Washington State hoops: Ernie Kent hits the recruiting trail

WASHINGTON STATE basketball coach Ernie Kent didn't return to Pullman with his Cougar players following Wednesday night's loss to Oregon and instead headed out on the recruiting trail.

Based on the results of this season -- the Oregon loss was WSU's 14th straight -- he has plenty of work to do. And in recent interviews, Kent has made clear that he plans to bolster the roster for next season.

But the question begs: With two scholarship seniors on the team (Junior Longrus and Brett Boese) and two players (6-8 Jeff Pollard and 6-2 Milan Acquaah) secured in the early signing period in November, what room does he have to bring in new players?

The answer, of course, is found in the annual rite of spring in college basketball: attrition. Or, as every coach in the land typically says when confronted with uncomfortable math, "these things always work themselves out." See Kent's first recruiting class at WSU as Exhibit A; three out of the four were gone after one season.

Whether players transfer of their own volition or at the urging of coaches, the fact is that the names and faces will start moving around the nation at warp speed the moment CBS fades to black next month with "One Shining Moment" ringing in our ears. Indeed, the time is short ... in the blinking of an eye, the moment's gone.

Kent's quest to turn Washington State into shooting star looks farther away than ever right now in the throes of a 14-game losing streak, and a quick infusion of talent seems critical if Year Three of his tenure is to be built on more than the promise that a group of players who have managed just one conference victory in 2015-16 can improve in Herculean ways before the ball is tipped on 2016-17. The tenor of Kent's recent comments on his roster suggest modest rather than wholesale changes are planned.

In trying to read the tea leaves on where Kent will get his scholarship opening(s), the most obvious place to start is minutes played. So let's take a look at the players this season with the fewest minutes played per game:

Renard Suggs: 13.0
Ny Redding: 12.0
Derrien King: 11.7
Viont'e Daniels: 10.9
Robert Franks: 9.1

The next place to look for clues are minutes played in recent games, given that Kent made it crystal clear earlier this month that WSU is now playing for next year.

Over the last five games, Redding, Daniels and Franks have seen the biggest boost over their season averages: Redding at 21.8 mpg, Daniels at 16.8 and Franks at 11.0. King is holding steady more or less, at 11.4.

Meanwhile, Suggs has averaged just 4.3 minutes over the last five contests and has appeared in only three of the five games.  

Neither Suggs nor Redding saw playing time at Oregon. Kent played all 12 who suited up in the two games prior to Eugene.

Kent dished out praise after the Oregon loss to Daniels, Franks and King, and has been complimentary of each of them much of this season so the call here is that those three will be back in crimson next season. Redding's minutes suggest he will be too, though his not getting on the court at Oregon is perhaps noteworthy.

That said, the recruiting trail beckons. And Kent has said this will be a “critical, critical offseason” for the Cougs. The spring signing period runs from April 13 to May 18 so the pieces figure to start moving rapidly.

Let the intrigue begin.

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