"The Bennett system features good defense and emphasizes the importance of getting the defense set and back in transition," explains Cougar assistant coach Ben Johnson. "We put a premium on getting the defense set."
So as soon as a Cougar puts up a shot, the chess board starts moving that direction. The two guards immediately head to the defensive end of the court. A third player -– often Daven Harmeling or Kyle Weaver -– has the option of going for the rebound if he truly thinks there's a chance, otherwise he gets back on D as well. That leaves just the two WSU post players to try for the rebound.
"You can be a good offensive rebounding team or a good defensive team, but not both," says Johnson. "We're committed to eliminating easy baskets by the opposition."
That's why the Cougars gave up fewer points per game (59.5) than any team in the Pac-10 last season. Conversely, they ranked last in the conference in offensive boards.
Johnson is a true disciple of the shut-down-the-transition approach to basketball. He spent four years as a standout guard under Dick Bennett at Wisconsin-Green Bay, served for seven years as a WGB assistant under Bennett's successor (and current WSU director of player development) Mike Heideman, and now enters his fourth season of Bennett ball at WSU.
Still, the offensive glass isn't to be forsaken. Johnson said the Cougs worked to improve their offensive rebounding during the summer tour to Australia and New Zealand. In addition, there's junior forward Caleb Forrest, who figures to pick up some of Ivory Clark's old minutes. "Caleb has an ability to slither inside, he's very aggressive on the offensive boards," says Johnson.
The Cougars open the season with an exhibition game against Central Washington Sunday and then start the regular season next Friday night (Nov. 9) when they host Eastern Washington. There's work to be done at the defense end of the court between now and then, Johnson says.
"Overall, I think we're a little farther ahead on offense than we were last year at this point, but on defense we're at the same stage or maybe a little behind where we were ... Committing, as a team, to our defensive principals is key. Defensive intensity is an area we need to improve on."
NOTABLE HOOP NOTES:
THE PAC-10 MEDIA POLL last year, as selected by media members who regularly cover the league, had the Cougs dead last in the 10-member conference. This year, coming off a 26-win campaign with nearly every key player returning, Washington State is slotted No. 2 behind UCLA. The Cougs even picked up one first place vote.
It's the highest placing for the Cougars since the inagural media poll in 1992-93. Washington State's previous best was at No. 4 in 1995-96, when the Cougs went 18-11, (9-9) to finish seventh in the league standings.
THE 2007-08 PAC-10 MEN'S BASKETBALL MEDIA POLL
1. UCLA (33) 339
2. Washington State (1) 273
3. Oregon 240
4. Arizona 238
5. Stanford 205
6. USC 184
7. California 140
8. Washington 132
9. Arizona State 81
10. Oregon State 38