Cougar hoops: Soft pre-season is right path

NATIONAL PUNDITS HAVE chided the Cougar hoops team for its mostly cushy pre-season schedule, but data mined by Mike DeCourcy for a recent column in The Sporting News lends a powerful argument to Tony Bennett's decision to go soft, not hard, in the early going.

Championship teams, DeCourcy writes, are not forged by the toughest schedules but by building confidence -- at home -- against low- and mid-major opponents.

For proof, he looked at who wins and who loses when it comes to the madness of March.

Over the last three seasons, he ID'd everyone who had a top 10 non-conference strength-of-schedule rating. Of the 30 teams in that category, only one made it to the Final Four in those three seasons. In fact, 12 of those top strength-of-schedule teams missed the Big Dance entirely or wound up playing in an 8-9 seed game.

Moreover, "there hasn't been an NCAA champion with a non-league schedule ranked better than 82nd in the past five years," says DeCourcy.

With opponents such as North Carolina A&T and Portland State, the Cougars' 12-game non-league schedule is less than intimidating. Gonzaga, Baylor and Air Force are the only notables the Cougs play before Pac-10 games begin.

Jerry Palm, the man behind the magic at, says he's still crunching all the numbers, but pegs WSU's non-conference strength of schedule to be down around No. 200 in the nation.

Part of the non-conference softness stems from the Cougars' decision to bypass the Great Alaska Shootout –- featuring Michigan, Texas Tech and others -- in order to reduce their road miles.

The Cougars will be traveling to Pocatello and Boise this off-season – two trips that no Pac-10 team should make and ones that you can bet the Cougars won't make again now that the program is back where it belongs.

Those trips, plus one to Waco to play Baylor, made the thought of heading to Anchorage less than appealing. Instead, the Cougs will host their own tourney that weekend – the Cougar Hispanic College Fund Classic – against Air Force, Montana and Mississippi Valley State in Spokane November 23-25.

The Cougs' own strength conspired against them when looking for a quality opponent for the annual Hardwood Classic game at Seattle's Key Arena. WSU found that no major conference schools wanted to travel West to face a team that is widely regarded as one of the top 10 in the nation. As such, The Citadel, from the humble Southern Conference, is coming to the Emerald City for a stiff test and decent payday on Dec.20.

WSU opens the season with an exhibition game Nov. 4 against Lewis-Clark State and then officially launch the campaign Nov. 9 against Eastern Washington. Both games are in Pullman.

• During the off-season the hardwood at Friel Court was shipped back to the manufacturer in Ohio for refurbishing. In addition to repairing damage on the worn surface, a new design was created to enhance the look of the court. The unique parquet floor remains the same, but it now boasts a huge Cougar-head logo at center court; the words "Washington State" on each of the sidelines and "Cougars" on each of the baselines. No longer around is the crimson paint in the keys, which was removed for a cleaner look.

• Cougar season tickets are running more than 1,000 ahead of last year. To order, contact the WSU Ticket Office at or 1-800-GO-COUGS.

• The NCAA three-point line will be one-foot father out starting a year from now. It'll be at 20-feet, 9 inches -- the first time since the arc went into effect in 1986-87 that it hasn't been at 19-feet-9-inches.

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