU for a No. 12 finish in his “Way too early 2015-16 Pac-12 men's basketball power rankings” several weeks back.

“Ernie Kent faced a talent deficiency when he took over the Cougars last year. This offseason, he seems intent on upping the roster's overall skill level,” he writes. “Three lightly used players have transferred, and Kent is poised to bring in a six-member recruiting class. Of course, it'll still be tough for WSU to improve upon last season's 7-11 conference record. The departed DaVonte Lacy was easily the Cougars' best scorer the past two years.”

MYRON MEDCALF OF ESPN.COM is out this week with a run down on the 2015-16 Cougs. He calls 7-foot, 270-pound JC transfer center Conor Clifford “the most important” of the six additions to the team, believING he could help form a strong frontcourt for the Cougs alongside Josh Hawkinson and Houston transfer Valentine Izundu.

“If Washington State intends to take the next step, it will need its talented frontcourt players to lead the way,” he says. They’ll also “need more guys such as Clifford -- elite prospects who could choose other big-league schools -- to pick Washington State.”

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